Barramundi (2019)

I love street treasure. There’s something about finding someone else’s waste and turning it back into something that is valued and useful that really warms the cockles of my heart.

That said, I’ve been thinking vaguely about painting a surfboard for years but have never gotten around to it. One day, however, things were set to change. The story begins with me discovering a surfboard and carry bag left in a laneway near my house. Street treasure for the win!

I picked it up and brought it home, leaving it out the back because it was too bulky to store inside. Now I could start thinking seriously about what to paint on it.

Meanwhile, my flatmate Chris came home and came across the street treasure. When he saw me he said gleefully “Oh Matti! That’s exactly the kind of surfboard I’ve been looking for! It’s perfect for Amanda to learn on!”

Well, what can you do? I didn’t even know what I was going to paint so I gave it to him to give to Amanda to learn how to surf.

But, as these things go, a couple of days later, Chris told me about another mutual friend, Francisco, who had a damaged surfboard he wanted to paint for his flat. And that’s how Chris arranged my first commission!

We went around to Fran’s place and I checked out the board and where it would hang – context is as much a part of the work as the work itself – and started developing ideas based on things that I knew about Fran.

A surfboard is an iconic shape so I wanted to celebrate the distinctive outline. Fran is a surfer and a fisherman, which led me to the idea of a barramundi, a native Australian fish just the right shape to paint on a surfboard.

The first thing to do was to find a picture of a barra so I sourced an image from the Victorian Fisheries Authority.

Adult barramundi (Lates calcarifer)

I’m not at all into photorealistic painting – and that style wouldn’t suit the board – so I played around with a few abstractive sketches. For some reason I started drawing at the bottom of the page so they’re in reverse order.

Preparatory sketches for Barramundi, pen on paper

I prepped the board by removing the wax with a special cleaner that I got from the local surf shop (Surf Culture) before drawing the outlines in pencil. I tried masking some of the areas but it was super finicky as most of the lines are curves. Ah well, I always did like painting round things.

Next I added an undercoat because acrylic paint doesn’t stick to epoxy very well.

Barramundi undercoat

I based the two-colour scheme on Fran’s beloved bike so everything is blue, which also happens to be one of my favourite colours. I very quickly learned that I should’ve learned how to mask up curves because it turns out that doing all the odd bends and sharp corners by hand was more work than figuring out the masking tape. Also, yes, I did paint the board on the kitchen table as no-one has donated me a studio yet.

Barramundi final coat

The board will be hung with the front (the pointy end) facing left so I used a slightly darker blue on the top half of the board and lighter on the bottom to mimic the countershading camouflage of the barramundi. I purposely left a lot of creamy white to honour the maker of the board, even though they are unknown to me. I like the thought that the board’s history is not lost in the painting.

The next step was to peel off the masking tape (so satisfying!) and see what I’d done.

Barramundi unmasked

It’s exactly what I wanted, but it’s not finished yet. It needs something to draw the two halves together…

Barramundi detail

I used a silver paint-pen to outline the blue areas. Then in finer pen I added scales to the body sections, inspired by Japanese tattoos. The last step was to add a coat of clear gloss to make the board look wetter and just a bit fishier.

Barramundi, 2019, Ink and acrylic paint on surfboard

Here is Fran in the living room with his Barramundi. It will hang on the wall behind him once the hooks have cured. There’s nothing like a happy patron.

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