Honor the fish

As far as Sam Gibbons is concerned, there's no better way to honor a swordfish catch than to paint its bill.

Gibbons, 62, a resident artist at Bud N'Mary's Marina in Islamorada, Fla., has painted several dozen broadbills and, despite the intense preparation, said he really enjoys working on such a small and unusual canvas.

"What's unique about them is they're all different," Gibbons said. "They're like a fingerprint; no two are alike."

"It's hard to catch them. Very few people have caught them. I do the bill to honor the fish. Rather than see the bill get eaten by raccoons. You're doing something that honors the fish."

Living in Harbor Springs, Mich., Gibbons winters in Islamorada where he sets up shop at Bud n' Mary's from 3-6 p.m. ET each day from January to March. The graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design sells his nautical and marine themed oil paintings and prints.

Anglers who bring in a swordfish with Richard Stanczyk can commission Gibbons to paint scenes on broadbills, the process of which had a learning curve.

"There's only a few people who do it," he said. "It's a hard process to just get them ready to paint."

That includes allowing crabs to do some cleaning, followed by wires to dig out marrow.

"If you seal it up, you're wife is going to divorce you," he said.

Then there's wire brushes, bleach, weeks in the sun, 20-Mule Team Borax — "It makes them smell nice" — rinsing, drying, sanding with different grit paper then sealing them with oil-based Kilz and more sanding.

"I can't tell you the other tricks," he said. "Then you start with the oil paint."

Gibbons usually paints a scene with swordfish breaching the water in the foreground and the Stanczyk's boat the Catch 22 behind, along with the angler's name and details of the catch. He will mount it on wood and sell the finished product for $300, reasonable when considering the amount of work.

For more on Gibbons, see the Bud N' Mary's blog.