Ships, Sea & Sky

Anyone looking carefully at this collection of ship paintings and illustrations, will hopefully recognise my intent to produce representational artworks, full of interest and accuracy. I’ve spent the last 14 years concentrating on painting ships; usually those of the contemporary Royal Navy, in which I was proud to serve during the 1970s. And although I was never destined to become First Sea Lord, I was in the seamanship branch, which I hope still affords me some firsthand experience of ships — perhaps something not so readily available to other marine artists. As, unlike some practitioners of maritime art, I’m not content to just copy a photograph, or worse still, lazily Photoshop a different sky onto a filched photo and sell it as my own artwork.

Admittedly, it is not easy to entirely exclude the use of photographs, as warships are usually unavailable for close study, and the chance to see them in action rarely an option. They’re often too complicated to invent convincingly, so invariably, one has to resort to photographic references. However, my ideal is to attempt something different, that perhaps the original photographer wasn’t able to achieve, through no fault of their own efforts. But just replicating a fantastic photo in paint, should never be the artist’s goal, although it seems to satisfy some, not to mention the admirers of their work. For me, a painting should exhibit some craftsmanship in its execution, which is not to say, it has to be a photorealistic representation, devoid of life and brush marks. Regrettably with the rise of high definition and computer generated images, representational art has increasingly taken a backseat. The ‘Artist’s Impression’ once so familiar, is now the preserve of the computer generated image, resulting in many a bland facsimile; undistinguishable in style, from any other similar rendition.

However, without wishing to state the obvious, the main interest of a warship painting, is the vessel itself, and not the method employed to manufacture it. By which I mean how popular the ship is with those that serve or served on board, which is often unquantifiable, as not every sailor feels the same about their own time aboard a particular warship. I’ve found with some of my own ship paintings, the ones I consider my more accomplished artworks, are not always the best sellers in print. Occasionally I am surprised if someone buys a ship print, when they have no connection with the vessel at all, just because they like the painting. This is very heartening, especially as unlike a sailing ship, modern warships are not often considered as aesthetically pleasing.

Beyond accurately portraying a ship in a marine painting, the sea is perhaps the hardest part to depict convincingly. Every successful marine artist invariably approaches this in their own unique way, and this individual style is often paramount to the success of the painting. For instance, I’ve found that trying to laboriously copy a photograph of a sea (even if possible) results in a static evocation - mainly because photographs tend to freeze the motion of waves, whereas, the sea is constantly moving, (even when seemingly as flat as a millpond). Therefore this approach seems a bit counter intuitive to me, but I’m not saying it doesn’t work in the hands of a skilled practitioner. Of course, some sea painters succumb to depicting it much the same way in every picture; while others try to emulate a more successful artist’s approach, (surely tantamount to forging another’s handwriting). Something I suggest we’ve all been guilty of while trying to cultivate our own personal style, which can often be a very slow and demoralising process. By all means study the work of others, but don’t imitate, as you will never develop a natural style personal to you. I’ve realised that painting the sea will be a continual learning process for me, sometimes often frustrating and sometimes rewarding; but never to be mastered.

Back in the last century before the rise of home digital printing, if an artist wanted to get their work into print, and therefore seen by a wider audience, they had to approach fine art publishers, which I occasionally did, clutching armfuls of my paintings. Amongst my landscapes, equestrian scenes and wildlife pictures, I would throw in a painting of a warship or two, although I knew these wouldn’t appeal to a mass market audience, and therefore be summarily rejected by the publisher, I still wanted to have their feedback. On one such occasion, the criticism I received regarding an oil painting of the famous battleship HMS Warspite being towed away for scrap was “the sky didn’t match the sea”. Decades later I’m still unsure what was actually meant by this remark, as it could refer to a multitude of possible sins. However, it’s something that I’m still conscious of when painting sea and sky. I can appreciate that sometimes, a ‘good’ sky can be painted, only to execute an appalling sea underneath, or vice versa. So the sky is of equal importance as the sea, and the condition of it will affect and indeed, literally reflect on it, whilst denoting mood, wind direction, position of the sun, etc.

Finally, many an aspiring artists, (and there are certainly many), will consider submitting their work for various art societies and exhibitions - this isn’t something I’ve entertained, mainly because they’re generally located in London. In my youth I used to occasionally go there to visit artists' agents, but the prospect of struggle on the Underground, carrying large canvases isn’t one I now relish. Perhaps my reluctance has been a mistake, for I can appreciate it would enable one to meet other likeminded people, who equally want to talk about their creations, but it could also be very soul destroying, when ones work is rejected, or worse, hanging alongside a veritable masterpiece. These days most of us are reasonably content to just slog it out on the internet, hoping that someone will eventually alight on our website of artistic treasures and find some merit in them. Assuming they haven’t missed us because our work doesn’t feature on the first few pages on Google!

So if you have arrived here, please take some time, if you can, to look at my pictures, even if your old ship or that of a relative, isn’t present, I hope you may get something from them.

I mainly work in either oil or acrylic on canvas, and even in Photoshop, on the computer.

If you’re interested in the possibility of commissioning a painting, please email me at: