Pirate Paintings for National Geographic Pt. 4


Gregory Manchess

This was a critical painting for the series.

The problem: show Black Sam Bellamy chasing the slave-ship, Whydah, finally over-taking her after a three-day chase, firing a shot across her bow, watching its sails unfurl, while the pirate crew cheers and the defeated captain looks on.

The actual problem: too much information.

The client was asking for a long animation of events, out of which I had to pick one moment to tell the story of the sequence.

This is a major problem in the illustration market. The client nearly always wants to portray more than is possible because they want to make sure the viewer understands what’s going on.
They fail to realize that the viewer always comes with information already locked in, based on thousands upon thousands of images they’ve already processed. That’s what they bring to the painting: awareness. In my paintings I assume the viewer is already intelligent. I won’t have to give them too much before they respond immediately to a visual prompt.

So, the first thing to toss was the three-day timing. It wouldn’t work as a slice of time. The accurate moment to capture was the point when they overtook the Whydah. I could show that from many angles, but which one? I had to pick a pov to capture the pirate crew, Bellamy, and the entire slave-ship, and still make it look natural. I decided on showing the scene from the perspective of a pirate that might have been standing on the rail, watching the scene unfold.
Still, I had to take liberties with the timing of the scene. I wanted to show the shot fired, but the client was desperate to have the sails unfurling in the painting. The action of shot, the cheering pirates, and the sails already dropping would take quite some time in actual life. So, I compromised the scene, to communicate a somewhat lengthy process into ‘fantasy time,’ to get the point across. This way, they could tell the story through the exhibit narration, and I could show the visual sequence compressed into one moment.

I built the scene from this thumbnail by projecting some reference and redrawing directly to the canvas.


Just before I started painting, they reminded me that I had to get the young boy pirate into the scene. (More on him later.) So I had to push figures around to open a spot for him.















After they saw the painting, they wanted Bellamy’s head turned. This took an entire day out of the schedule that I didn’t have to spare, but had to do. It added to my anxiety about the deadline.








Even with changes, this was one of my favorites to paint. Five down...five to go, about three weeks left at this point.

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