I passionately love the sea, and all things associated with it, both past and present. One of my lifelong aspirations is to create maritime paintings worth seeing, and since none of us are promised tomorrow, there's no time like the present to begin.
The first object to tackle is the subject. There's something romantic, adventurous, and a little mysterious about the tramp steamers of old, making their way to ports where opportunities may or may not await. The mariners that crewed these ships were tough, self-sufficient, and with a wealth of stories all their own. As a subject for a first-time maritime painter, the tramp steamer, specifically the Lakes class freighters built during the First World War in Great Lakes ship yards, fit the bill pretty well. The ships are relatively uncomplicated with their basic, boxy shape, straight lines, and easily researched references.
With the subject selected, it's time to create the first rough sketch. I use Photoshop CS5 with a Cintiq 24" HD monitor, but the digital process I use is almost exactly the same as using a traditional piece of paper and a pencil. I study multiple reference photos to be sure I understand all the objects on the ship I'm looking at, and will therefore create in the drawing. Once the rough sketch is complete, I then begin a more refined sketch, capturing additional details, refining, and making more clear what will subsequently be painted.
Once the object is sketched out, I need to focus on the setting and background. Every stand-alone painting should, in my opinion, tell a story - be part of a larger narrative, seen or unseen, like a piece of visual literature. Knowing the limitations of my skill level at this point, I decided to set the ship in placid, reflective water. To do so in the middle of the sea would make the painting utterly boring and lifeless. In order to add story to the ship, where water wouldn't play a more dramatic role, the setting is crucial and needs to be well chosen. After a good deal more location research, I came across images of Phuket, Thailand - I don't think I've ever seen a more dramatic set of land formations than those naturally created there.
Now that the physical elements are decided on, the next character to be fleshed out in this story is the light - where will it be in the sky, how will it impact the subject and the supporting characters of sea and landscape, what time of day would create the most dramatic lighting? To sort this out, I used my wife's iPad and the Procreate digital drawing app to do a very quick (3 to 5 minutes) thumbnail sketch of how I might approach the light. I'm still not settled on this, but thumbnailing certainly aids greatly in solving that visual problem.
Since this painting still has quite a way to go before completion, the lighting I choose may change multiple times. I'll keep experimenting and trying to dial up more drama and interest. In the meantime, flaws and all, and very much incomplete, here's where the painting is as of this date. I'll update as I go, and thank you for allowing me to share this with you.