Boat stories


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki wrote, “Boats are art objects that take on a narrative and emotional personality. They try to tell a story. That’s why boat paintings appeal to a certain type of artist and collector. They ask, ‘What kind of a person is this boat and what is her story? Does she touch me?’ There are endless opportunities. The story will come from the artist’s heart.”


“Golden Hour”
acrylic painting, 24 x 18 inches
by Tatjana Mirkov Popovicki

Thanks, Tatjana. Boats represent a cosmic drift on the sea of life. Regarding femininity, apart from the number of Queens and Princesses that ply the sea (even Titanic was a “she”), 75 per cent of boats are given female names. The idea of plucky little girl-boats buffeting storms is universal folklore. Boats are loaded with all kinds of anthropomorphic potential — they’re independent, heroic, stout, stubborn, plain, comely and gregarious. Traditionally — perhaps more than any other popular construction — they’re the product of a creative eye. Further, they’re divided into blowers and stinkers — the Montagues and Capulets of a floating race. Boats launch with attitude and stir up their own arguments.

Around here, as soon as anyone gets their hands on a bit of money, they buy a boat. The boats may sit unused year after year, but they still represent the potential for escape from terrestrial normalcy. I’ve had dozens of them. With me, it’s been a mental health problem. Some of them almost ruined me. In retrospect, painting them is almost as good, and considerably cheaper.

As time-honoured subjects for paintings, boats have no equal. Even when hauled for repairs or lying in dereliction, they tell their story. Their complex curves and watery furrowing present challenges of observation and rendering. Combining the frustration of hydraulic painting, natural science, and nautical correctness, boats can turn perfectly competent painters into babbling fools. Furthermore, boat paintings draw out the critical faculties in nearly every landlubber, and casual passersby suddenly become authorities. I’ve had guys I didn’t know phone me in the middle of the night to tell me that a certain foremast rigging has three-sheave blocks, not four. I’ve also heard that marine painters who know what they’re doing make regular trips to the bank, and this is all to the good, because they need the money to pay for their boats.


line drawing
by Edward Lear

Best regards,


PS: “The owl and the pussycat went to sea,
In a beautiful pea green boat.
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.” (Edward Lear)

Esoterica: For a romantic escape, nothing beats a boat. The artistic traveller cannot help but notice the variety available. There are the high-prowed Phoenician-styled ones of the Portuguese, the double-enders of the West Coast, or the high-sided no-nonsense dhows of the Somalis. While bemoaning the advent of plastic Tupperware, artists now need to move fast to paint the last of the classics. With boats around, there’s always something to do. I often wonder if Kenneth Grahame was thinking about painting in The Wind in the Willows when Ratty says, “There’s nothing half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.”


Critics of boat paintings
by TJ Miles, Spain


“The Throes”
acrylic on board
by TJ Miles

One person (who shall remain nameless) took great pleasure in lambasting my boat paintings — firstly, about the quality of my style of painting, and secondly, about the fact that he was a fully qualified ‘Day Skipper’ and therefore knew exactly how a boat should look.

I am slightly embarrassed to say I did let him go on a bit before I told him that prior to becoming a professional artist I was a professional yachtsman and delivered yachts around most of Europe long before he had even begun to sail. (It also shames me to say that I made him aware that I was also qualified to teach him how to sail yachts to a higher level than he had achieved previously.) My art reminds me of my earlier sailing experiences — lots of hard work, some self-inflicted high pressured times when you want to get off the roller-coaster, and plenty of time in between to appreciate having a lifestyle that many people would give their right arm for. It’s always nice to pull into port after a hard slog — artistically or otherwise.


The unconscious mind and the boat
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA


“Moon Romance II”
oil on plywood
by Linda Saccoccio

All types of fantasies can be created with the notion of drifting in a boat. We go from solid land into depths and dreams of motion, waves and a sense of liberation from the concrete, base life. We may reach far off lands innocent and pure, and we may come into peril, returning or not, that is always part of the mystery. Then there are endless symbolic associations with the form of a boat. A container is receptive and feminine. It could be a womb or a coffin. It could hold us, protect us on a journey, or cease our strivings with an overturned or sinking end. The relationship with the boat to the dark, deep waters of the unconscious cannot be overlooked. To contrast that, we have sweet thoughts of leisure and adventure when we see a boat. I grew up near a lake and even though I could see the shore across the lake, there was an excitement in my imaginings around the journey there and the fascination with new discoveries on the other side both from the past and present. If we get into the boat of our inner being we could find a continuous source of connection with the association of being in a boat carried beyond the known. It’s an open horizon.


