Elizabeth Reoch

Visual art lessons from a Canadian Artist, Teacher

Ship at Sea Painting


 Ship at Sea Painting

Ship at Sea painting

The Ship at Sea painting posed many challenges for me as an artist. The classic composition needed to be painted on a grand scale with dark hues and smooth brushwork, which is a different style of painting from my own style. I had painted sail boats and water but never wild rolling frothy water. I have seen tall ships at the Montreal port but I have never been drawn to the romantic imagery. This romantic subject was unfamiliar so I decided to look at art history to overcome that challenge.

By examining Théodore Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa” I began to find the motivation to paint. The ship that is seen off in the distance by the survivors is what I used for inspiration.

Théodore Géricault's "The Raft of the Medusa

Théodore Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa”

The shipwreck survivors are waving to what they think is a ship in the distance. That ship has influenced the imagination of many artists and dreamers. It seems to represent the romantic ideal of “Man verses Nature”. Our great struggle to keep working and trying to move forwards against all reason. Hope of rescue for the survivors is ever present in this painting.



The image of a tall ship struggling alone at sea represents humanities hopeful  perseverance.

 Painting Tutorial

When working on a large scale realistic painting it is important to sketch out the composition and transfer the plan onto the canvas before applying your paint. Your drawing should indicate the plan for the under-painting and where you will apply layers of paint.

Sketch of Ship

Sketch of Ship

Thumbnail Sketch

Thumbnail Sketch

I gave the clear sky an undercoat of burnt umber and the water and stormy sky an dark aqua. The undercoat helps to set the mood for the painting.Underpainting Using a small square brush I begin painting the details of the ship. The ship has a simple colour pallet of burnt umber, yellow ocher and crimson.Tall Ship

Using a large square brush I worked on the water with a mixture of cerilium blue, burnt umber and ultramarine blue. The rolling waves painted in three shades of blue. Dark at the bottom and medium around and in the middle with light at the tip. The process of painting the stormy sea resembles sculptural work. Working back and forth adding shadows and highlights forming the waves.

Stormy water

Using similar colours, tones, textures and loose brushwork throughout the painting connects the composition.

Ship at sea on easel

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