Painting the Shipping Forecast

Painter and author Peter Collyer contributes this guest blog ahead of the publication of the new edition of his book, RAIN LATER, GOOD: Painting the Shipping Forecast, this Thursday (12/9):

When the idea of painting my way round all the sea areas of the Shipping Forecast first struck me, one location, and it was land not sea, stood out and the thought of going there for the first time filled me with excitement. Iceland.

I boarded the ferry in Bergen. It was a lovely sunny July afternoon and the boat was packed. The Faeroese contingent of athletes who had been taking part in the Island Games, a kind of Olympics for rock dwellers, had unexpectedly come aboard because their flight home from the host rock, Jersey, had been diverted to Norway due to bad weather.

It had become customary on these travels for me to spend as much time as I could patrolling the decks, waiting for the magical moment which would define my journey through that particular rectangle of sea to reveal itself. Usually the scene didn’t change too dramatically from one minute or even one hour to the next, so I had the time to produce satisfying and useful sketches, but always kept a camera handy to record those fleeting moments of something special. So with that in mind I found my way up to the sun deck, just in time to witness a stampede of the athletes, who flopped down onto the sun loungers and promptly stripped-off (more or less!) to soak up the rays.

When we arrived at the Faeroe Islands late the following morning I discovered why those few hours of July sun, which even we British can almost take for granted, was so precious to them. Welcome to the grey north!

(c) Peter Collyer

The austere beauty of their islands was the unexpected bonus of this particular journey. But as I watched them slip majestically over the horizon and we headed for Iceland it was still the thought of our impending arrival there early the following morning, which captivated me.

We were due to dock at 8am, so I was out on deck before 6, hoping to see something spectacular. Maybe it was out there somewhere, but coastal fog obscured the view and I stared out at a uniform greyness. It was Faeroes part 2.

I decided to stay on deck and was very soon rewarded handsomely. A momentary parting of the fog and cloud revealed three sunlit mountain peaks streaked with snow. Wow! I managed to snap three photographs before the grey blanket covered all again. Was I the only person to have witnessed that glorious vision?

I had been prepared to find something else to paint as a record of my South East Iceland visit, but even though I was able to spend an hour or so on a sketch during my four hours ashore and we had sailed for more than an hour down a beautiful sunlit fjord on our departure, those few seconds before breakfast stayed with me. Clearly there was no time to have recorded anything of it on paper with pencil or brush, so back home in my studio I used the details recorded by my camera and the vivid thoughts still in my head, to recreate for posterity how it felt to be out on deck early that morning and to have witness that fabulous moment.

(c) Peter Collyer

I began it in the usual way by drawing a rectangle – in this instance 15 x 20 cms, quite big for me – on a piece of watercolour paper and composed the main elements of the scene with a few light pencil marks. Then, slowly, over a few days and into a couple of weeks, carefully built up the many washes of transparent watercolour until I felt the rich velvety image I had made matched my memory of the subtlety of that early morning light.

It was such an important moment for me, and maybe because of that I felt the painting was one of the best I had ever done, that I decided not to sell it when the exhibition of all 44 paintings from my Shipping Forecast travels were exhibited at Chris Beetles’ gallery in London, but kept it as a memento of a special period of my career and to create a family heirloom for succeeding generations of Collyers to enjoy.

Rain Later, Good: Painting the Shipping Forecast

RAIN LATER, GOOD: Painting the Shipping Forecast by Peter Collyer is published by Adlard Coles Nautical on Thursday 12th September. It is available through all good bookshops at an RRP of £14.99. Alternatively you can order it direct from us here to take advantage of a 10% discount:

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