Artist’s portraits of RNLI crew take social media by storm

Coxswain Steve Saint, his dog George and David Gillingwater with some of the paintings. Picture:

Coxswain Steve Saint, his dog George and David Gillingwater with some of the paintings. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk artist who saves lives at sea has captured the passion and bravery of his crew-mates in a collection of portraits which have taken social media by storm.

David Gillingwater has been making paintings of his fellow RNLI crew at the Aldeburgh lifeboat stati

David Gillingwater has been making paintings of his fellow RNLI crew at the Aldeburgh lifeboat station. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

David Gillingwater has been a member of the Aldeburgh RNLI for nearly 20 years but only recently decided to incorporate his talents as an artist.

The 51-year-old father of two, who also runs Herring Bone Design in Aldeburgh, said he had been stunned by the response to his paintings, which has seen strangers stopping him in the street to congratulate him.

He began the project in October and so far has 13 works in progress but intends to produce portraits of all 25 crew members, including George the station dog.

While some colleagues were initially reluctant to pose, he says their enthusiasm has grown.

RNLI member and artist David Gillingwater with some of his works of art. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

RNLI member and artist David Gillingwater with some of his works of art. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant


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“When they saw the results, they were all loving it,” he said. “They were retweeting the pictures and getting their family to see it and all of a sudden the rest of the crew were asking ‘when are you going to do me’?”

Mr Gillingwater takes inspiration from Sir William Orpen, a renowned artist famed for his work painting soldiers during the First World War, and hopes his work can shine a light on the RNLI in a similar fashion.

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His process involves taking photos of the crew to use as a reference for oil paintings.

“I like the paintings to show the brush strokes and the textures because it reflects the turbulence of the sea and the dynamism of the crew,” he added

David Gillingwater on Aldeburgh beach. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

David Gillingwater on Aldeburgh beach. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Images of his works in progress posted on Facebnook and Twitter have gained hundreds of appreciative comments.

“People seem to really love seeing the work develop, particularly when it’s someone they recognise and they can see it come to life,” he added. “This project has really been driven by social media more than anything.”

The added publicity has seen him get “the bit between my teeth” to complete the collection while the interest lasts.

“Some people are saying this is going great, you’ll be a full-time artist, but I know the sun tends to shine very briefly in the moment.

“I’m just trying to keep the momentum going,”

Mr Gillingwater hopes to complete the Oilskins collection by June and is looking for somewhere to show it.

To find out more or suggest a venue follow him @SuffolkPainter on Facebook and Twitter.

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