Salty Art Sparks the Imagination

What is it about salty paintings, drawings, tattoos and photos? Anything to do with ships and sailors sparks my imagination.

Norman Keith Collins was a prominent American tattoo artist, famous for his tattooing of sailors; he was also known as “Sailor Jerry.”

Back in the old days only bikers, sailors and hookers had tattoos.  A Cobra, a dagger stabbed through a heart, a skull, an anchor or a sexy girl permanently printed on one’s arm, leg or chest–that’s how roughnecks set themselves apart from prim and proper society.  But these days every high school girl and nerdy computer-coder wears a full sleeve of psychedelic scribble.  When I see vivid tattoos, my mind goes to late night drinking and slumming in waterfront bars across the Western Pacific and sharing a house with a bunch of bikers and sailors in Central California.

Tattoo art by Quyen Dinh a famous Los Angeles artist.

Dreadnoughts and battleships spark thoughts of god-like sea captains going to war and young sailors taking voyages to exotic lands. 

A painting of a brawny ship cruising on a storm-tossed sea conjures thoughts of a sailor, curled up in his bunk below decks.  As the ship rises and falls on the watery hills, the sailor sways gently from side to side.  He’s reading a novel about adventure and romance in an exotic land.

The sight of a wreck beneath the waves, provokes the fear of running up on a reef in a storm or being struck by enemy torpedoes. The mind’s eye sees sailors scrambling for a ladder trying to escape from a compartment below decks.  Tons of seawater rushes in upon them.  They are trapped and drowning as the ship sinks to the bottom.  Those who escape are swept away on mile-deep cold water and drowned in the vast ocean.  A few passengers drift in a life raft.  A lone survivor washes up on a deserted beach, miraculously alive at sunrise.

From the pirate-themed game Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag by Ubisoft.

The Kraken is a legendary sea monster of giant size that is said to dwell off the coasts of Norway and Greenland.

Drawings of sea creatures dragging a ship down to the briny deeps fills a seafarer with fear and curiosity.   Are sea monsters a myth?  Nobody knows, but all wonder about the early sailors who crossed the vast uncharted oceans.  The schools of whales, sharks and dolphins they must have seen.  The injuries and deaths that occurred after being stung by a Manta Ray, bit by a Shark, rammed by a Whale, dragged to the bottom by a gigantic Octopus or Squid.  Yet, we all know that in there free time sailors and fishermen are famous for spinning yarns that heighten and perhaps exaggerate the facts just a bit.

Denizens of the deep


Before I was a sailor I was a teenager who had just graduated from high school.  Some mornings, I had nothing better to do than recline on the couch in my underwear and watch TV.  Many of the commercials at that hour are for trade schools and military service.  I fell hard for the slogan, “Navy, it’s not just a job it’s an adventure.”  Within a week I was at the recruiters office, raising my right hand and swearing my way into the service, bound for exotic ports around the world.  Unlike beer commercials that seem to promise young men a hook up with a sexy girl, the Navy recruiting posters don’t lie.  Sailors do have more fun because the Navy experience delivers on the promise of adventure.

Lively sketches of Whales and Whaling scenes, graven by the fishermen themselves on Sperm Whale teeth … and other Scrimshander articles.”  Herman Melville

Scrimshaw makes me wonder about the lives of those tough old sailors who hunted whales aboard wooden ships on the high seas.  I imagine a group of old salts gathered in the foc’sole after long days of killing whales.  Oh, to be there and hear the stories they told.  

Old salts telling sea stories.

If you enjoy a good sea story, try the Sea Adventure Collection by Malcolm Torres.  The first story in the series, Sixty-Four Days, is free on all eReaders.  Honest reviews are greatly appreciated.

Malcolm Torres is the author of original sea stories and nautical novels available online at all major book and eBook retailers.  Read Malcolm Torres’s blog, which is full of free sea stories, nautical fiction, US Navy adventures and Coast Guard Thrillers.

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