One remarkable day in the mid-1970s Ann Jones found herself surrounded by an orca (killer whale) superpod—the occasional coming together of several orca families for a “family reunion” of perhaps a hundred whales. She and her husband Keith happened to be on a ferry in the Puget Sound. “The ferry stopped completely while they surrounded the boat, breaching, splashing, flopping on their backs, spyhopping, playing, she says.” It was an exhilarating experience. The incident began a love affair with orcas, and with the Salish Sea, the Northwest inland waterways that include the Puget Sound.
Ann has been an artist and naturalist since she received her first color-filled box of crayons. That began a life with art and nature at the core. She earned a degree in Life Science and taught elementary school for many years in California. But she began seriously painting when she retired from teaching and moved to Orcas Island, Washington, in 1992. It was a dream come true for Ann to illustrate a children’s picture book about orca whales, Granny’s Clan: A Tale of Wild Orcas.
“Whenever I see or hear the orcas, the joy is still so fresh and new,” she says. “With years of observing them in the wild from a boat, ferry, or shoreline, I know how they move through the water as they breach, porpoise, spyhop, fish and play. I know how the water moves to make room for them as they dive down or come to the surface. I know how the sea and the islands look in different lighting and weather conditions. How the mist tucks in next to the islands in the distance. I have a great sense of respect and commitment to do whatever I can to help keep their home safe.
“In the summer of 2009 the entire J pod (the pod of which Granny is the matriarch) came by our shoreline very slowly and very spread out, well over a quarter mile. It took them over a half hour to go by. Some groups were very close to the rocky shore, 20 feet, and others were out to almost a quarter mile. One of the female orcas spyhopped right near us. As we looked at each other’s eyes, I kept thinking how incredibly lucky I am. Locking eyes with her is something I will always cherish and remember.”
Ann’s studio is very near to the ocean. She was just getting ready to start painting Granny’s Clan when she heard the distinctive sound of orcas exhaling. She ran to the shore and there was part of the clan, only about 20 feet away. What an auspicious start!
“Here on Orcas Island the pleasure of watching the sunrise, hearing the birds and other wildlife is immeasurable,” she says. “Sitting on the rocks down by the water or walking through the woods is such a life affirming time and allows me to paint from the feeling and heart.”
Ann likes to work with soft, colorful pastels, using her hands and fingers to apply the paint—a very tactile experience. Because individual orcas are identified by their fins, color patches and other markings, Ann made a point of painting the individual IDs so readers can identify the main characters in the story visually. You can learn more about Ann and her career at www.annjonesstudio.com.