Folding boat, folding everything
by Graham Smith, Wongamine, Australia


“Fire Fighter”
oil on canvas
by Graham Smith

My boat is a magnificent folding Portabote. This matches my income and my personality. On reflection I realise that I have 2 folding easels, a folding fish net, a telescopic fishing rod, a folding boat trailer in case I want to leave the Portabote assembled and tow it instead. A folding chair in case I want to sit in front of my folding easels and underneath my folding umbrella. A telescopic tiller arm enables me to sit in the middle of my boat under a folding canopy. Folding money is a bit scarce but I can still enjoy the peaceful floating down our rivers here in Western Australia, fishing and taking photos to inspire another painting or two. I have never painted directly from my boat, as you and your daughter did recently, but I am not sure if all my folding art gear will fit into it.


Cruising in a boat
by Scott Pynn, St. John, NB, Canada


original painting
by Scott Pynn

It is amazing how a boat can be so little and mean so much. My favourite boat belongs to a friend of mine, a small, unassuming boat with patched holes and a few bailers just in case. Whenever I’m out in that boat I feel truly alive. Cruising down the lake, squinting my eyes as the sun shines off the water and the spray from the bow makes little rainbows that wash your face. Without looking at me my old friend just nods his head and says, “What a day.”


Identify with the subject
by Lorelle Miller, CA, USA


oil painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Lorelle Miller

I think what is interesting here is what speaks to us, what is our muse, our inspiration. What do we breathe in as artists and calls to us to create our best work. Passion, obsession, intrigue, all of it blended together. Something crosses the line and stands out with clarity. True we look at “things” with academic prowess. We analyse and dissect these objects and the space they occupy accordingly and get them down on the canvas.

What I have found that drives me further is when there is a deep identification with what it is that I am painting. Be it a boat, a tree, a child. To breathe in the essence of whatever it is I wish to paint at that moment in time. To feel and identify with the soul of what has caught my attention. This is what brings forth my best work.


Lesson from nature
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA

Here is my boat story. I was 21. My friend was older and owned a wooden 40 foot sail boat. I became a member of his foul-weather crew. I would get a call at six a.m. “It is a bad day, do you want to go sailing?” Of course I did. That heavy boat would just fly across San Francisco Bay in a storm. Soaking wet, I would hold the tiller. Then I could see a sea gull just preening and riding the waves. I drove the boat at angles that were greater than 45 degrees. We just flew, across the Bay and back. I have never forgotten that bird. I was worried about surviving, that gull was worried about being pretty.


Journeys into the unknown
by Luann Udell, Keene, NH, USA


“African Fish”
Fiber collage/assemblage with handmade artifacts, 11 x 12 inches
by Luann Udell

When I see paintings of empty boats, I think of journeys into the unknown — not just the sea, but the future we create through our life choices. And especially that last, mysterious journey, death. Boats figure heavily in ancient mythology about death and transformation (for example, the river Styx and Charon, the boatman who ferried the dead to the underworld.)

To me, boats are a metaphor for how we choose to live our lives. We choose such a “vehicle” — by creating art, by creating literature, by the choices we make each day — to carry us on this strange journey called life.


Critics of illustration accuracy
by David DeArmond, USA

While painting the most “boaty boat” possible, you are also counting the sheaves to get them correctly illustrated. This problem occurs whenever techno-boffins start buying art. In rail-art circles they are called “rivet-counters.” Put the wrong compressor or trucks on a locomotive or put the wrong number of cars on a specific passenger train at a specific place and time and you will get a call. Put the wrong wheels and a pink paint job on a Chevy Corvet and the car guys will be knocking your stuff. Mess up on the markings on a WWII P-51 Mustang and you will get calls from that gang… starting with the geezer that actually refueled it… he thinks.

Somewhere in there you have to take off your glasses and paint the boat you want to paint… but if the market is important to you then you must cater to it. Does the guy calling at midnight have his check book handy? The truth is boats are highly individual, regional and often have been re-rigged and bastardized. Your rigging was likely already acceptable for that reason but he is not pleased. Okay, for his money he should be happy so change the rigging. Not a customer? Just a guy trying to get noticed at 1 a.m.? Well he might be a buyer some day… maybe. So I would hang up very nicely.


Recommended reading
by Helen Zapata, Phoenix, AZ, USA


from ‘The Koi’ series
by Helen Zapata

If you’d like to read a wonderfully entertaining book about sailing, I highly recommend the autobiographical story called Sailing In A Spoonful of Water: A Landlubber’s Education On A Vintage Wooden Boat by Joe Coomer. Although I know little about sailing, having grown up with the speedboats my dad built, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of Coomer’s first boat and his fears and delights as he learned how to be a true sailor. This is great reading while waiting for glazes to dry!




