In spite of his artistic ability, Colin never set out to paint. His first dream was to join the military, but his parents persuaded him to attend college. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in drawing from Northern Illinois University. He recalls that his work during this time was very depressing and dark. He was not drawing or painting for himself, but for his teachers and peers. Consequently he concentrated on somber subjects using drab colors.
His figurative paintings and drawings during college are works of gloomy interiors and figure studies. His first marine wildlife painting, "Scattered", was completed after his graduation. It depicts a school of Heniochus Butterflyfish. Colin describes it as "a dark underwater painting"—a natural transition from his more drab works at university, to his future paintings of bright undersea wildlife.
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