Fennel Blythe loves the sea both as scientist and artist
Chasing her sister with frogs, playing with “real” imaginary friends, and spending an immense amount of time at the ocean…it is easy to see the resulting effects of these times in Fennel Blythe’s artwork. The playful yet imaginative pairing of marine life and art began on paper, and evolved into custom paintwork on stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), alabaster sculptures, and commissioned work of various mediums.
But Blythe did not begin life as an artist. Instead, she was drawn to nature and studied marine biology. While surveying birds and researching sea grass physiological ecology, she was actually studying the elements that would become the inspirations for her future life.
After suffering from major burnout during her graduate work for her marine biology degree, Blythe decided to take her first art class. A dormant talent awakened, and she realized studying marine life was not enough. Nearly 12 years after this discovery, she returned to school to pursue a fine art degree.
The decision to work toward the degree came easily, but that decision was not without its challenges. Following a very difficult spinal fusion surgery from an injury sustained as a teen, Blythe traveled to New Mexico to spend her recovery time with a friend. While there, she says, “Something out there just pulled at me, and I felt compelled to go back [to school].” Like the art class happenstance in grad school, she stumbled across a unique method of blending ink, salt, and water on paper to create eerie and beautiful images resembling the very thing she loved as a child and ultimately drew inspiration from as an adult—marine life.
Her ink, salt, and water paintings look as though the viewer could collapse into them and swim among mythical ocean life. As for the mindset that Blythe enters when working on these pieces, she explains, “My mind will go off in many different directions…from incredible imagery I have seen in nature to problems I am trying to solve in other areas of my life.” These paintings are the centerpieces of Blythe’s artwork; however, her most prized work is a sculpture she created using alabaster.
Titled “Oceanic,” the alabaster piece stands out for several reasons. It is three-dimensional and in a medium that is unfamiliar to Blythe, providing her with a new challenge. The title emerged because the piece “looks like not only something that came out of the ocean but is like the ocean itself.” The smooth, white surface and shell-like curves pull the viewer’s eyes to the palm-sized sculpture.
Blythe admits that her work is purposely ambiguous and created on a more subconscious level. Rather than encourage a viewer to see a certain image or feel a specific emotion, she prefers that they discover these things on their own. She says of her work and what she expects from her viewers, “Some of my images are dark, some are full of light. The core imagery, however, is like a frozen moment in time during the natural creative process that draws on the balance of light and dark, just as nature relies on the light of the sun and the darkness of night to create the life we have on this planet. What I like most is hearing what others see in my work, what patterns and forms they see and feel.”
She also wants them to see the latest application of her marine life artwork. Getting her start by repairing dings in stand-up paddleboards, Blythe began offering to paint custom art on the boards, providing the owner with something unique and one-of-a-kind. A paddleboarder herself, she saw an opportunity to provide a viable service, as there are no SUP repair shops in Chattanooga. She has been repairing boards for several years now and has created quite a stir in the SUP community. Her artwork adorns many local boards as well as several from other parts of the country. Any opportunity she gets to enter a SUP race, she takes. These trips, she says, are a great opportunity for her to take her work to the street—or rather the ocean, traveling from east coast to west coast and to exotic locales such as Puerto Rico.
While her adventures feed her need for travel, inspire her artistically, and take her deeper into the SUP community, Blythe calls Chattanooga home. She has even created a Wednesday evening paddle to help bring the local paddling community closer. Like her art, she seeks to inspire people, bring them closer, and stir their imaginations.
Find her on Facebook at facebook.com/fennelblytheartist and view her artwork at fennelblythe.com