Sunday, December 27, 2009


Essential Dive Fins, originally uploaded by rogerbly.

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TARPON SPRINGS -- Christopher Still pulls on his fins and scuba tank, grabs his underwater sketch pad and pencil and swims into the Gulf waters off Fred Howard Park.

Kneeling on a lawn of gently undulating sea grass, he sketches a scallop with its row of glittering blue eyes, then a school of mullet darting by.

The only way to get details and lighting correct is to be there, Still explains. He points to the irregular lighting dappling his arms. Many artists would paint that with one consistent color.

But that just isnt right.

The 45-year-old Clearwater native has been painting Florida since 1986. His dream was to return home to paint the things he loves after learning from masters

at a Philadelphia art school and studying fresco technique in Florence, Italy.

The results have been rewarding. His work hangs or has appeared in the Smithsonian Institution, the White House, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

in Sarasota, the governors mansion in Tallahassee and the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

He has won numerous awards but is best known for the 10 murals he was commissioned to paint for the Florida House of Representatives chambers. They depict the states history and underwater life. He doesnt want to say how much he earned for his most recent project, three beach-themed murals at the new Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach. But a painting completed in 1990, which originally sold for $12,500, was recently appraised at $135,000 when donated to Ohio State University.

Living At A Lighthouse

Hunter S. Thompson was the original gonzo journalist, but Still could lay claim to the title of gonzo muralist.

He lives the stories and subjects he paints into murals, experiencing the surroundings as surely as he paints them.

For a mural of Florida's coral reefs, he took up residence in the Carysfort Reef Lighthouse near Key Largo. Field trips included daily scuba dives to make underwater sketches and paintings. Then, he'd return to the dock by the lighthouse to sit on a cooler in front of his easel, dabbing oils while shaded by a droopy straw hat. The resulting "Beyond the Seven Mile Bridge" is one of the murals at the state House.

For his "Patriot and Warrior" piece, Still visited the Smithsonian Institution in Washington to see for himself a plaster cast of Seminole chief Osceola's face.

"They pulled the cast out of storage," he says, "and I sat and drew there to learn of his bone structure."

He's all about the detail and getting a feel.

"I get relaxed, go experience it and gain a sense of excitement," he says. "If I can get an emotional tie to what I am painting, I am set. I have to touch it - literally."

For underwater creating, he invented a 60-pound painting box. It's made of industrial plastic, with a slanted pane of Plexiglas bolted into place. Oxygen pumped into the box through a regulator from his tank keeps the glove he wears from expanding. The paint brushes are attached to Velcro strips, while his oils are in a pill box along with an easel and pallet.

"People have said, 'You should patent this,'" Still says. "But I tell them, 'Nobody could use this.' It's hard to get the hang of, and you really need to want to do it."

Selling Art In 2nd Grade

Still's father taught history at Clearwater High, and his mother expressed her artistry in needlepoint and quilts. By second grade, Still was selling at local art shows. He went on to Dunedin High School and earned a full scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

"My goal was to get training and do paintings about Florida," he says. "I'm a lucky man. The main thing is, I love what I'm doing.

"Look at those clouds," he says, glancing at the puffy white taking on the orange and pink hues of sunset. "Look at this light. I need to be out painting now."

He loves exploring the Gulf beaches and sea grass beds with his wife, Kelly, a biologist, who helps him with research. They search for subjects that will take viewers underwater without having to hold their breath.

One of his three lobby murals at the Sandpearl, "Beneath the Waves," features a young boy snorkeling off Caladesi Island. It captures the spirit of playful search amid the shells and marine life. The diffused sunlight helps take the viewer down near the sandy bottom alongside the boy.

He also paints in subtle tones of history.

The beach scene on his other large Sandpearl mural, "Return to Picnic Island," shows a family walking the Caladesi shoreline, just a few miles north of the resort. In the background standing on a bluff are Henry Scharrer and his young daughter, Myrtle. Scharrer was the Swiss immigrant who settled Caladesi in the late 1800s, and Myrtle was born there.

A large great blue heron prancing past a water-ravaged sand castle dominates the work, but small details such as a corked glass vial containing a pearl and a room key from the old Clearwater Beach Hotel dot the sand and link to the past.

Printed explanations are available for guests who want to know the rest of the story. A video will premiere Saturday.

"Christopher doesn't just paint a picture," says Sandpearl general manager Stuart Arp, "he paints the whole story."


Christopher Still

WHAT: A public exhibit and private sale of the original work of Tarpon Springs artist Christopher Still

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; private exhibit with cocktails, dinner and silent auction is 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Sandpearl Resort, 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach

NOTE: Parking is limited; free trolley service from Harborview Center and Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater is recommended. Trolleys depart every 20 minutes from 8:45 a.m. to 2 p.m.

HOW MUCH: The exhibit is free. The private sale and dinner is $125. Call (727) 942-1846, e-mail christopherstill or go online to www

Reporter Steve Kornacki can be reached at (813) 731-8170 or

Photo credit: Image from Christopher Hill

Photo: (2) To Have and Have Not, a 126-by-48-inch oil-on-linen painting, is one of 10 paintings on state history by Christopher Still commissioned for the Florida House of Representatives. Below, Still is surrounded by studies, paintings he uses to complete a final piece, in his Tarpon Springs studio. If I can get an emotional tie to what I am painting, I am set, he says.

Photo credit: Tribune photo by JULIE BUSCH

Photo: (2) Still prepares to sketch a scallop on underwater drawing paper during a dive at Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs. Making sketches underwater allows Still to record light and color as seen in the environment. At right, a Still mural is in

the lobby of the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach.

Photo credit: Images from Christopher Hill

Photo: Tarpon Springs artist Christopher Still lived in the Carysfort Reef Lighthouse near Key Largo while painting "Beyond the Seven Mile Bridge," which features an Atlantic loggerhead turtle and Florida spiny lobster. The mural is on display at the state House of Representatives. Still, who sometimes dives with his biologist wife, Kelly, attended Dunedin High School and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Photo: Still's "A New Age," also on view at the state House, shows children fishing on a dock as the shuttle Endeavour launches in 2000 at Cape Canaveral. Still says he always wanted to do paintings about Florida. "I'm a lucky man," he says. "I love what I'm doing."

Copyright [c] 2007, The Tampa Tribune and may not be republished without permission. E-mail

Source Citation
"STILL'S ARTISTRY RUNS DEEP." Tampa Tribune [Tampa, FL] 23 Oct. 2007: 1. Popular Magazines. Web. 27 Dec. 2009. .

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