Pirate Paintings for National Geographic

Gregory Manchess

Sometimes, after waiting for the right assignment for many years, it finally shows up, at exactly the wrong time.

I’d just finished a job that I swore I wouldn’t repeat: 10 paintings in 5 weeks. Long days of nothing but painting, eating, and sleeping. I hit the deadline and said, ‘never again.’ Two hours after laying down the brush, I got an email from National Geographic asking if I’d like to do a series of pirate paintings.
C’mon...nobody passes up doing pirate paintings. Not even if it’s 10 murals and they only have 8 weeks, including research, sketches, and finals. Do they?

I said, “Yes, definitely.”

This is the first in a series of large oil paintings, digitally enlarged as background images for an exhibition of artifacts from the first confirmed pirate ship ever excavated from the ocean floor, “Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah From Slave Ship to Pirate Ship.”
NGS needed a series of four portraits of some of the actual crew members. I started with a thumbnail of three of the main figures, just getting a feel for the project, followed by a more serious study of two of them. I worked from a silicon model head that would be used in the actual exhibition.

There was barely enough time to think on this project. I kept realistic images in my head of what I wanted to paint, and followed those mental images like a paint-by-number process. Here’s the step-by-step sequence of creating a portrait of the lead pirate, Capt. Black Sam Bellamy. I'll follow soon with more portraits and several massive scenes with multiple figures.