North-Sea Diver Swaps Oil for Oil Paintings – But Still Showcases His Life Offshore


Press & Journal Article by Neil Drysdale.

Pete Davies is somebody who has switched from oil to oils without being left on the canvas. As a former North Sea diver, this is a fellow who grew accustomed to making a deep impact in the energy industry.
However, following an unconventional career change, Pete is showcasing a record of his life offshore by exhibiting his paintings at next month’s Aberdeen Art Fair.
This event is now in its sixth year and is being staged for the first time at the city’s iconic Beach Ballroom.
His works offer a unique perspective on the often challenging conditions in which he and his colleagues used to operate. But they also depict the wild beauty of the coastal landscapes which he inhabited.
Pete originally studied art at Eastbourne College of Art in the 1970s, but hung up his brushes and palette to begin life as a diver.
Yet, last year, encouraged by his wife, Helen, he started painting again, with almost instantaneous success when his work was shortlisted for The Royal Society of Oil Painters, The Columbia Threadneedle Prize and The New English Art Club.
In advance of the AAF, which will be his first major exhibition, Pete Davies explained the reason for his initial decision to become an artisan and not an artist after his graduation.
He said: “When I started out all those years ago, I had a young family and I needed a steady well-paid job.
“Diving fitted the bill. I was young and keen and life offshore was very exciting. Like everyone else at the time, I assumed that I only needed to work for about five years, then I could retire rich!”
Predictably, it wasn’t as straightforward as that. But finally, a little matter of 33 years later and still in the North Sea sector, he adjudged the time was right to pick up the paint brush again and record the lives of his offshore confreres.
He added: “I want to ensure the story and personalities of the characters who work offshore aren’t forgotten and that their memory survives all of us. I’m very excited to be appearing at the Aberdeen Art Fair. No other place is more appropriate for showing my offshore paintings. You could say I’ve moved from oil to oils!”

The AAF has quickly established itself as a perfect event for both galleries and artists, with prices of original contemporary work ranging from £50 to £10,000.
Visitors to the festival can anticipate enjoying works by a variety of household names, celebrities, local, national and international talent, emerging artists and an abundance of award winners.
The Aberdeen Art Fair’s official charity partner is The ARCHIE Foundation with a silent auction and raffle being staged during the event and all proceeds going to the charity.
In which light, Pete will be offering a rare look into life under the water and raising funds in the process. You can follow Pete Davies’ progress by visiting

Artspan Sits Down with Painter Pete Davies

Five Questions for Pete Davies

First published in 2015.


1. I love your story of rediscovering art after a decades-long hiatus. Did art play a part in your life in the interim? Did you visit museums or read art books?

I didn’t make a point of visiting galleries, museums or reading art books. Painting hadn’t played a part in my life during the time I worked offshore in the North Sea and any artistic abilities I had I guided into other creative forms of expression once I returned home, such as guitar playing, gardening and cooking. 

I’ve always thought certain people look at the world with a painterly eye, whether or not they actually paint. Is this true of you?

I don’t think that’s particularly true for me although I’ve always tried to express my artistic feelings in some way or another but not always through paint.

Do you feel as though you had years’ worth of paintings stored in your head, or did it all feel new to you?

Painting does feel like a new and refreshing medium for expression. Once I started I realised straight away that I had a lot of catching up to do in order to put together a portfolio of work. So far I have completed 23 paintings.

2. You say your only prior experience as a painter was a painting when you were twenty, which I take to mean that you don’t have any formal education. Can you describe your method?

The first painting I completed was in 1974; I found oils very difficult and had no idea how to manage them.  Prior to that I was considered to be a good artist at school and when I left I took up a Foundation Course at Eastbourne Art College. However I only lasted about 6 months; at that time in my life I wanted to play the guitar and was a very poor art student. In terms of painting and drawing I learnt nothing worth remembering during those 6 months and I’d forgotten all about that part of my life until February 2015 when I decided to teach myself to paint. 

She’s a Doll – Pete Davies Art

Are there particular artists, living or dead, who inspired you?

Back in February I was intrigued by the glazing techniques of artists such as Vermeer and Holbein, I had never heard about this method of painting and it was a style I was determined to perfect. My painting which was recently pre-selected for the Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Open Exhibition in London, was based on this technique. However quite recently I have adopted a more impressionistic style of painting influenced by artists such as Edgar Payne, Frank Henry Mason, Winslow Homer and Henry Herbert La Thangue.

Your paintings seem very accomplished. How did you learn your technique?

I learnt through study. I suppose that my age is an advantage. I’d spent the last 35 years taking exams, usually for offshore work, so studying was not too difficult particularly as art was something I really wanted to do. I knew that in my case I would have a far more mature and professional approach to my art than I’d ever had when I was 18. I taught myself by downloading paintings from the internet, reading and studying the techniques of the artists I liked.

3. You work offshore in the oil business. Does this take you away from home and from your studio for long periods of time? 

Yes it does. As I said previously; I started painting this year and from February to July was away at sea for more than half that time.  However I took some pencils with me which gave me the opportunity to start recording on paper the faces and events of a time which will eventually come to an end.

How does this impact your creative life? Does the sea creatively inspire you?

I think the sea is often inspirational at about 5 in the morning when it is flat calm; then it looks like a primordial soup made of waves of chocolate. Other times it bounces you about so much that all you can think about is hanging on. 

Leaving the Shetlands

4. Everyone gets a question from the Proust Questionnaire, and here is yours: “What are your favorite qualities in a man?”

I think my favourite qualities in a man are the same as those I would find in a woman; there isn’t a massive difference. These would be empathy, warmth, humour, enthusiasm, strength, kindness and encouragement.

5. Your portraits are so full of life and personality, whether of pets or people. I think this is a function of expression, but also of your use of colour. Do you work from photographs?  When you talk about finding the “actual colour”  is this the exact colour in nature, in your head, or just what’s best for the painting?

I was interested to find that when I saw all my paintings together they were instantly recognisable as being mine. I still have my first painting from the 70s which has the same style and which I will soon add to my website.

My Time

sometimes work from photos, sometimes from drawings, sometimes both. I read an article today stating, ‘the photo is a mechanical translation. Sight is a living process. People tend to think that a photo is visual reality, but it is very different’.

For me this is a mistake. No matter whether we look at a tree or a photograph it is still seen by our eye, translated and processed by our brain. How we see things and relate them to our own individual experience in life is a very personal thing. The trick for the artist is to reverse this and re-interpret the process with the abilities specific to him or her. For me, my purpose is to reveal the world in a pleasurable way to others. When I find a colour I’m looking for, something that maybe only I see, it isn’t always there.

First published in 2015, follow Pete and see what he’s up to now by registering at his website