A sketch of a lifeboat led artist Charles Evans on to greater things, as David Whetstone finds out
If you work in an office or miles from the coast it is easy to forget that we are an island nation and plenty of our fellow citizens regularly find themselves in peril on the sea.
Charles Evans, who lives not far from the sea in Northumberland, got a reminder of this with a watercolour painting of a lifeboat.
It appeared in the August edition of Culture magazine, published free every month with The Journal, and became a bit of a sensation on social media.
One painting led to another and another... and may yet lead to another as Charles responds to the widespread interest in his depictions of lifeboats and his mounting admiration for their crews of volunteers.
Beginning at the beginning, he recalls: “I was leading a painting group in Amble and the Humber and the Hartlepool lifeboats were both up on the chocks in the boatyard getting repaired.
“It was quite an amazing sight. The first painting I did of the Hartlepool lifeboat was in the last Culture magazine and I found everyone was talking about it.
“On Twitter the picture got more than 500 retweets but people were also sending messages or coming up to talk about it.”
The response got Charles thinking that he would do something for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution).
“The thing is, we live in the North East and we’ve got sea all along one side of us.
“Many of us see it all the time and it’s easy to take it for granted. But these guys (the lifeboat crews) are out there all the time saving people’s lives... and they’re all volunteers.
“Even as I was painting the sea, I was thinking: My God, how pleased would you be, if you were in trouble, to see one of these things coming towards you?”
Charles, who spends much of his time hosting painting masterclasses around the country, says the first painting sparked plenty of comment among his masterclass pupils.
“It’s amazing how many people have come up to me and said they were rescued or picked up or towed in by the RNLI.”
Having enjoyed doing the watercolour of the lifeboat being repaired, Charles went back to do more sketches with a view to creating more dramatic paintings.
“The best thing I could do for the RNLI was to give them a painting which they can turn into a print or sell to raise money,” he says.
He has completed two paintings of the Hartlepool lifeboat in action and one showing the vessel approaching a stricken yacht is to be donated as a fund-raiser.
Charles says he has never really been a maritime painter although once, when filming a painting series for Tyne Tees, he was lowered over the North Sea on a winch by the crew of a Sea King helicopter from RAF Boulmer.
Charles, who used to be in the RAF, had a sketchbook strapped to one hand and a pencil tied to the other in a modern-day version of 19th Century landscape painter JMW Turner’s supposed exploit of being lashed to a mast at sea.
He says this wasn’t necessary for him to paint a stormy sea so convinvingly.
“You use your imagination, basically. As an artist you look at things differently. You know the sea and how it moves and you know the image you want to get. I can always see the picture I want in my head before I start painting.”
He is pretty pleased with the way the paintings have turned out. He might even do another to benefit the Amble lifeboat crew.
You can see another of Charles’s paintings in the September edition of Culture, free in The Journal on August 26. You can find more of his work online at www.charlesevansart.com