Benefits of direct experience
by Dr. Peter Berndt, The Woodlands, TX, USA


“Aunt Stella”
watercolour painting
by Dr. Peter Bernd

Sailing is a metaphor of life and it requires one, just as in life, to make use of what might be an obstacle such as contrary winds and currents to reach one’s goal. Marine painting is a world by itself with its own pleasures and tribulations. It is an added and joyful bonus to not only paint marine subjects but to also to have sailed extensively, as I have, on Lake Ontario, the Caribbean and in Greece. I would recommend strongly to anyone contemplating “embarking” on marine painting to supplement painting with the real life experience of wind and water. One of the reasons why Robert Bateman and Carl Brenders are as good as they are in wildlife art is their direct experience and keen observation of their subject.


Just love painting boats
by Todd Bonita, Greenland, NH, USA


“Rye Harbor Dinghy”
oil on panel
by Todd Bonita

I did a small oil painting of a boat last year and I haven’t stopped painting them since. I think I’m possessed or something. I’ve been wondering if maybe there is a deep introspective reason I paint them – are they trying to tell me something about myself? Nope! I just love painting them. I came up with several reasons why.

1) Each boat has its own unique soul, character and emotional spirit.
2) Boats have beautiful lines and curves.
3) Boats have mythical narrative… they tell tales.
4) Boats speak to the artist heart and eye.
5) Painting boats secretly reveals deep introspective things about yourself without you even knowing.


The silent canoe
by Brigitte Nowak, Toronto, ON, Canada


“Wood strip reflected”
original painting
by Brigitte Nowak

Thank you! From the bottom of my… keel. But — and this may be a West Coast slight to the rivers and lakes brigade — as well as “blowers” and “stinkers” there are, for want of a better term (I am open to suggestions), the silent partners: the elegant, utilitarian, easy-going, adaptable, go-anywhere, curvaceous canoe. Unlike the gold-digger sailboats and yachts, canoes will not (usually) break the bank. They carry their own weight (and then some!). They can transport their partner (and the family dog(s)) to places otherwise inaccessible. They don’t leave without being bidden to do so (if they do, they become blowers). And they have lovely shapes that can provide endless canvas fodder for artists.



Inspiration in the harbor
by Ann Trainor Domingue, Goffstown, NH, USA


original painting
by Ann Trainor Domingue

As I write this I have four paintings hanging in this room — all have boats in them. Growing up near the coast in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, owning a small sailing dory, I developed a deep love for the shapes of boats, although at the time I wasn’t aware of this strong attachment. It wasn’t until I moved inland and started to paint on a full time basis that I realised how much all kinds of boats and life of the seacoast needed to be part of my art life. I particularly found the well-lived working boats of area fishermen and lobstermen very appealing. Their will to live and work on the coast is inspiring to me yet just another day’s work for them, albeit a dangerous one. And the boats they choose seem to be their form of self-expression — size, shape, function, color – they personalize their chosen craft and it is these details that I respond to as an artist. I’m happy to sit and watch the goings-on in any harbor and I do wish I didn’t get seasick quite so easily.


Opportunity paddled right up
by Vic Mastis, St. Louis MO


“Boating in Forest Park”
oil painting, 24 x 36 inches
by Vic Mastis

I was painting at Forest Park in St. Louis. They rent canoes and paddle-boats to people. Well, I was standing by the lake painting a landscape when this canoe started coming up the arm of the lake towards me. I had my camera with me and tried to sneak a picture of them. They were having trouble steering the canoe and went round and round. I took a few pictures with my camera down at my side. I heard them say, “She’s taking our picture” so I put the camera away. They continued to lolly-gag around in my area so when their backs were turned, I got the camera out again and shot from my side — just hoping to get them in. Finally, as they came by me, they said, “Are you going to paint us?” I said, “Yes, I will have you in my show in November. They paddled up to me and I handed them a card with Gateway Gallery on it. They came to the November opening and bought that painting and had me do a commission for their sister who was in the same boat.


Finding inner peace
by Gregory Packard, Montrose, CO, USA


“Day After Tomorrow”
oil painting, 12 x 22 inches
by Gregory Packard

A little inner peace goes a long way. Some carry it with them; some find it in a quiet corner. It’s easy to take it for granted but hard to live without. To varying degrees and with varying awareness we all search for peace in our own lives but often come away frustrated because it is not something that can be bought with monetary or emotional currency, and it can’t be earned or even offered as a gift. From those who truly have it, it can’t even be stolen. Like love and joy, inner peace has a higher calling in our lives. It has less to do with who we are physically or what family or town or country we are born into. Those are the things that define our own unique challenges in life, the things we should come to terms with in order to be able to find a little peace inside ourselves. Some challenges are great and some small but what seems to be universal is that we are all faced with them While we can’t control all our circumstances, we can direct ourselves through them. But to do that we need to get on that boat and set sail. For the journey may be short or it may be long — it’s our life. If you wait until the day after tomorrow it may be over.


