The greatest part about working with the Alfaro lab at UCLA is that my painting assignments include some of the world's weirdest, rarest, and most beautiful ocean fish. That also means it can be a bit challenging to figure out how to accurately represent fish that have rarely been photographed. Each species requires a lot of research in order to make sure the illustrations depict accurate morphology and coloration. I start with Fish Base online, a website that includes descriptions, illustrations, and photos of fish species from around the world. Many of the photographs are of dead fish, which works well for understanding the anatomy, but results in dull or false coloration and often damaged fins. Further online research helps provide live photos of the fish in most cases.
One of the most challenging fish to paint was the tube-eye fish, Stylephorus chordatus. This species is a deep sea fish that looks like something out of an alien movie. It is rarely seen and there are very few photographs. My illustration had to be based off of the very limited number of illustrations and photographs I could find. I did not have a clear sense of what the coloration should be, but some of the deep sea researchers I asked described it as silvery-black.