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One sailor’s sketchbook

Marine artist Yves Parent combines his love of painting with his passion for sailing

Marine artist Yves Parent combines his love of painting with his passion for sailing

Yves Parent has spent much of the last 20 years aboard boats, searching from Maine to the Caribbean for waterfront scenes and handsome vessels to capture in his paintings.

“Before I was an artist, I was a sailor,” says the 63-year-old self-taught French painter, who has lived in New England since 1992.

“Everyone in my family was always on the water — my grandfather, my father — so I can’t even remember when I first developed my love for the water,” Parent says of his childhood in Normandy, France. “My first boat was a rowing dinghy I got when I was 12 years old.”

The son of a scrap metal broker and an art teacher, Parent says he wanted to paint from an early age but initially took a more practical career route in civil service, then business. He graduated from Paris University with a law degree but found himself “bored” with his profession. “I finally started to do what I wanted to do, in my 40s,” he says.

An accomplished seaman, Parent has sailed the Fastnet eight times, the Route du Rhum twice, a leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race, and crossed the Atlantic seven times — twice solo. In fact, he sketched and painted watercolors of Cape Horn while rounding it on the third leg of the 1981-’82 Whitbread, from Auckland, New Zealand, to Mar del Plata, Argentina. He describes sailing the Southern Ocean as “the most exciting sailing experience I ever had in my life. Huge seas, but they were so big they were comforting. We made 300 miles in one day,” he says.

Although his love of painting began in childhood, it wasn’t until Parent was middle-aged that he altered his career path in 1984 and began painting full time. “I consider myself extremely fortunate to combine what I love with the need to earn a living,” he says.

It was after his second Route du Rhum — a quadrennial trans-Atlantic race from France to Guadeloupe — that Parent opted to sail up the Eastern Seaboard. He fell in love with New England and now lives in Pawcatuck, Conn. “You have good weather, beautiful scenery, nice people, history — for me it’s one of the best places in the world,” he says.

All of Parent’s work begins with a sketch. “I sketch every day; it’s almost second nature to me,” he says. “I have my sketchbook with me wherever I go.”

The sketches, which he makes in pen, pencil, watercolors — “whatever I have in hand” — take any where from five to 30 minutes, and become a photograph of sorts for Parent to refer to while crafting a finished painting in watercolor or oil. “Unlike taking a photograph, when you sketch you are forced to really look closely at the subject,” he says.

Through the years Parent has done tens of thousands of sketches; some never become finished works. The majority of his work is shown in galleries — 42 in all — from Maine to the Caribbean, where he often winters. “I work only with galleries on the shoreline and those with an interest in the maritime community,” he says.

Every year he sails Chesapeake Bay and the Maine coast. “Who cannot love Maine when you love sailing?” he asks. “It’s one of the best places in the world for sailing.”

Parent owns a 30-foot Sparkman & Stephens sloop that he keeps in the islands, a 14-foot Arey’s Pond catboat and a 30-foot Repco lobster boat. “I traded a painting for the catboat,” he says. “It was the best deal I ever had.”

He says his two daughters and son — 18, 17 and 14, respectively — were raised on boats. The younger ones still accompany him on sketching cruises and gallery visits. “When the kids were small we spent most of our time on the lobster boat,” he says. “I can’t recall how many times we’ve cruised to Block Island and Shelter Island. Those are some of my fondest memories.”

Parent can be contacted at (860) 599-4330.