On a recent afternoon at the Keystone spit, Betty Bastai stared out at the wooden skeleton of an old wharf that served as a platform for seabirds basking in the sun.
To the casual observer, the seascape, surrounded by the waters of Admiralty Inlet, was captivating enough.
To Bastai, this was nothing compared to the view from underneath.
“Down there is completely full of life,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe it.”
For years, Bastai’s creative talents have surfaced in the form of drawings, etchings and paintings. An Oak Harbor artist, she also delved deeply into installation art, creating elaborate scenes intended to change one’s perception of space.
But since 2008, when she became a certified scuba diver, Bastai’s creative outlet has turned to underwater photography.
Every week, she and her husband, Sam Osteen, try to get out and explore the undersea world, typically venturing to any of about a half-dozen spots around Whidbey Island.
Bastai’s underwater photography has been featured in diving magazines, a book on rockfish and in art shows. In August, one of her photographs will be a part of the Port Townsend Art Commission and Northwind Art Center’s 16th Annual Juried Art Exhibition.
Her image of a sea slug called a white-lined dirona was taken in the waters near the Langley Marina. It is one of 77 art pieces selected for the show from 313 submissions.
Sea slugs are part of the vast, rich, colorful world of sea life that Bastai has captured with her digital camera.
At the Keystone Underwater Park in Coupeville, one of Whidbey’s most popular diving spots, Bastai said it’s common to see the giant Pacific octopus, the world’s largest octopus, resting in dens, as well as schools of rockfish and surf perch.
“Usually, there’s two or three octopus living there,” she said. “And you’ll see other very interesting animals like the Puget Sound king crab. It’s a very colorful crab.”
Born in Italy, Bastai attended the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland for six years, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in fine arts.
A job with the U.S. Forest Service as a cultural resources technician brought her to Washington state, where she met her husband at her first solo art show in Eatonville.
Since arriving on Whidbey Island in 2004, she’s put her energies into various forms of art. Her installations were part of exhibits in Mount Vernon, Bellingham, Seattle and Olympia. More recently, she’s printed greeting cards displaying her photography, which are sold at Lavender Wind Farm on Darst Road in Coupeville as well as the shop downtown.
Bastai also writes a blog about scuba diving (www.openwaterbubble.blogspot.com) and works on video projects. She has a website, www.bettybastai.com
She hopes her underwater photography will help expose the beauty of what’s below the surface in Puget Sound and make people think harder about preserving it.
“Hopefully, they’ll feel something about it,” she said. “The ocean right now is going through a lot of stress.”