The idea for this painting came to me when I heard that Lulworth (then called Terpsichore) was built with the objective of beating Britannia in the heavy weather conditions where few could match her.
For the backdrop to this drama I chose the Needles Lighthouse and the cliffs of Scratchells Bay, taping together my own photos of sections of this panoramic scene.
I began with pencil and watercolour roughs on paper to establish the composition.
When I was satisfied I transferred this to the canvas, drawing on it with a hard pencil.
It looks right, but it won't be until the next stage when the linework is fleshed out by the underpainting and I can see it clearly as bold shapes and masses that I'll really know. The painting is part way though the underpainting here..
11 Jan 05
The underpainting is now in place. All areas have been filled with colour,
tone and texture which provide a foundation for the painting's development.
At this stage I'm focusing on overall unity, consciously avoiding developing
any one area ahead of the rest of the painting.
I've worked in thin films of paint. This speeds drying and allows the
brilliance of the white ground to provide luminosity, much as a
There is no attempt at refinement or sleek painting. In fact, it is rather
scruffy in places like, for example, the two rough splodges of dark on the
boats' decks. These represent areas of deep shade. It is too early to get
into the detailed drawing of the structures that create this shade, so rough
it has to be. I need these darks as part of establishing the parameters early in the work. Likewise Britannia's black hull.
1st Feb 05
I've worked on the sky: a more ultramarine blue, top left, graduated downwards to a cyan blue, and across the top, becoming lighter and warmer. I've worked on the clouds too. A layer of warmer colour was laid over all the sails, unifying them and establishing the glowing translucent light. It needs refining, but I must let it dry or get mired in sticky paint. Photographed in its frame, which I use at this stage to check there are no eye-catching events at the true periphery, because about a centimetre of the canvas is covered by the rebate of the frame.
Developing the background, especially the cliff head and cloud-shadows over the Needles and lighthouse (the brightly lit white rock was too strong for a background feature). I also worked up the land beyond on both wings, as differently as possible. Scumbled some purple cloud-shadows over the sea, especially the extreme foreground. This will heighten the sense of depth, and create links with the clouds racing by overhead.
6 March 2005
I've done some wide-ranging work, much of it on the sky (especially the cloud mass on the right).
I've revised my judgement about the angle of the light in relation to the sails. The result is better contrasts all round. I slightly cooled and brightened the colours of the sails.
The serious development of the sea was begun with the lightest and darkest
elements: the bow and quarter waves and the boats' shadows across the water. Then I began 'drawing' the swelling tidal sea in green-greys. This made the sea look very sombre because these "darks' are in place but the lighter and warmer work has only just begun.
16 May 2005
The sea is almost finished, with just the 'white water' and glitter to do. I want the complex detail of the boats' decks in place before doing that, as a precaution against a too-busy (fussy) overall effect.
The sail-cloth seams are done and the deck detail is under way.
26 May 2005
The deck and hull detail, including the figures, is substantially in place now.
I've redrawn Lulworth's waterline and wake.
I've made some late adjustments to the background.
The rigging work has begun.
30 May 2005
The rigging is now complete. Lulworth's bowsprit overlapping the aft detail of Britannia was particularly complex and tricky.
The boats are now finished, provisionally.
I'll return and review, checking it all thoroughly and adding any necessary finishing touches, when the sea is finished.
A further month's work and the sea is finished. The last features in place were the wave caps and foaming water, highlights (glitter) and the greens of translucent light through the waves on the right.
The boats were carefully checked; a few minor adjustments. Signature applied (The last act)