Artist Profile: Paul W. Beebe, oil painter
Though best known for his classic images of boats, Paul W. Beebe does not consider himself a historical painter. “My work is mostly about catching atmospheric effects and light,” he says. Because he is less concerned with historical accuracy and vessel details, Beebe is free to focus on what draws him into a scene emotionally. “I definitely get my inspiration from the Dutch masters and the Hudson River School,” he says. “I am always studying painters and painting. It’s amazing to look back to see what artists could do without modern tools.”
A resident of Niantic, Connecticut, Beebe earned a degree in graphic design at Southern Connecticut State University and is a signature member of the American Society of Marine Artists. He began with watercolors but eventually switched to oils. He enjoys painting en plein air on the Connecticut and Rhode Island coastlines, but his time with family on Martha’s Vineyard every year is sacred. After meeting his wife in college, Beebe joined in family camping on the island—and their tradition has continued for 28 years.
His works begin as small studies drawn at the beach. “I watch waves a lot,” he says. “I use a layered effect, a buildup of tone and value. It’s about how light hits the water.” The ships he paints list, move, and lurch onto his well-planned canvases, which often measure 36” x 60”.
After he sketches what he wants to paint, Beebe uses a model, blueprints or photos to add realistic detail. To show how a boat sits in water, he sets up a model boat in clean kitty litter to anchor the boat and mimic the draft. Pursuing realistic detail, he places his model outside on the deck at sunset to capture shadows and lighting in his re-creation of the scene. Often, he creates a smaller-scale study to work out the composition. Sometimes moving to the larger canvas alters the composition, and he might add items to the scene or remove them. “I have to be willing to change things on the fly,” he says. “I can’t be set in my ways.” As a finale, Beebe uses glazes to capture the nuances of light and shadow. “I am trying to draw the essence of what is there,” he explains. “I’m not taking a photograph.”
Paul W. Beebe is represented by Hearle Gallery, 488 Main Street, Chatham; Louisa Gould Gallery, 54 Main Street, Vineyard Haven; Old Sculpin Gallery, 58 Dock Street, Edgartown; Maritime Art Gallery, 47 Greenmanville Avenue, Mystic, Connecticut; and Williamsburg Art Gallery, 440 West Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, Virginia. For more information, visit paulwbeebe.com.