The artist in you: Water & Wood I


The artist in you: Water & Wood I

by Janice Nigro

It was an impulse decision to submit. Last minute, late at night, as if no one would see me and before I could think about it. The theme was water and wood. Without hesitation, I uploaded three of my underwater images. A bit of a brain lapse on my last entry, a photograph of a church in Italy, but it’s one that I really like.

Price of my photographs? I typed in a conservative estimate and then pressed submit.

I didn’t wait long. A simple message arrived already early the next morning from the organizer, Rafael McMaster, who is a local painter. “Your work is incredible.” A day later, I was on the list of artists included in the 2017 inaugural annual art exhibit Water & Wood in Hermosa Beach.

How I became an artist

Yikes! I am normally just hiding as a spectator in the world of art. My hands do not paint or draw what I imagine them to. Then I discovered photography. Once I divorced myself from the outcome, I began to enjoy making art. I realized that anyone can do it and well, probably should do it.

I was not into any kind of photography until I started to scuba dive. Now photography has taken over my life. It all started for me as the result of an impulsive decision to buy a camera and an underwater housing three hours before a flight to Fiji for a dive trip. Looking back, I can’t believe that I persisted in taking underwater photographs based on the results of that first trip. It was a good thing that I only showed them to people who had also not seen many underwater photographs.

But I was hooked. I took it all more seriously and began to collect the type of equipment necessary to make decent underwater photographs. After 10 years, I have a better idea of how to take underwater photographs, although there is nothing particularly unique about my style. It’s not complicated art that I do. My work is unique only because of what it is I choose to photograph.

I struggle though with being able to express in my photos how different and how grand the underwater world is. The way I feel when I am there. It’s visceral, it’s imaginary, and I am fully immersed, literally in contact with it.

We are most familiar with the majestic photographs of larger animals from the sea; whales, seals, sharks, and beloved turtles. I love those animals too, but I try to convey the other worldliness through the unusual colors, textures, and patterns that are nowhere else but underwater. My photographs show what is still of the Earth, but how different it is. Some of the simplest creatures, a sponge, or more complex ones, coral, illustrate life in its most basic and vulnerable, but beautiful forms.

I always did some kind of art throughout my life, but underwater photography was the thing that finally stuck. It was a natural fit for me. Just as in underwater photography, I explore the natural and physical world in my career as a scientist.

Underwater photography is also a sport as much as it is an art. Not only are the animals moving, but so are you. It’s a dynamic art. The same scene might not be there tomorrow, and time is limited composing photos. Animals become impatient or shy, and divers still need to breathe air. Eventually you have to surface.

What is the big deal about art?

That is a lot of effort you might be thinking, just to hang a picture of a fish on a wall.

But Rafael explains, that while art is beautiful and we like to look at things on our walls, it is also inspiring. It moves something deep inside us. To be human is to be able to inspire, to love, and to hope. To him, art is one of those things that show what it means to be human. That is perhaps why so many of us feel the need to make art. That’s why I need to take underwater photos.

And the passion comes out of me when I start to talk about them. I am sure it’s the same for most artists when they speak about their work.

The organization behind Water & Wood

The show has been organized by the Hermosa Beach Artist Collective, a volunteer organization that Rafael leads. He came up with the idea when he discovered how few possibilities existed locally for exhibiting his own art. It felt like an opportunity for him to take the lead in creating a thriving art scene in our community and designing an inclusive environment around it.

His ultimate goal is to let kids know that they can be artists and to have a workspace so that children-really anyone-can view art in the making. Just keep creating is what he wants us to do.


Water & Wood 2017 is the inaugural event. These are themes that are native to southern California. Water and wood have obvious significance in our beach communities in the South Bay-the sea and the first thing that comes to my mind are surfboards. Many more images consistent with this theme emerge-boats, lifeguard huts, volleyball nets, and in our community, perhaps the constant new construction taking place. Thus, this theme is subject to interpretation through a variety of media and artists over many years.

The other issue he seems more concerned with is that art can be elitist, sometimes disconnected, and ego driven. He wants these shows to be about community and relatability-perhaps showcase art that is not trying too hard to be art.

More artists than he could take submitted great work. And get this, the artists included are children as well as adults. Art easily provokes philosophical discussions, but sometimes that childlike perspective-unbiased, naïve, bold-is the real beauty of it.

Event venue

Hermosa Design is located on Cypress Avenue in the warehouse/workshop district of Hermosa Beach. The area has a creative vibe already housing for example woodworkers and surfboard shapers on site.

Water & Wood will be a week-long exhibition with parties on the opening and closing evenings. The closing evening will be a platform for artists to speak on why they do what they do. I am especially looking forward to the possibility of hearing explanations from the children who participate. I feel somehow unsophisticated, as a child might be, in the composition of my photos; they are instinctual rather than composed. I like it, I take a photo of it. I can never get enough.

I am excited, nervous, and without a doubt very honored to be in a group of artists some of whom I already closely follow. Water & Wood is my first public art exhibit, though, so I asked Rafael for some advice. He gave it, and being completely naïve, I am taking it.

Are you an artist?

I still expressed my disbelief that my name is on a list amongst professional artists. Rafael asked me a simple question. “Can you imagine yourself not doing art for the rest of your life?” No, I said. “Then you are an artist.”

His definition is simple and broad enough to include and inspire anyone. So if you visit Water & Wood, maybe you can get into the conversation or perhaps discover that there is an artist in you.

©Janice Marie Nigro/


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