Early Goldfish Watercolor Painting

Three Fancy Goldfish Transparent Watecolor Airbrush(21 x 29.5 inches)

Three Fancy Goldfish (Transparent Watercolor Airbrush 21 x 29.5 inches)

While cleaning up my archives, I came across this old painting that I did in 1989. I’d honestly forgotten that I’d done it. This was my first airbrushed painting, created in preparation for a grad school class that was coming up.

At the time my brother Ted and I had a bit of an obsession with fancy goldfish. Each of us had tanks with some real beauties over the years, including orandas, lionheads, moors, calico ryukins and a myriad of hybrid varieties. As often happens with siblings, we got competitive, but in a healthy way. Our main challenge was to see who could get his fish to be more massive. While Ted was in the game, he always managed to get the best of me. I’d come home from grad school and be blown away when his fish had doubled in size. Being a generous sort, he’d share his most recent secret. It was usually some sort of Japanese fish food in a brightly colored package covered with Kanji, probably promising explosive growth. He had one enormous lionhead named Cy that would eat food from your hand. You could stick your finger in the water, and he’d come up and rub his jelly-like head against your finger. Eventually Ted left the game. I continued on until a few years ago.

The problem I ran into with goldfish was that along with that exciting potential for growth came a huge drawback: goldfish are terrible polluters. They explosively grew until the point that they overcrowded the tank. Even with massive amounts of filtration, their bodily processes contaminated the tank, requiring that at least 75% of the water be changed each week in order to keep them somewhat healthy.

Goldfish are carp. They excrete goldfish growth hormone into the water surrounding them. In nature this diffuses out into the surrounding water. Once the concentration gets high enough, it has an inhibitory effect on their growth, preventing overcrowding. A small fish isn’t going to put a lot of hormone into a large tank, so it grows rapidly in that environment. Put a few large fish in the same tank, and the growth hormone concentration can raise enough to inhibit growth. Basically, the fish grow until the point that they are continually polluting the tank.

I had always started with fairly small fish in a big tank. I’d have a maximum of one fish per 15 gallons of water. Eventually I’d have massive, stressed fish that were always getting sick. When well fed, fish can grow about an inch a year. I had an old oranda that reached ten inches in length, including its tail. Its body was bigger than a baseball!

In the end I spent more time checking ammonia, nitrate and nitrite levels as well as changing and treating water than enjoying the fish. I felt more like a chemist and septic tank cleaner than an aquarist. Being busy with two kids and work, I gave up the aquarium. Old habits die hard though. I always take a long pass by the goldfish when I’m at the pet store. 

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