Endeavouring to paint the good ship Endeavour

I’ve taken some time off from wargaming to do more picture painting again! My latest effort is His Majesty’s Bark ‘Endeavour’, famous for being Captain James Cook’s ship on his first circumnavigation of the world from 1768 to 1771.

Although a king’s ship, the Endeavour was no graceful thoroughbred like the naval frigates and sloops of the time. She was a former coastal collier, chosen for her broad voluminous hull so as to fit the huge amount of storage and accommodation needed for a long voyage of exploration. In modern terms, to an 18th-century sailor she would’ve been the equivalent of a clunky modern container ship compared to a dashing destroyer or cruiser!

For my reference picture I used this photo I found on the internet of the modern replica of Endeavour, built in 1988-94. This replica had been exhaustively researched for historical accuracy during its construction, so I felt it would give me an authentic model to base my painting upon. Especially as I am not a sailor, so I had no idea how the rigging and sails would be set up at any particular time.

The above slideshow depicts the stages I went through to paint my picture. I started with the basic seascape that would form the background, then built up the main shapes of the ship and its sails, layer by layer. The final stages were to add texturing and detailing, including painstakingly drawing in the ropes of the rigging.

My experience painting model soldiers was a useful skill when it came to adding some crew members to my Endeavour. I even used Games Workshop’s Contrast paints to colour my figures, the same as I do for wargaming miniatures!

You can see a red-coated marine standing at the stern, a couple of officers (maybe including Captain Cook himself!) near the wheel, a lookout hanging onto the shrouds, another officer addressing the bosun, and three matelots doing something sailory at the bow.

And here’s the finished painting (click on the image to get a closer view).

I am especially proud of the sea, which somehow managed to successfully convey the colour, shape and movement I was after. I’ve also had some nice compliments about the shading and highlighting of the wind-filled sails, and of course all those finnicky lines of rigging.

17 thoughts on “Endeavouring to paint the good ship Endeavour

  1. You’ve done a great job Roly. I too turned my wargamer and landscape artists brush to a naval painting. It was 6 feet x 2 feet, one of the biggest I’ve done, and proved very satisfying. Know exactly what you mean about all that pesky rigging, and the advantage of model soldier painting to render the crew. Any of your readers who like this genre might care to look at my blog entry on my painting, set during the War of 1812. http://notjustoldschool.blogspot.com/2012/02/now-naval-painting.html. Cheers Chris G

  2. Roly,

    This is a really wonderful image of the ship Endeavour and your satisfaction with the appearance of the sea does indeed make the image stunning. You have captured the sea exquisitely. I spent my working years flying above the oceans and prior to that sailed both in the US Navy and on merchant ships. I truly love the sea and I can attest that your rendering is perfect, accurate and most pleasing. The colors in your image are amazing. Well done, thank you for sending this.


    1. Thanks Doug. Your nice words about my depiction of the sea really mean something to me, coming as they have from someone who has actually sailed the seas! Very much appreciated.

  3. A wonderful looking painting. You have many talents. One question: how did you get such straight lines with your rigging?

    1. Thanks Jim. I use a pencil and ruler to first draw light drafts of the ropes. I then use a special brush called a ‘rigger brush’ (apparently designed specifically for painting rigging) to paint on top of the pencil lines.

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