Well, working onboard ship can be quite boring if you cannot find anything to do during your free time. For me, it was not boring at all. I took up photography after buying a second-hand single-lens-reflex camera at Shimizu, Japan, which was a regular port of call during my cadet engineer sea training period.
I became quite a serious amateur photographer, submitting my choice photographs to photo agencies and even delving in film processing of ektachrome color 35 mm slides by myself; my cabin being my own darkroom. Luckily, I did not have to share my cabin with another person.
Initially, when I started sailing, I used to buy souvenirs whenever I reached a foreign port, but later when I realized that some of the souvenirs were “massed produced made-in-china” products, I decided to collect photographs as souvenirs. During my sailing days, I managed to amassed a collection of about 3000 kodachrome slides which by now had become old technology and are now collecting dusts in my cabinet.
However, I did not forget my art. I did some watercolor paintings whenever I had some inspiration to do so. In 1983 I was awarded 3rd prize in the Painting and Drawing Competition organized by the Marine Society, London, UK which was opened to seafarers, wives at sea, and lightkeepers worldwide.
At another time, when the ship crew wanted to redecorate the crew mess room I painted a mermaid on the wall, using the paint from the paint store. In those early days, the mess room was used whenever there was a party, dancing and boozing which happened quite often whenever we arrived at a regular port. (Note: This is no longer permitted on present days ships because of non drug and alcohol policies)
I painted in watercolor, more because of the situation I was in most of the time. Watercolor paints do not emit strong smells of turpentine or solvent. If I were to paint an oil painting in my cabin on board a ship, the strong smells would be distributed to the whole ship in no time at all because of the central air-conditioning system. Furthermore, carrying a roll of watercolor paper was much more easier than carrying a framed oil canvas, especially when it was time to sign off the ship.
During the time on shore leave before signing-on ships again, I would do some paintings of the landscapes around my home.
However, my photographic activities seemed to be getting better results. There is a saying, “What gets rewarded gets done”. I had a good time taking pictures of the interesting places that I visited, from the remote lumber camps of Canada to the humble dwellings of Port Said, Egypt; from the Eiffel Tower, Paris to the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, and the canals of Bangkok, Thailand to the Great Wall of China.
I found out that in order to sell my photographs, I would stand a better chance of acceptance if there was an article accompanying them. I then decided to write articles. A few of them were sold to newspapers and magazines.
I could get better sales from my photographs than from my paintings. So my watercolor paintings took a back seat. Producing photographs was much more easier than producing paintings. In addition, art books were expensive and it was difficult to become proficient in art without a tutor to guide me.