The Titanic – a painting of a night scene

As some may have noticed, it’s 100 years ago since a certain ocean liner went down. Ships fascinate me. Disasters too. So – this is a subject I have wanted to make a painting of for quite a while. This spring seems to be as good an occasion as any.

I decided to go for a painting of the ship’s very last moments. All lights have gone out, the ship has broken in two, the bow section is gone and the stern section is taking the final plunge. One reason for choosing this very moment is that I don’t know any painting by Ken Marschall that shows it.

As for how the ship exactly behaved in these moments … well, this is a subject of intense debate among Titanic geeks, discussing conflicting accounts from eyewitnesses, possible angles and scenarios for the break-up and what have you. My picture will rely heavy on two survivors’ accounts in particular – those of Jack Thayer and Charles Joughin. They seem to describe how the ship during the very last moments was tipping forward as well as rolling over, going down with a pivoting motion. Joughin was actually on the ship when it happened; he describes how it would suddenly list, so most of the people still there was thrown off. He himself climbed the starboard railing and stood outside, on the side of the ship, as it went down. After that, he spent several hours in freezing water that would kill most people in minutes. He was, in short, a true badass, apart from having a ringside view to what happened. His account can be read here.

So, my first step has been to make an accurate line drawing of how the ship would appear to someone at sea level at just that moment. I put a plastic model of the Titanic in a bucket, adjusted the angle and photographed it. I used the photo mainly as a guide to working out the perspective. The details were put in with the help of various old photos and plans, made for modellers. Here it is in progress:

That’s the easy part. Now what is really tricky is to add colour. The actual event took place in a moonless night. It was dark. Really, really dark. It would have been hard to see much more than the silhouette of the ship against the starlit sky. In other words, there would be next to nothing to paint.

Now, try to remember some night scenes in movies (think maybe of a certain cheesy James Cameron movie, if you really have to). What do you see in those scenes? Usually an awful lot, actually. They tend to be far brighter than any real night scene would be. After all, the point of the movie is to see something happening, isn’t it?

And yet, you still know that it is night. How? Well, basically because of the colour blue. A scene where everything is bathed in a blue light tends to be perceived as a night scene. So, I made some colour studies where everything is far brighter than it would have been in reality, but with everything having a blueish tone, thus enabling me to go for an unrealistic contrast, where the viewer can actually see what’s happening, yet still (hopefully) giving the impression of looking at a night scene. After a couple of really crappy attempts I came up with this one. I think it has something of what I’m aiming for:

So far, so good. I’ll have to work a bit more on the drawing, before I can jump to the actual painting – so stay tuned.

Female Pteranodon

Oil on canvas on board, 14 X 22 cm.


Oil on canvas on board, 22 X 14 cm.

Merry Yuletide!

Oil on canvas on board, 30 X 24 cm.

Pteranodon longiceps

Oil on canvas, 38 X 46 cm.

A pterosaur from the Cretaceous. The known fossil specimens fall into two different groups – some larger, with a long crest on the head and a rather narrow pelvis and some smaller, with only a small crest but a wider pelvis. They could be two different species, but a likely explanation is that they represent one species that shows sexual dimorphism, the smaller ones with the wider pelvis being the females. This painting shows a male who has seen a really hot lady Pteranodon and now makes a graceful turn to hit on her.

One question that generates heated arguments among palaeontologists is where the wing membranes of a pterosaur is attached. In my reconstruction I have looked at the Vienna specimen (NHMW 1975/1756) of another species, Pterodactylus antiquus, where the membrane appears to be attached to the thigh. Bear in mind that “appears to” doesn’t mean that it was beyond any doubt the case – this is basically a guess, although I try to make it at least somehow educated …

Antenna man

Oil on canvas on board, 30 X 24 cm.

Portrait of Abigail

Charcoal, black and white chalk on blue paper.

The model is an old acquaintance of me. Some years ago she asked me if would like to draw her portrait. I would, but I was also a bit uncomfortable with the task. The thing was that I at that time had very little life drawing experience and was pretty clueless about how to deal with the challenge. It came as no surprise to me that the result pretty much sucked.

Since then, I have been taking classes at Studio Éscalier and with David Kassan and my life drawing skills have improved considerably. So, I asked Abigail to pose again for yet another portrait drawing, this one.

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