Pirate Paintings for National Geographic Pt. 7


Gregory Manchess

This is actually the final painting I did for the REAL Pirates exhibition. It took a long time to get it straight as there was information coming in all through the project as to just what this Jamaican dock scene might look like in late 1600, early 1700.

My job was to not only include so very many elements of the scene, but to put it together in such a way that the viewer wants to spend time looking. Crowded scenes, battles, and just plain city scenes with people, demand a graceful way to lead the eye through the composition, so that the eye is not overwhelmed too early. Otherwise, we look away.




The painting would eventually get digitally enlarged to 8.5’ x 22’. These early thumbnails were done thinking that the scene was a lot smaller, but later it was expanded.


The size was cut down again as the designers were working hard to fit everything into the exhibit and it had to work like a jig saw puzzle. The entire exhibit also had to break down and reassemble multiple times. When the paintings were finished, they would be enlarged, printed on Broadway Cloth, and stretched onto frames that would be transported on trucks from city to city.


Once I had enough indication of the dock’s activity, and with the deadline for the entire series looming, I just had to start on the final painting. As you can see, a large blank space occurs on the far right side. This would have to be filled in on-the-fly as I had more research to do, and more questions to ask the writer. I would have to paint this whenever I got the information.










Here, enough research has come in to start on the right side, projecting reference and re-drawing directly to the canvas. No room for mistakes as I couldn’t seal off the drawing. Any mistakes now would have to be re-painted from scratch.


At this point, I flew to NYC with the painting rolled in a tube. I met with the writer in my studio on the day it had to be finished and delivered to the photographer. She loved it, but there were many things to adjust. She felt badly asking for the changes as she knew that time was short, but it had to be done. I promised her I could do it.

I had four hours to cover the blank spaces you see here. At this stage of my career, I’d never laid paint down as fast as I did that day. I wanted about five more hours just sit and think and tweak colors and values, but there was no time left. I had to live with it. I carried it wet, in a cab to the photographer.


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