Fusing science & art

“Rubicon Wall” | Courtesy Journey Around Happy

Fine art subscapes fuse high-resolution underwater sonar imagery with above-water photography. Sonar, short for Sound Navigation and Ranging, is helpful for exploring and mapping under water since sound waves travel farther in water than radar or light waves.

The resulting creations are equivalent to an alluring beauty, who harbors many secrets. The genius behind this innovative art is Brent von Twistern and Chris Hill.

Von Twistern, formerly a hydrographer with the U.S. Navy, is the scientist behind the sonar. He holds a master’s degree in oceanography with a background in field research and photography. Hill, a painter and sculptor, holds a BFA in fine art and embellishes the prints with oils. Hill and von Twistern started their partnership as traveling buddies.

Chris Hill, left, and Brent von Twistern on “Survey,” the boat used to map Tahoe. | Courtesy Journey Around Happy

“We had this instant camaraderie and really fed off each other,” says von Twister, who met Hill at a kayak race in Mississippi.

The idea of mixing science and art didn’t come to fruition immediately. The duo began what they called “January journeys,” an annual adventure that included delving into the hometown of famous artists, such as Van Gogh and Dali. Then, in 2008, Hill joined von Twistern on an excursion to map the bottom of the San Francisco Bay. They were on a boat imaging sand waves on the bottom of the bay when the idea hit.

“We were looking at the underwater imagery and seeing the above-water landscape. That’s when we put our finger on it, ” says von Twistern.

“We were looking at the underwater imagery and seeing the above-water landscape. That’s when we put our finger on it.” -Brent von Twistern

Alcatraz Island became their first project. Merging the famous island with underwater sand dunes, the two began to develop their process. First, the underwater data must be processed. Then, von Twister colors the high-resolution data to match the above-water landscape photograph. He rotates the image to line up with a particular perspective of the photograph and controls the illumination.

“Rubicon Moon” | Courtesy Journey Around Happy

“It’s like creating a 3-D surface under water,” says von Twistern.

The image then goes to Hill who uses the layers of 3-D data and photography and merges them in Adobe Photoshop. The image becomes a continuous composite of a landmark above and below the surface of the water. Finally, the piece becomes fine art when Hill adds his enhancements with oil paints.

Chris Hill paints underwater at a dive site around Emerald Bay. | Courtesy Journey Around Happy

Choosing a location to create a fine art subscape depends on water clarity, geography, historical value and logistics. Lake Tahoe was an obvious choice. They first hiked peaks and trails around the lake to gain a variety of perspectives and photograph interesting landmarks. After agreeing on which areas to work, equipment was hauled in. The survey boat is a mapping machine, filled with mechanical gear, GPS, cameras, sonar and dive gear.

“It looks like a lot of Hollywood cinematic equipment on a boat,” says von Twistern, who watches closely as live data is being produced from the underwater sonar. If an interesting feature appears, the two certified divers grab their gear and take a closer look.

The Lake Tahoe area expedition included Emerald Bay, the “S.S. Tahoe” in Glenbrook Bay, the mapping of the paleo forest at the bottom of Fallen Leaf Lake, much of the East Shore and Sand Harbor, Hurricane Bay and Rubicon Bay. N

In 2013, the pair officially opened their art gallery, Journey Around Happy, in Incline Village, Nev. Journey Around Happy in not only the name of their gallery, it also represents the artists’ approach to life.

Brent von Twistern working on the boat “Echo.” The sonar. | Courtesy Journey Around Happy

“Journey means you’ve really got to get out there,” says von Twistern. “And happy is more of a philosophical approach to life. It doesn’t mean we walk around with a smile on our faces all the time. It’s just a way of thinking, an attitude, especially when things don’t go right.”

In the future, von Twistern and Hill plan to journey around happy while presenting their underwater visions to the rest of the world. | journeyaroundhappy.com