Cruising with Alaska illustrator Ray Troll

I’ve just returned from a two-week vacation in Alaska, and two of my must-see stops were the Soho Coho Art Gallery in Ketchikan and the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center.
Why? Because “Spawn Till You Die” artist Ray Troll will be visiting us, yes, us! this week for several events to promote the latest book he illustrated (with author Kirk Johnson who just happens to be director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History), “Cruisin’ The Fossil Coastline,” subtitled “The Travels of An Artist and A Scientist Along The Shores of the Prehistoric Pacific.”
Mind you, this book, like the others he’s illustrated, is not a quick read. Give yourself a couple of days, really, because you’ll want to return to it several times.
Troll and Johnson have taken road trips together since 2000, and this new book is chock-full of details about paleontology, plate tectonics, climate change, evolution, mass extinction, and so much more, written in a friendly scientific style by Johnson and illustrated in excruciating detail by Troll.
Troll’s small gallery in Ketchikan is right on Whiskey Creek, caters mostly to cruise-ship tourists, and is brimming with T-shirts, postcards and posters. But his exhibit in Anchorage, which ends Sept. 30, features life-size sculptures, real fossils, and floor-to-ceiling illustrations and maps by Troll from the new book. It’s astounding!
Troll will talk about his book and his art at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, at Village Books, 1200 11th St.
But that’s not all! His band, “Ratfish Ray and the Wranglers,” will play what he calls “sub-aquatic neo-folk and fish-punk rock” this weekend at Bellingham SeaFeast.
Catch them at 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, at Sylvia Center’s Lucas Hicks Theater, 205 Prospect St., and from 4:15 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at Zuanich Point Park’s Main Stage.
Ray was kind enough to respond to my email questions to uncover more details about why he does what he’s been doing for last few decades. (He also loves cheeseburgers.)
Margaret: What are your thoughts about how fortunate you are to combine your love and interests in natural history and art (and music!) as a profitable, lifelong career?
Ray: I feel like the luckiest guy in the world getting to do what I do for a living. I draw and paint pictures, play in a band, write songs, chase fossils and fish and hang out with scientists. I have to pinch myself from time to time just to make sure this is really happening. That said it’s been a long and winding road and I’ve worked hard to be where I’m at today.
M: If you could time-travel as an artist-scientist-observer, where would you go, and to what time period, and why? Who would be your traveling companions?
R: I’d probably want to go back to the Devonian the legendary ‘age of fishes” about 375 million years ago. Our fishy ancestors were just starting to emerge on to land and I’d love to see that actually happening. There’s lots of theories on how that came to be but it would be fascinating to see it up close and personal. That ancient world was vastly different than today’s. There’s lots of strange creatures in the sea and the land was heavily forested … except there were no flowering plants.
I’d love to go with a few of my scientific pals like Kirk Johnson, Ted Daeschler or Dominque Dagit … and my wife Michelle because I can’t live without her!
M: How is what you (and Brad, and Kirk, and all the folks you’ve met in your travels) do important to future generations?
R: I hope we’re able to inspire future generations to be fascinated by the natural world so that they can be responsible stewards of the planet. I’m afraid they’re inheriting a world that’s way out of balance so the more knowledge we can bestow upon them the better.
M: Exploring on the road, doing presentations and workshops, creating art, playing music–what do you enjoy most about these things?
R: I love meeting kindred spirits on the road and being inspired by their passion and enthusiasm. I get a lot out of hanging with kids drawing dinosaurs and sharks because it takes me right back to my joyful beginnings.
M: Where was the best cheeseburger you’ve ever eaten?
R: The Burger Queen in Ketchikan. Like all good restaurants it started out in a truck.
M: What else would like our readers to know?
R: We’re going to be totally revamping our website this fall, the Ratfish Wranglers will have a new album out in the spring, and I’m planning on launching a line of fabrics at some point … so stay tuned. People can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram (yep, I do those too).

For more on Ray, visit

For details on his band that’s playing at SeaFeast this weekend, go to