ST. PETE BEACH — World-renowned marine artist Guy Harvey spent Wednesday morning researching his next piece of artwork.
"Some people might call it fishing, but I call it catching," the 56-year-old said of his day on Tampa Bay. "I caught and released more redfish in three hours than I did in my whole life."
Harvey said he never had seen such a large school of redfish before. "It was like this great sheet of bronze," he said. "I can't wait to get to work. I'll need a big canvas."
The artist, in town for the opening of the first Guy Harvey Outpost in the United States on the grounds of the old TradeWinds Sandpiper Suites in St. Pete Beach, became the world's most famous marine illustrator by doing his homework.
"I think what makes my work unique is that I take great care in presenting the predator-prey relationship," he said. "You can paint a fish, but the action really sets it apart."
Harvey, who has formal training as a marine biologist, started his career illustrating technical texts.
"I saw that there was a market for something more," he said of his long, slow slog to fame. "It was a lot of hard work and a little luck."
Harvey, a native of Jamaica who now lives in the Cayman Islands, is best known for his realistic depictions of billfish. So it's no wonder that a couple of "granders," a name for 1,000-pound marlin, are the first things guests see when they arrive at the recently refurbished 211-room beachfront resort.
"I like big fish," he said. "There is nothing like 'em."
When Harvey, whose fishing T-shirts are worn by everyone from toddlers to retirees, first thought up the idea of an "outpost" bearing his name, he thought they would all be located in exotic locations such as Costa Rica, Panama and Venezuela. But he decided on a new approach after he heard about the fishing here in Tampa Bay.
"Phenomenal," he said. "There is no other word for it."
The now-open resort is still undergoing more than $3 million in renovations, "but it will not impact our guests," spokeswoman Kelly Prieto said.
Harvey said he has a tremendous fan base in the Tampa Bay area, which buys more of his T-shirts than any other place in the country.
"This was a perfect fit for us," he said. "People come here to fish."
Harvey distinguished himself early in his career by capturing scenes previously unseen by anglers. He pioneered a diving technique that allowed him to photograph free-swimming billfish in the open ocean.
"We would troll along with teasers until we found the fish," he said. "Then I'd get in the water … and be waiting for the fish."
The process took years to refine. "It is not like you can just jump in the ocean and start filming a feeding billfish," he said. "The same thing holds true with sharks."
Over the years, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for marine research. After the Deepwater Horizon oil well disaster, Harvey's foundation organized a Save Our Gulf campaign that used profits from the sale of two collectors' T-shirts to raise $500,000 in four weeks for fisheries research.
"It was a very successful campaign," he said. "It is easy to sell a $20 T-shirt when the buyer knows that $10 of it is going directly to marine conservation."
The new outpost has plenty of Harvey's signature artwork throughout the public and exterior spaces, and is featured in guest rooms.
The former hotel's gift shop is now an outfitter shop, which features his clothing and marine-related goods.
The artist's latest passion is documentary filmmaking. On Saturday, he plans to show two of his most recent films, This is Your Ocean: Sharks and Mystery of the Grouper Moon at the TradeWinds Island Grand, the Outpost's sister property (5500 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach).
"We have another one in the works, the Tiger Shark Express, that we filmed in Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands," Harvey said. "I am particularly interested in the interaction of the sharks and sea turtles, which as you know, is their primary food source."
Harvey, whose properties will also host a Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Symposium on Friday and Saturday, clearly loves his work. When asked if he ever thought his art would bring him so much fame and fortune, he smiled said, "I had no idea."