Marine artist Bradley Deal creates custom digital illustrations of—and for—some of the flashiest fishing boats on the water today.
A 42 Freeman shoots out of the surf, quad Mercury 400-hp outboards churning the water as the vessel heads out to the canyons. Marine artist Bradley Deal, who created this digital illustration in Photoshop, brings some of the flashiest boats on the water to life, but he says catamarans are probably his favorite.
“There’s something about the lines on a Freeman,” says Deal, who is 31 and currently lives in Cozumel, Mexico. “I’ve found that Freeman owners are some of the most zealous people. Last summer I had the chance to go out with a friend of mine on his 37 Freeman, and that was one of those moments where I thought, catamarans are the way to go. It’s amazing what those things are capable of.”
In addition to Freemans, Deal also has an affinity for cats built by Invincible and the custom sportfishers from Spencer, Winter Custom Yachts, Bayliss and others. “I just love boats in general,” he continues, and it is this passion that inspires his artwork.
It’s no secret that the boating industry is currently booming, with some production builders on backorder for multiple years. Not only are more people entering the sport than ever before, but boats are getting bigger, faster and more high-tech than ever. As boat owners invest in increasingly complex vessels, they are rightfully demanding more of their vessels: more luxury, more utility and more customization to differentiate their prized possessions from other boats on the dock. Deal recognized this trend, and quickly capitalized on it, not only creating custom digital illustrations of these boats, but also designing custom transom lettering, T-shirts and more.
“It seems to me it’s just a new market,” says Deal of the boating industry. “The more people invest in their boats and their hobbies, the more they want them customized. Everyone in the boating industry is obsessed with customization.”
Deal has been boating and fishing since early childhood. He grew up in Pensacola, Florida, where his family owned small center consoles. When he was 15, his father purchased a 40-foot Jersey Dawn, and they started going offshore the Alabama Gulf Coast. “Those years were huge for me,” says Deal. “I always enjoyed boating and the water, but that was when I really found saltwater fishing.”
Fishing was not the only activity that captivated Deal from a young age; he started drawing with pencil and charcoal as a child, and he was particularly inspired by Guy Harvey and Carey Chen. Once he finished high school, however, he decided to get a “real” career working as a golf course superintendent. After eight years, he was ready to try something new. That’s when a friend pushed him to get back into art, and he has officially made a living as a full-time artist since the summer of 2019.
Deal didn’t study art formally, but instead learned from practice, reading books and watching videos, starting out in acrylics and then transitioning to oils. The ocean served as easy inspiration. “Really, the foundation [of becoming a marine artist] was just being interested in that field,” he says. “I knew when I decided to go into art full-time that I wanted to be involved in anything related to the water, whether it’s boating, the beach, wildlife, fishing, you name it.”
In the past year, Deal has also started incorporating digital illustrations into his portfolio, which he creates in Photoshop, again learning as he goes through practice and trial and error. Deal says that Photoshop comes with a steep learning curve, but his passion for saltwater fishing inspired him to keep experimenting with the software.
“I’ve always had a thing for tournament fishing shirts,” Deal explains. “You walk around the dock, and you can tell who’s who by the shirt they’re wearing—where they’ve been, the things they’ve done. I’ve always wanted to be a part of that. That’s where the digital illustrations came from.”
His first big break came from a captain friend, who was running a white marlin tournament out of Pensacola and gave Deal the opportunity to illustrate a design for it. Since then, his digital illustration business has boomed, particularly among private owners and captains seeking custom art for and of their boats.
“I have a lot of individuals who come to me and ask for transom lettering and logo designs along with the actual digital illustrations,” Deal explains. “It’s been really exciting to get into that space.”
Accurately capturing all of the details on these vessels can be difficult, especially for clients who have highly customized boats that may still be in production. That’s when Deal draws on his extensive reference library of boats he has photographed and videoed from the jetties of Orange Beach, Alabama.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but that [experience] became very useful for me,” he says of his time at Orange Beach. “I have a library of probably 15,000 images of various boats.” This personal reference library makes it much more convenient for Deal to identify minute details on the vessels he illustrates that might otherwise be lost, which he cites as being a huge advantage in his career.
Now, Deal is booked solid for at least a month and a half, with new business opportunities coming over the transom regularly. One of the biggest benefits Deal has seen from this success is the ability to be more mobile. Instead of having to carry an easel, paint brushes and canvas everywhere he goes, all he needs is a laptop and a drawing tablet. When he is done creating a design, he simply emails it back to his clients. Such flexibility made it seamless for him to move to Mexico from Pensacola during the pandemic, and his new environment is influencing his work even further.
“Several friends and I go out fishing in Cozumel,” he says, explaining that Playa El Cielo is a favorite destination. “It’s some of the most crystal-clear water you can imagine. It’s like there are LED lights under the water. There are starfish, stingrays and always something interesting going on. That area in particular has world-class fishing.”
And while it can be difficult for someone with such love for the outdoors to sit inside and paint during the day, Deal is still expanding his portfolio. In the next few months, he plans to rebuild his easel and start offering large-scale oil paintings starting at 4 feet by 6 feet, along with accepting more digital commissions.
Balancing his time on the water with time behind the computer or canvas, Deal continues to blend his two passions and carve a new career path centered around emerging trends in the boating industry. Whether he is creating tournament shirts, designing transom lettering or illustrating battlewagons, he is helping the new wave of saltwater enthusiasts fully customize their pastime.