Although this art form is not a part of everyday life on the canals anymore, the tradition of narrowboat folk art can be seen on some boat owners and company boats around Britain, though sadly with the intervention of transfers and decals, hand painted examples are few and far between. Although transfers and decals are of good quality, they lack the individuality and living properties of hand painted work.
Many items of Narrowboat Art can be found in gift and tourist related shops throughout England posing as ‘Traditional Narrowboat Art’, but as the majority of these items are not done on the traditional barge ware, they are in fact not traditional at all.
Roses and other small flowers, such as daisies and sunflowers, together with castles were the main component of traditional narrowboat painting.
Each rose petal was formed by a single and separate brush stroke, the darker colours first and the highlights last. They were arranged in a variety of groupings known as ‘swags’
The castles followed the same simple but skilful pattern and were of a dreamlike quality. They generally comprised of a castle in a landscape, a lake with sailing boats and mountains in the background and sometimes a stream with a bridge or swans would adorn the scene.
Geometric shapes, diamonds, scrolls, ‘good luck’ symbols, borders and frames together with the roses and castles embellished and enhanced every door panel, hatch, piece of furniture and utensil on the boat or butty as they were known.