I have always loved boats and ships and for many years they were a most important part of my life. They have always found a place in my sketchbook. Harbours, ports, beaches and rivers fascinate me and provide me with an endless source of painting and drawing subjects.
A good deal of my work is done in wash and line, so possibly a few words on the subject would be helpful before we make a start. Line and wash is as regularly-used description of paintings done in watercolour, the outlines of which are heightened by a line. I like to call it line and wash rather than pen and wash because so many line markers, other than a pen, can be used. It all depends which comes first, the line or the wash! A trifle complicated but I am sure you can see what I mean. For my part I feel that wash first gives a much freer feeling. Line first tends to become a coloured drawing and is usually much tighter in character. Nevertheless there is a place for both techniques.
A word of warning. When painting in a tidal area remember tides ebb and flow, so take care not to get cut off! The other thing to remember is that the tide can rise or fall either floating the boat you have just carefully drawn sitting on the mud or, conversely, leave the floating vessel high and dry! Reference to the tide tables will give you the information you need. Remember the tide takes about twelve hours from high to low water and back to high again so judge your work time to fit in with the tide, or you may get your feet wet!
I like to work outdoors whenever possible, but circumstances sometimes make this inconvenient, so sketches are the next best thing. For this demonstration I have chosen to work indoors from a sketch I did on a visit to Pin Mill. It depicts three spritsail barges high and dry on the foreshore. These vessels were the real working barges up to a few years ago, transporting cargoes mostly from East Anglian ports to and from London.
So how do we start? To make myself familiar with the subject I usually do lots of thumbnail sketches, in a 4b or 6b pencil, to sort out composition, massing, tone etc., as well as sketches of little details which catch my eye. Having found my spot, and made sure the tide is right, I get down to a larger and more detailed sketch which I can work up in the studio (figure 1). I know this spot so well that I did not follow my usual practice of covering my sketches with notes on things like colours, tones, shadow details, what the weather is like, where the sun is, how big people are (to establish scale in the painting) and similar information which will be useful later in the studio. Sometimes I do add a wash or two of colour, as I did in this instance.