Image of the Month: Bear Swimming II by Gary Cook ASGFA


Gary Cook ASGFA, “Bear swimming II”, Watercolour, 70cm x 55cm

Polar bears are modern man’s canary in the coal mine. The dangers that they are facing in the Arctic are an early warning to us. I wanted my watercolour to demonstrate how our actions are affecting the environment there and will, in time, affect us all too.

Layered into the painting are facts and information about how the sea ice is dramatically shrinking as temperatures rise. In 2012, the area of summer sea ice was 1.3 million square miles less than the average for that time of year. The lost ice is a vast amount, equivalent in area to 13 UKs. Scientists are predicting that the world’s weather systems will be disrupted by this dramatic change in the amount of ice at the North Pole. “I want people to look at my work and be drawn in by a dramatic image. Then, on closer inspection, discover the shocking statistics subtly drawn within the background about how we are in danger of losing so many magnificent animals by the way we are affecting the environment.”

Although polar bears are strong swimmers, in the past they only had to swim short stretches between floes to hunt and breed. The melting ice has seriously changed this. They are now forced to swim long distances to survive. I think the image of the struggling, swimming bear highlights our unintended actions on the climate.

The elephant in the room from cookthepainter on Vimeo.

I paint on unstretched 640gsm handmade Khadi watercolour paper which is a lovely surface that helps create rough textures. I use masking fluid, salt and a roller at different stages to move the paint around, which often results in unintended but pleasing results.

By using a restricted colour palette I hope the animal and especially, the eye becomes the main focus of the piece. Influenced by my newspaper infographic background I believe the most compelling way to communicate these shocking statistics is visually, so I create woodcuts to depict the facts. In this case I used the outline of the UK, stamped repeatedly on to the paper to drive home the enormity of the loss of summer ice. On this occasion, I ended up with two blocks because only when I had finished carving the first did remember I needed to work in reverse.

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Profile of the Artist: Gary Cook ASGFA

Gary Cook ASGFA

Gary Cook ASGFA

After training at Bournemouth Arts University, where he was later made an Honorary Fellow, Gary Cook joined The Sunday Times where he worked for 26 years, becoming graphics editor and winning many national and international awards for his artwork.

He is now pursuing his passion for painting and campaigning about the environment. He combines his journalistic training with traditional painting to create infocanvases, which merge art and graphics.

His work has been shown at WWF headquarters, was featured in GreenSpirit magazine and will be shown at upcoming exhibitions including the Quartz festival, Taunton and the Resurgence R50 event at Oxford. Gary was elected to the SGFA in May 2016.

For more information please see:


Twitter: @cookthepainter

Instagram: cookthepainter


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5 Responses to Image of the Month: Bear Swimming II by Gary Cook ASGFA

  1. brigdale says:

    Dear Gary and Charlie, wonderful work, a haunting subject, beautifully illustrated.

  2. Jo Hall says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful watercolours and techniques with us Gary, but most of all for sharing your passion for endangered wildlife. Loved the videos too!

  3. Gary says:

    Many thanks Brigdale. A lovely thing to paint. It’s a shame they are in such danger

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