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A Ship’s Story


It’s a stormy day on the water, and the topgallant sail on the 19th-century clipper ship Cromdale has snapped off. Approximately 20 crewmen rush to their positions, attempting to contain the damage and fighting for their survival in Jim Griffiths’ painting Dangerous Weather.

Cromdale was built in 1891 at the British shipbuilding company Barclay Curle. The last clipper built for the Australian wool trade, she was designed for cargo capacity rather than speed, and featured some interesting hull markings. “The white hull with the black stripes and the white squares was meant to duplicate a warship and hopefully discourage pirates,” explains Griffiths, whose extensive library on historic sailing ships allows him to paint with great accuracy.

According to Griffiths, Cromdale really did run into inclement weather and was damaged, but there is no account of just how much she actually sustained. So, he made his own decision. “I really like this ship and didn’t want to dismast her too much,” he says. “She has beautiful lines. She’s just a good-looking vessel.”

Griffiths’ interest in ships and the ocean stems from the stories his father told about serving in the Navy during World War II, where he was part of an air squadron that hunted German U-boats in the Atlantic. Yet Griffiths never planned on becoming a maritime artist. Instead, he attended Amherst College with the intention of becoming a magazine illustrator. He then went on to attend the ArtCenter College of Design in California. After graduating in 1973, he spent a year working at an industrial arts studio before transitioning to fine art.

At first, Griffiths painted landscapes in pure watercolor. Though he loved ships, he was reluctant to do maritime paintings, because he didn’t know how to paint water realistically. Then, he discovered the works of maritime artist Carl Evers, whose portrayals of water inspired him to try his hand at nautical art. He was further propelled into the subject matter when he switched mediums from pure watercolor to gouache, an opaque watercolor.

“I realized the gouache would let me achieve all the techniques I need to do water,” he says. “When I figured that out, I started to concentrate on nautical subjects. Clippers really attracted me, and I’ve been at it ever since.”

Today, Griffiths lives in the Chicago area, and although he hasn’t sailed in several decades, he remains fascinated by the water. “I still love being on the water,” he says. “There’s nothing like a great sunset over water. It can’t be beat.” 

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue.



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