Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pirate Paintings for National Geographic Pt. 8

Gregory Manchess

This ends the series of pieces for REAL Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship. These two portraits were finished earlier in the deadline rush than the last painting of the dock scene. The first portrait is of John Julian, about sixteen years old when he joined the pirate crew as pilot, valued for his navigational skills.

The child is John King, a most unpleasant little guy. When he and his mother were captured by Black Sam Bellamy, he threatened to kill himself if his mother did not let him join the pirates. She refused.

Apparently, his relationship with his mother was a bit strained as he then threatened to kill her. So, she let him go. Smart mother. Perhaps it was about time to cut the little snot loose.

The client wanted to depict King with a bit of an attitude, so I gave him the up-thrust chin, and they liked the dirt on his scruffy face. We all figured that kids would love to see a real child-pirate, living the dream, however cruel and dangerous it was in those days. There were plenty of young boys who went to sea back then, so it probably wasn’t such a bad deal for him.

Except that a couple of masts and who knows how many cannon crushed the poor brat into the sand when the ship went down in an April storm off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717. Amazingly, the divers found one of his shoes, with the sock and part of his leg bone still in it. Those are on view in the exhibition.

I didn’t do a lot of explorative sketching for these two. I looked up reference for faces and bodies, using myself as a stand-in for Julian, and cobbled it all together. Below the sketches are the sequential shots of building the paintings.


  1. Nice backgrounds on both, the boy's especially with the cyan / purple quite strong. The edge lighting on the first is beautiful and the way it looks somewhat 'unfinished' towards the bottom. Very nice!

    Congratulations on completing this project!!!

  2. I saw this exhibit when it came through my town - mostly because I knew you had done the paintings for it. It was truly fantastic, one of the best I'd seen in a long time. Your paintings really brought the story and the period to life! Excellent work! Thanks!

  3. I'm a bit sad that this is the last "pirate day"...

    So, Greg - how did you feel about having a rare pirate job, and yet being so rushed for time that you had to really fly through it? Was there time to savor it? What is your main feeling when you look back at it all? Is there anything you would do differently now?

    - and thanks again for a thoroughly entertaining and inspiring series. Yarrrrr!

  4. I also saw the exhibition when it came through my city and was wondering who the artist was.

  5. I get that same John King look from my 5 year old daughter from time to time... usually with a chocolate milk mustache to boot.

    Thanks for sharing your experience on the Pirates work Greg. It was great to see your process.


  6. Just read up a little more on the history of the little guy. What a great piece of naval history, no wonder books such as treasure island always create a storm of imagination in kids' minds. Thanks for the walk through and great art! :D

  7. This exhibit is coming to St. Paul. Can't wait to see these paintings in person!

  8. Thanks so much for these posts. Its amazing to see your paintings unfold.

    Also, how do you photograph your paintings? Inside or outside? Any special lights.
    Twitter @ SachsFineArt

  9. Increadible! All the Pirates Series are amazing! Thanks for sharing!

    Best wishes.