Undersea Art Award

2015 winner Chris Rose and jelly fish. Image by Nicola Faulks2015 winner Chris Rose and jelly fish. Image (c) Nicola Faulks

Adventurous artists dive to show the magic of our seas!

We will soon announce the next winner of our Undersea Art Award... 

The Wildlife Trusts and the Society of Wildlife Artists fund an Undersea Art Award which pays for an established artist to learn to dive and then to work underwater off the UK coast, recording the wildlife of the sea. The winning artist will show their marine-inspired art at the SWLA’s annual exhibition, The Natural Eye, in the Mall Galleries.

Now in its eighth year, the Undersea Art Award has inspired stunning works which show the beauty and diversity of sea life around the UK coast; they range in style from paintings to sculpture. Applications for this year's award have now closed and the winner will be annouced shortly.

Head of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts, Joan Edwards, says: “The Undersea Art Award funds diving lessons for artists with a passion for nature who want to find out more about the astonishingly varied submerged landscapes around UK shores. The idea is to create art inspired by the creatures which live in our wonderful cold water coral beds, sponge meadows, canyons and sandbanks.”

Previous winner of the award and President of the Society of Wildlife Artists, Harriet Mead, says: “The Wildlife Trusts’ Undersea Art Award is a tremendous opportunity to see the extraordinary life beneath the waves. Our marine habitat is an environment which few people have the chance to experience so not only did the diving inspire my work it has also made me determined to spread the word about the precious world that surrounds the UK coastline. I was lucky enough to receive this award myself and I can’t recommend it too highly.”

The Undersea Art Award was founded to highlight the urgent need for Marine Conservation Zones - a type of protected area at sea where human activity is restricted to protect wildlife and habitats. The Government is creating these zones in the seas around England, following the passing of the Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009). These protected areas will allow sustainable use of the sea whilst protecting a range of species and habitats found in English waters from damaging activity.

2015 winner Chris Rose

The 2015 winner, Chris Rose, went diving off the Northumberland coast. His wonderful paintings evoke the mystery of the seals, swimming guillemots and sea-slugs that he encountered in the deep. (Pictured here is Chris' painting of a diving guillemot.)

Chris Rose says, “The Undersea Art Award has introduced me to a new world that is exciting for the beauty of its underwater landscapes and for the strange variety of its wildlife. This largely unseen world is rich in wildlife but it is a fragile, delicately balanced ecosystem that we all rely on and yet continue to plunder and destroy at our peril. The old adage out of sight, out of mind has never been more true. My hope is that through my paintings, in some small way, I can help to illuminate the beauty, richness and fragility of our marine environment so that we might value it more and thereby increase public awareness of the need to look after it.

“It has presented me with new artistic challenges and possibilities, and a completely new palette of colours - I am looking forward to continuing my exploration of the underwater world and of the artistic potential it holds.”

Chris is an established wildlife artist based in the Scottish Borders. During the summer of 2015 he went diving in the North Sea near to his home. He was keen to witness the wonders beneath the waves first-hand, in particular, the Coquet to St Mary’s stretch along the Northumberland coast. This area is rich in marine wildlife - from beautiful nudibranchs (sea slugs to some) and lightbulb sea squirts, to sun stars, diving sea birds, and much more.

Read Chris' blog where he describes his adventures and the beauties he witnessed! Here's he's pictured with the BBC Countryfile team who filmed him diving in the Farnes and then again when he returned to the shore with his sketches and started to paint.

The main focus of Chris' diving has been Coquet to St Mary’s because it's one of the places that the Government is currently considering for designation as a Marine Conservation Zone this year. His blog describes a dive there:

"Although visibility wasn’t great at 4m-6m, we had barely entered the water when some young, grey seals started taking an interest in us. Initially circling around us, just within visible range, they soon became bolder and eventually accepted us as harmless curiosities. Despite years of experience of drawing often fast-moving birds and animals from life, nothing quite prepares you for the difficulties of drawing animals moving underwater. I have sketched and painted seals above water many times but their shapes underwater are totally different – gone are the lumbering forms that bask on rocks and sand bars and in their place are lithe bodies that continuously change shape and angle, particularly when at one moment they are at the side of you and the next they are above or below you. Add to this the task of trying to wrestle with a floating sketch pad whilst wearing thick, neoprene gloves and at the same time fighting a current that wants to take you in a different direction entirely, and you start to get the measure of the challenge!"

Pictured here is the first big studio painting done by Chris Rose after diving with seals off St Mary's Island, just north of Newcastle

Previous winners of the Undersea Art Award

2012 winner Harriet Mead




Harriet Mead is a sculptor and President of the Society of Wildlife Arttists (SWLA). Animals and birds are the inspiration for her work which Harriet produces from scrap metal.  

Upon learning she would receive the Underwater Art Award, Harriet said:

“I am thrilled at the idea of exploring a whole new unfamiliar underwater landscape, and discovering the creatures which inhabit it.”

2011 - Esther Tyson

2011 award winner, Esther Tyson from Derbyshire successfully completed her dive training in the wildlife rich waters off the Dorset coast.  Her resulting artwork depicts the seagrass meadows of Studland Bay.

Esther Tyson paints underwater

 Esther said: “Diving at Studland has been an incredible privilege, the seagrass habitat enchanting and drawing underwater has become as natural as drawing above. I have been fortunate enough to see remarkable sea life in these waters.”


2010 - Anna Kirk-Smith

2010's artist, Anna Kirk-Smith said: “The scuba diving training was completed over five wet weeks, communing with rainbow trout and sturgeon in a flooded quarry before progressing onto the salty stuff.

"The detail, the closeness, and the intimacy of encounters with marine species in, what is after all their world, ate very beautiful and strangely humbling. This experience indeed changed my life and my intended course from here on."

Anna has produced a limited edition print based on her Living Seas artwork. 15% of sales are donated to The Wildlife Trusts.  

2008/9 - Antonia Phillips

Antonia is based in Swanage and specialises in work about the sea, bird flight and movement along coastlines.  She says: “My work is about being near the sea; from walks in Purbeck along beach and cliff to the icy seas of the far north, this is a wonderful chance to see how the light and colour change under the water and a challenge to try out new ways of working.”

Antonia sketched and painted from life as she dived under Swanage Pier, known as one of the finest places to see marine wildlife off the Dorset coast. She used transparent Perspex so that she could actually see through to what she was painting, and the sketching block was tied on to prevent it from floating away.

For more information visit Antonia's website.

2007 - Kim Atkinson

Kim lives on the coast of north-west Wales and trained at Falmouth, Cheltenham and the Royal College of Art.  She learnt to dive and portray the underwater natural history in Dorset, at Kimmeridge and at Swanage.  She writes:  “To do this I used perspex which I drew on while submerged, with a mixture of graphite and oil pastels, to try to record the blennies, wrasse, anemones and beautiful seaweeds.

“On returning to my studio in North Wales I cut a large piece of Chinese paper from a roll and initially painted with acrylic on it which sealed the surface, and then using a combination of printing and painting I applied oil paint. The idea was to try to get across the sense of turbulence and Coralline weeds at Kimmeridge, contrasting with still water under the piers at Swanage.”