"Could you paint all of the species? There are about 250 of them."
When I moved to Switzerland in 2016, I didn't expect that I would end up with a job painting all of the African cichlid fish species in Lake Tanganyika! Walter Salzburger's lab in Basel has been studying the evolution and diversification of these fish, and his team was working on a big paper. Cichlids are diverse and beautiful, but it is incredibly difficult to get accurate photos of fish. Some of these species are teeny tiny, others have only been seen rarely or never alive. So it was really important to find a way to portray the species without the use of photographs. That's where I came in.
I worked closely with the experts, read books, and worked with photographs to create watercolor paintings of each species. Often there wasn't much material to work with, but I became skilled at interpreting and filling in the gaps in knowledge.
Late last year, the paper was published in Nature with all of the paintings. I was often asked if I am sick of painting fish, but I think the more fish I paint, the more I love them.
Ronco, et al. Drivers and dynamics of a massive adaptive radiation in cichlid fishes, Nature 2020.