It's a lonely life...that of the necromancer, er freelancer

A blog by a designer and illustrator, for designers and illustrators which may contain musings on art, movies and random weirdness.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Henry Hudson and the Mermaid-Work in Progress

A few months ago I was reading about the English explorer Henry Hudson. (You know, he "discovered" Manhattan, the Hudson River and Hudson Bay are both named after him) I was surprised by a couple of things, one, that he disappeared in Hudson Bay after his crew mutinied and set him, his son, and a few loyal men adrift in a small open boat, that his remains were never found, and that in 1608, while sailing near Norway, he wrote in his logbook:

"This morning one of our companie looking over the boord saw a Mermaid...from Navill upward her back and breasts were like a woman's, her body as big as one of us; her skin was very white; and long haire hanging down behind, of color black; in her going downe they saw her tayle, which was like the tayle of a porposse and speckled like a Macrell."

Hudson was one of few historical figures to not only site a mermaid but to make an entry of it in his log. This gave me an idea for a painting. So as soon as I read this I did a couple of small thumbnail drawings.

The first one was just to get the idea down. On the second one I started thinking more about the individual elements, composition, and lighting, making written notations on the thumbnail.The next step was research, collecting reference sailing images of ships of the period, costume, Henry Hudson, the Norwegian coastline, waves, mackerals and porpoises. Once I had that gathered I did a more finished drawing in pencil and marker to work out basic layout, lighting and colors.

As you can see the original sketch is pretty loose, and is much wider than I had originally planned. I was playing around at this stage with the size relationship between the mermaid and the ship. I wanted her to be close enough to the viewer to dominate the foreground, but not so large that you couldn't still make out the man on board the ship who is seeing her. At this point I did a more refined compositional and color study. I was also trying to decide at this point if I should include the text of the log entry in the painting itself, which would have made it a very narrow and vertically oriented painting. (I decided against it)

The final step, was to get the painting onto a panel. I used a 12" x 24" gessoed masonite panel.I drew in the image based on the sketches. As I was working , I decided to make the mermaid even larger than it appears on the sketch. I started with a just 2 colors, manganese blue and burnt sienna, roughing in the largest areas.

This is where I am at now. I will work in more detail and color as I go. I will post my progress as I go.

Here is the latest update on the painting...


  1. Really liking the Henry Hudson painting. Great sense of light.
    Tom M of ME

  2. I couldn't help but read that log entry, while in my mind, singing the Great Big Sea song The Mermaid.

    (and your painting is lovely! really lovely! have you considered teaching a painting class for those of us that don't have any skills or background in painting?)

  3. I loved seeing the various stages of the process - and then the finished product. Too bad you could somehow include Hudson's journal entry with this piece; since it was directly inspired by it.
    ~ Melanie :)

  4. Looks very good, wonder what he saw that looks like a mermaid?

  5. sj, I would love to teach a class! I have taught basic drawing before. I am willing to do private tutorials in painting or drawing.