• Published:July 2, 2014
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Florida native Jason Mathias says some of his first memories are of fishing trips he took with his family. He's spent his entire life around the ocean, fishing, surfing and diving. He began sketching ocean scenes as a boy and studied art at the Ringling College of Art and Design. While still a student, Jason scored his first commission in the marine industry and things took off from there. His artwork is now beloved by anglers around the world.

Jason's art has been featured at the IGFA Museum and graced numerous magazine covers. FishTrack recently sat down with Jason to learn more about what inspires his paintings.


FishTrack: I saw that you grew up in Stuart, Florida. How old were you when you started fishing and boating?

Jason Mathias: I've been fishing and boating since before I could walk. I have fond memories of fishing aboard my grandfather's 37-foot Merritt the Do Stay out of Jupiter Inlet. We would catch wahoo, mahi, sailfish and marlin. My best memory was when my grandfather Ely Brown called me and said, "Jason, do you want to catch a blue marlin tomorrow?" I said, 'Sure, I'll see you bright and early.' That morning we dropped a bonito down and hooked up a 500-pound blue marlin within a half hour, and I landed it in 45 minuets. I'll never forget seeing that 500-pound fish lit up alongside the boat with waves of brilliant blue hues, quickly changing to deep purples and then back to brilliant blue stripes again.

FT: Did you always draw things you saw on the ocean?

JM: Yes. I always remember drawing marlin, sailfish, lobster and snook in the mangroves. Whatever the experience I had on the water that day, I would sketch it.

FT: How long now have you been professionally painting?

JM: It's been nine years since I started my art business, Jason Mathias Studios Inc., right after I graduated in 2005. The first year I attended the Miami Boat Show was a pretty great career experience for me. I was virtually unknown then and only 25 years old. The museum director of the IGFA asked me if I'd like to be the featured artist in their museum for the whole summer and everything started falling into place for me. Since then I have been featured in the Cornel Museum (an American historical site) licensed artwork to OtterBox and have become a vendor for Bass Pro Shops, which now uses my art for their shirts and features my fine art prints. I also enjoy being the featured artist at various fishing tournaments where I can explore, fish and film different fishing areas around the world.

FT: Why do you prefer to draw and paint marine scenes?

JM: Because it's quite a challenging subject to accurately portray. The most difficult aspect to being a marine artist is getting your subjects to cooperate. It's not as easy as setting up a figure model or still life in the studio where you have complete control over lighting, environment and being able to communicate and interact with your subject matter to achieve the exact poses and positions you're looking for. Game fish don't cooperate very well and getting close to them, or having them sit still is another art entirely in itself. Not to mention going out and having to find them and not having control over things such as water clarity and light. Game fish are shiny and reflective, it's like painting metal chrome underwater. You also have to be very aware that most game fish change their coloring depending on their mood and feeding habits, and to make this even more difficult they are set in a unique lighting environment where all of the light reflections and refractions from the surface dance and wrap around the form and anatomy of your subject matter. You also have to know the exact anatomy, proportions and behaviors of every species. These are just a few of the challenges I face as a marine artist that most other artists don't have to deal with... and I love it!

"The most difficult aspect to being a marine artist is getting your subjects to cooperate. It's not as easy as setting up a figure model or still life in the studio..."
-- Jason Mathias

FT: When you decide to paint a fish, what is the first thing you do to get the biological anatomy correct?

JM: Find some good reference material that I've taken, such as underwater video or still shots. I look for an interesting gesture that shows movement and extenuates the anatomy of the fish. Then I try to elucidate this in my drawing while planning out the most interesting compositions I can. After this is completed I seal the drawing and begin to apply thin layers of paint. I slowly build up the fish's anatomy by adding its musculature structure over the bony landmarks and applying the iridescence of the skin using complimentary color schemes and lighting effects.

FT: What is your favorite species to paint?

JM: Probably sailfish. They're sleek, fast and display brilliant colors. They also offer unique compositional aspects with their unusually large pectoral fins and the large dorsal or sail.

FT: What is the trick to capturing underwater light on canvas to bring a scene to life?

JM: It has taken me many years to be able to pull this effect off. I would say the key is to try and resist the urge to create patterns in your lighting. The human brain is very good at picking out patterns, but if you look closely at nature there are no patterns -- it's completely organic. You have to try and purposely apply your lighting with this in mind. Another trick is to have complementary color schemes in mind and apply the warms into the lighter areas and the cools into the shadows. If you place two complimentary colors into the highlights this will appear to make your light dance as it tricks the eye.

FT: I saw that you offer apparel and products. How'd you get into that and where can folks find it?

JM: Yes, I do offer products such as phone cases, skins, lures, iPad cases and apparel. I just kind of fell into it as opportunities came my way when manufacturers contacted me. You can find my apparel in BassPro Shops on their World Wide Sportsman shirts. You can also find my art and other products on my website at jasonmathias.com.