Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How I Choose my Reference Material

My latest Whaling Painting from start to finish for Nantucket Country, Nantucket, Mass.

How I choose my reference material for painting and illustrating 

Whaling Painting - Part 1 

I've always thought that the hardest part of painting is developing the idea.  There are a lot of talented painters but less talented creative people.  I can go to school to learn how to paint, but I cannot go to school to be creative.  You either have this or you don't~period! 

So alas, here's my challenge.  I've painted so many whaling paintings.  How can I make THIS one different from all the rest?  I decided to go into some of my archives and take a look at what I have already done for Nantucket Country.  Here are a few examples that she has long sold-I presume.  

Here are a few examples
The  above picture is a little blurry but it is all that I have to give to you this morning.  As you can see, I like a lot of movement.  I like to see the whales jumping, floating, spouting, and I LOVE TO SEE THEM toss the boats upside down!  After all it was dangerous business. The painting doesn't have to be totally factual or historical but it should feel like it is.  HA. 

There's a very famous painter named Benjamin Russell who owned many whalers and merchant ships and much property, but during the hard times of 1832, he lost his fortune.  So at the age of 37 and penniless, he decided to illustrate whaling scenes.  He painted them from first hand accounts of his voyages and they were immense in size.  He is the most famous of all whaling illustrators.  I enjoy looking at his paintings.  His panoramas can be viewed at the Whaling Museum of New Bedford, where they are now preserved.  According to Russell's accounts, these whales were merciless, tossing the boats in the air, cracking them in half, and surely taking down the sailors to the bottom of the sea!  I wouldn't have enjoyed this.  It's still fun to paint, though, and I will include some of this drama in my picture for Nantucket Country.  

I also will show some different types of Whaler Ships.  There were schooners, brigs, barks, brigantines, and plain old ships that carted these men around in their search for whales.  Each ship would carry their whale boats hanging from the davits on deck.  The inside of the ship would be filled with casks of whale oil that were stowed.  With each whale they caught, the space would grow limited.  After a whale was captured, it was cut up and the blubber boiled.  The ship became a tiny factory producing oil.  So the equipment to do this also went to sea.  There was a fireplace looking brick structure call 'the try-works' which was used to hold the fire for boiling the blubber.  This took up part of the deck.  While I will not illustrate the kegs of oil beneath, I will include the fireplace structure because it would have been visible on a whaling ship.  

The name of the ship--this becomes the hard part.  It is for Nantucket.  Because of this, I like to include some factual name.  Nantucket was a little whaling capital 30 miles from the mainland and surrounded by the sea.  There were so many whales swimming around in early Nantucket that you could spot them from the hills.  The year was 1690, and a few Nantucketers predicted that the sea would be the green pasture where their children's grandchildren would go for their bread.  This prediction held true.  Nantucket continued to grow and by 1775, there were 4500 people living there and there were 150 whaling vessels.  Life was great until the American Revolution put a halt to whaling.  Between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, Nantucket continued to grow.  After the war, whaling picked up where it left off and Nantucket's greatest days of whaling began! Ships would sail for all the waters of the globe from this small capital. It's hard to believe when you consider the island is only about 15 miles long. Always these tall masts of the whaler boats could be seen over the waterfront in the skies surrounding the island. Even on land, men who never went to sea made their living from whaling. They drove wagons and carts over the cobblestones, hauling casks of oil to warehouses.  They repaired sails, they made sails, they sold sails. They made rope, they forged harpoons, you get the picture.  

That is why it is very appropriate to paint a whaling scene for Nantucket. 

Of course I will have the whale in the picture, too.  There are sperm whale, bowhead whale, and right whale among many that they hunted. 

Please check out the progress of this new painting soon.  I will post more pictures tomorrow of the painting, starting with my quick pencil drawing that I always do for reference and composition purposes.  

In the meantime,  Here are a few other paintings that I sold to Nantucket Country over the years.  
This would be a terrific addition to a collection of paintings - This is  the Capt. from Moby Dick

Because I always paint in consistent colors, my paintings go well with each other.  If you have a wall of ships that I painted, this would be a neat painting to add to your collection.  I love to see collections and Nantucket Country may still have this one.  You can check out their website.  I will include at the end of this post.  

The White Whale of Moby Dick!

This painting was not very large if I recall correctly and so there's not a lot going on in it!  I wanted to include it because I liked it.  I love the sky colors and the flags.  There will be flags in my new painting, for sure! 
Nantucket's Oldest House

Lastly, for today, here is one was one of my favorite landscapes that I ever painted for NC.  Again, it is a little blurry, but this was before my nice iPhone!  This is available as a print.  I know that the original has long sold.

The website for Nantucket Country is   When I went and looked at what she had available, it looks like all the above paintings have sold.  She still has a great selection, however.  I have been painting for her for 22 years.  One thing to keep in mind when viewing her inventory is that the colors are a bit more bright than they are in reality.  I should know!


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