All of my life I've loved the sea, and after a 24 year career in the U.S. Navy, it feels woven into my DNA. As an artist, there is no subject, other than my family, I could paint with more passion and feeling.
There's so much in this area I'm interested in: the modern Navy vessels I served on, historic ships of the line, fishing vessels, work boats, the characters who made their livings on the sea, and the topic I chose for my first painting, tramp steamers.
As a resident of Buffalo, NY, there's so much relatively unknown maritime history that deserves its place in the public's awareness. A number of freighters - "Lake" class freighters were built on the Lake Erie waterfront in Buffalo and went on to serve in both World Wars. A few even continued service into the 1960's - a sign of a well built ship.
Step one in my maritime painting process is research. I studied photograph's, builder's plans, and the work of other artists to get a good feel for the vessel, and began thinking about how I'd tackle it. Once that was figured out, I went to the Wacom Cintiq and began sketching.
Once I had the basic ship structure penciled in, I wanted a setting that would be dramatic, and would add to the interest of the completed image. I did days worth of internet searches looking for a stunning coastline to add, and settled on Phuket Harbor in Thailand. Massive rock structures jutting out of the ocean, brilliant green foliage and azure seas - perfect, or so I thought.
One lesson I learned mighty quick - I took on way more than I should have for my first maritime painting. I'd never painted landscapes before, let alone ones of this complexity, I'd never painted so much as a canoe, let alone a large ship, and never painted water, a very challenging subject in and of itself.
I turned to an iPad to work out some quick thumbnail sketches to figure out how to attack the light source and how that would impact the values on the ship, sea, and surrounding land masses - a video capture is below.
I'm fortunate to have a large group of people on social media to share my work with and to hear their feedback. I heard some great suggestions, and decided on pulling back on some of the elements I initially added. Smoke from the stack from a ship at anchor seemed inappropriate, so I omitted it. The large rock structure immediately behind the ship became a distracted and was somewhat confusing to the eye - it drew the viewer away from the focal point, which I wanted to be the bridge and midsection of the ship.
Initially, I'd intended to paint in sampans and create a waterborne commerce scene, but I ended up passing on that. I painted in a storm in the background with the sun breaking through on the port (left) side of the ship, partially obstructed by a landmass out of view on the right side of the image.
For the sea, I wanted it to be a bit choppy, as though riled from a recently passed storm, but not much so it would change the character of the image.
All in all, I'm pleased with what I was able to achieve and realize there's a universe of things I have yet to learn - and that's appealing. Learning is an integral part of the joy of creating art, and I look forward to it.
The completed piece: