Some people have been kind enough to call me a fine artist. I have always called
myself an illustrator. The difference (if there is one) does not concern me. All
I know is, that whatever type of work I do, I try to give my very best. Art has been
and always will be my life.
Being involved with historical subject matter and with recreating the past, I am
dealing with something that I have not seen or experienced, only read or researched.
This is where the imagination comes in. Imagination is the prime ingredient; research
and knowledge of history gathers the building-blocks, then the creative process begins.
I have to imagine myself there in whatever situation is portrayed, transcending the
disadvantages of not having been present at Trafalgar with Nelson, or rounding the
Cape with Vasco de Gama, or fighting alongside the Saxons at Hastings.
Much emphasis is placed on authenticity (when considering historical subjects) which
is fine, but my first considerations are mood, spirit and good strong design. The
artist whom I admire for combining these so superbly, is the fine historical painter
Fortunino Matania; his wealth of period detail combined with beautiful drawing and
colour and composition, and in his early and best work that wonderful evocation of
another time, another place, leaves me with my feet very firmly on the ground when
looking at my own work. There are many others who serve as guide and stimulus. The
artists of the golden age of illustration, the great marine painters of the past
and not so distant past who actually worked in sail, all furnish good references
as to how sailing ships behaved at sea.
I have from time to time crewed traditional craft, from ketch to schooner, two- and
three-masted topsail rig and square rig brigantine, for periods of one week to four.
This does give me a feel of what it is like to sail these vessels in good and bad
weather. I felt that I needed this experience in order to have the understanding
of what I wished to paint, even though I suffered from sea-sickness - an ailment
that is not considered by the skippers and their mates sufficient to stop anyone
from carrying out their various duties while on board.
My interest in things military, and period costume and fashion has proved invaluable
on many occasions, for example when incorporating figures in my marine painting.
In painting the Battle of the Svold, it was helpful to know the type of weapons that
would have been used in that period, the painted designs on the shields, and the
important fact that not everyone wore a mail shirt; and although I show only one
man armed with a sling, it was widely used because of its simplicity, cheapness,
and its deadly effectiveness. Then again, the variety of clothing worn by the different
classes in an oil painting of a crowd on the quayside, watching and seeing off friends
and relatives to the New World, in Tudor times. It is not always enough just to go
to a museum or look at books; like the business of understanding sailing vessels,
it is a long process of acquiring knowledge over a period of years, and there is
always more to discover if you cover a wide field of history as I do. Covering a
wide field means that it is highly unlikely that I will ever be an expert, but then
I have always had trouble with that word.
To sum up; the last thirty years have been great fun and I have met a lot of interesting
and nice people. Long may it continue, until that final moment when I pitch over
the side of my easel like a mast shot through at the base, and ascend to that great
studio in the sky.