North Sea is the oyster for under water North East artist Chris Rose

Chris Rose has won an award will will see him plunge to the bottom of the North Sea to tell the story of the marine world through art

Chris Rose during his diving training
Chris Rose during his diving training

It's a case of in at the deep end for award-winning artist Chris Rose as he embarks on a new venture.

Chris has won an Undersea Art Award by The Wildlife Trusts’ Society of Wildlife Artists which provides a bursary enabling him to learn to dive and bring the underwater world alive through paintings.

He will be diving in the area from Coquet Island off Amble in Northumberland to St Mary’s Island in Whitley Bay this summer.

It is one of the locations which the Government is considering for designation as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) this year - a type of protected area at sea where human activity is restricted to protect wildlife and habitats.

These protected areas are designed to allow sustainable use of the sea while protecting a range of species and habitats from damaging activity.

Jellyfish - a Northumberland coast painting by Chris Rose
Jellyfish - a Northumberland coast painting by Chris Rose

Chris has completed his diving training and has equipped himself with a kit of a permanent wax crayon on plastic-laminated paper, which allows him to sketch underwater.

When he emerges from a dive, Chris will back up his sketches with an immediate “field” painting.

These, together with some photography, will provide the material for later paintings in Chris’s studio of what he has seen in the marine world.

“I was absolutely thrilled to be awarded The Wildlife Trusts‘ Undersea Art Award 2015,” said Chris, who lives in the Borders and is secretary of the Society of Wildlife Artists.

“This award affords me the opportunity to learn to scuba dive and to then produce a series of drawings and paintings inspired by my adventures beneath the waves.

“The idea is to promote conservation of the marine environment, particularly off the Northumberland coast.

Beachcombers - one of Chris Rose's Northumberland coast paintings
Beachcombers - one of Chris Rose's Northumberland coast paintings

“People look out to sea but they don’t know how much rich diversity of life is under the waves. It is really fascinating.

“This award hopes to raise awareness, through the medium of art, of the fantastic wealth of species that can be seen under the waves and the need for conservation action.

“I have always been fascinated by water and painting the sea and the Northumbrian coast but I have never painted scenes underneath the sea.

“This is all completely new to me although I have done a lot of snorkelling. Now this award has allowed me to learn to dive, with a purpose.

Chris’s ‘dive buddy’ in the Coquet-St Mary’s zone will be Nicola Faulks from the Tyneside 114 Sub Aqua Club.

“She is very experienced and has an extensive knowledge of the area,” said Chris.

In this area Chris can expect to see marine wildlife such as multi-coloured sea slugs, lightbulb sea squirts, sun stars, corals, crustaceans, seals, and diving sea birds.

Purple sandpipers on the Northumbrian coast by Chris Rose
Purple sandpipers on the Northumbrian coast by Chris Rose

He has swum off the Outer Hebrides to watch seals underwater and last summer snorkelled at St Abb’s Head to watch guillemots swimming.

Chris said: “The experience got me thinking that I would love to attempt the underwater environment. I’m approaching the diving with an open mind – it’d be amazing to see a porpoise but I’ll be happy to see anything.

“The seashore has provided me with a wealth of inspiration, but the next step has to be to venture beneath the waves, and I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to try to capture the beauty and magic of the underwater, marine environment. I can’t wait.”

Aurelie Bohan, Northumberland Wildlife Trust living seas officer, said: “People are often surprised that our seas are teeming with the most amazingly colourful, iridescent and extraordinary wildlife - the North Sea can rival any ancient woodland when it comes to diversity and habitats.

“The underwater world is a habitat that we rarely have a chance to experience first-hand. I am sure Northumberland’s undersea landscapes amongst seagrass meadows and soft corals will prove to be a rich vein of inspiration for Chris and I am confident that his paintings will be spectacular.”

Chris’s work for the Undersea Art Award will be exhibited at the Natural Eye - the annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists in London in the autumn.

St Mary’s Island is a voluntary marine reserve, and Coquet Island is a European Special Protection Area, an RSPB-managed reserve and a haul-out and breeding area for grey seals, which are protected under the EC Habitats Directive.

Protecting the seabed around these islands would help to sustain important foraging areas for birds and seals.

Storm surge - a Northumberland coast painting by Chris Rose
Storm surge - a Northumberland coast painting by Chris Rose

Chris added: “However, the area is subject to a lot of human pressure. Recreational and commercial fishing, for example, has left a large amount of discarded fishing line and net that kills marine life by entanglement, and litter is a problem with anything from plastic bags to a gas cooker being found on the sea bed.

“By diving this area and painting some of what I see I hope to encourage an appreciation of our local marine environment and to foster a genuine concern about its continued degradation.

“We cannot continue to treat our sea as an unlimited food basket, a playground and a rubbish dump – it is a fragile, delicately balanced ecosystem that we all rely on. With the appropriate level of protection our coastal seas can recover but only if we act now. It will be of benefit to us all.”

Over the last 30 years biology graduate Chris has exhibited widely in the UK and has shown his work in Paris, Singapore, Japan and the United States.

In 2010 he spent five weeks on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia with fellow wildlife artist John Gale on a self-funded expedition, drawing and painting the wildlife and landscapes to raise funds and awareness for the RSPB’s Save the Albatross Campaign.

His awards include Bird Illustrator of the Year (British Birds Journal) and European Bird Artist of the Year.

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