Learning from the sea
by Carole Ann Borges, Knoxville, TN, USA

Ah, boats! I was raised aboard a 50 foot Alden schooner. My brother Capt. Fatty Goodlander, the famous Salt-Stained Sea Gypsy, is right now in New Zealand completing his second circumnavigation of the globe. He has an enviable life writing about all his adventures for Cruising World magazine.

Boats and the sea can teach you much. The sea can teach you to breathe. Just stand by the shore and let the rhythms of a nice rolling ocean set the pace of your inhalations and exhalations. I’ve always felt this was because the sea is our mother. The sound of our mother’s breathing brings an incredible peace. I also buy boats and move aboard them whenever I have a personal crisis.

When someone asked my dad where exactly he was sailing to, he thought for a moment, then chuckled. “Over there,” he said, “to that spot just beyond the horizon.”


Artist’s life
by Liz Reday, South Pasadena, CA, USA


“La Jolla Rocks”
oil on canvas, 25 x 35 inches
by Liz Reday

About the only thing that can tear me away from painting is a boat ride. Years ago I met a fellow who had a sailboat in Gibralter. Within two weeks I had flown from London to the boat and we headed across the straights to Tangier. The lighthouse went out. It was the early seventies and we sailed on and around the Mediterranean for a few years. Sadly, I have only drawings from that time, but now I know how to paint on a heaving small craft no matter the weather. Different husband, different boat: I’ve learned to appreciate the wonders of a small boat with a large engine. We can make it to Catalina in less than two hours, with plenty of places to stop and paint.

But nothing beats being on land with an easel and paints in a funky fishing village anywhere on the planet. Newlyn, Cornwall several years ago was a delight, especially with old fishing skiffs in bright colors in the old ancient shapes. Ischia, off the Amalfi coast of Italy, still has some old fishing boats moored around the Castello that one could happily spend the rest of one’s life painting.

Artists have been going down to the sea with ships forever. The artist’s life is so much like that, setting forth in a leaky old boat for shores unknown. But what sights we see!


Air travel with paints
by Laurel McBrine, Toronto, ON, Canada

I have had some sleepless nights spent worrying about whether I would have my expensive oil paints confiscated at the airport. The last couple of trips have involved less stress since locating this little blurb on the Air Canada website:

“Oil-based paint, lacquer, stains, shellac, and oils are not accepted in carry-on or checked baggage. Exception: Tubes of oil-based paint used by artists are accepted provided the customer is in possession of the material safety data sheet confirming a non-hazard and provided the material is packaged in absorbent material and placed in a heavy, plastic leak-proof bag/container.”

You will note that there is no mention of water based paints being verboten, so I think anyone using acrylics or watercolors has nothing to worry about. I would think that tubes of any paint probably should go in the checked baggage these days given they are a liquid/gel type preparation.

Just to make sure that the person inspecting my bag understands that these items are permitted, I enclose a copy of the above paragraph from their own website pointing out that artist’s colors are permitted.

MSDS are available online from Winsor & Newton (under Health & Safety) and Gamblin (look under individual pigments).


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Boat stories



From: Bruce — May 13, 2007

Hello, nice site. Good luck.

From: Angelina — May 18, 2007

hello. very nice. good luck

From: Charles Peck — May 18, 2007

I’m new to this site and have already been motivated to change gears – almost like being back in art school. I have lived on sailboats for longer than I’d rather admit, now a Pearson Vanguard, and have the great good fortune of a buddy letting me use his 54ft trawler for a studio while he is occupied elsewhere for a couple of years. It is so easy to forget or overlook the unique situation we all find ourselves in… thanks for waking me up.

It does tend to become a rather everyday sort of experience if one doesn’t look through another’s eyes or use some other trick to snap out of mental laziness. Like reading this site.








watercolour painting
by Oleg Korolev, Crimea, Ukraine


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Allegreta Behar Blau who wrote, “I print out your letters and share with my husband, mainly, I think because they are not just about art, they are about all of life.”

And also Jerry Schlundt of Dowagiac, MI, USA who wrote, “Back in the ’80s I designed and lettered boats at an upscale marina near Chicago. While talking with clients I asked how they came to choose the names of their vessels. With this background information, I designed graphics and lettering styles to enhance their choice. A very lucrative business.”

And also The Zugars of Ocala, FL, USA who sent this oft-noted definition, “A boat is a hole in the water into which one pours money.”




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