“Oilskins” RNLI PORTRAIT Project

Originally a graphic artist, David spent his early professional years working in the publishing industry as a book designer and illustrator, working for such companies as The British Museum and Dorling Kindersley books.  On the offer of work in the idyllic location of Suffolk, he traded in his designer Covent Garden life for Aldeburgh and the picturesque heritage coast.

Knowing no-one in Aldeburgh, he thought it a good idea to meet some new people and experience Suffolk life.  On seeing the lifeboat launch on exercise one Sunday morning he thought that this would be exactly the thing for him.    

“I only thought I would be helping to lug a few things around on the beach, clean and make tea. I never thought I would be given a pair of the famous yellow wellies”

20 years later David is still on the crew.  As a graphic designer he met lots of local people who became clients. One fateful day, David was asked to do some work for local and renowned portrait painter Jack Stephenson.  Upon seeing Jack’s wonderful paintings, David was transfixed and the flame of his art college days was rekindled.  He simply had to have lessons.  Jack was happy to help, and has become a great friend and mentor over the years.

“Having been to art college and drawing most days, all was not new.  I’d had a go but never got to grips with oil paint.  It looked so exciting and I was eager to learn the  techniques and tradition of the discipline.” 


Drawn to figurative portrait artists of the Edwardian period, David was most impressed by the concept of the war artist. Those painters on the front line working in amongst the troops, painters such as Sir William Orpen, John Singer Sargent and Dame Laura Knight. Their work helped to inspire him to create an exhibition of portraits of the Aldeburgh lifeboat crew. 

“The more you study painting the more you become engrossed in its history and the artists that have gone before.”


“Its the closest I’ll get to being a war artist without going into conflict.  I have been friends with these guys for a long time.  Its not a war out there but you do have to do battle with the sea at times. Being involved on the lifeboat has it’s moments and can get a bit hairy so it’s important to look after each other and keep as safe as possible.  A “Band of Brothers” comes to mind. We all know each other really well and often can tell another’s thoughts by just a look or inflection of voice. 
As a portrait project, it was a gift… 

I had to paint the crew.”

The project was started in October 2017 and was eventually finished a year later. Originally the concept was to paint only boat crew, but this led to painting members of the shore crew and thereafter some in other roles at the station.  Even George ,the coxswain’s dog and station resident, was captured in oil. In addition to the portraits, David has painted three substantial narrative pieces to add context and illustrate the roles of the crew. A grand total of 30 paintings was completed in 12 months.

“It’s been quite a year, non stop painting, nearly 3 pieces a month! In the end I’m very happy with the results. It’s not only a very enjoyable experience and a great showcase, but I hope a good social document: a celebration of the Lifeboat crew and the selfless work they do, not only at Aldeburgh but for all RNLI team members around the entire coastline of the British Isles.”

“I have chosen to use quite a brisk way of working on this series of portraits. The use of oil is very thin in places, choosing to let it run like water down the canvas, meandering fluidly and unpredictably. The energetic approach of the brushwork is also to reflect the chaos and unpredictability of the sea, feeling like it was painted during a gale and having a sense of urgency. Also the use of glazes makes the uniforms glow as they are intended to, vibrant and un-missable.” 

The Painting “On Reflection” was chosen as part of the 2019 Royal Society of Marine Artists RMSA Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London.

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