Born in England, Malcolm went to sea as a deck apprentice with the Port Line when he was 16. He emigrated to New Zealand when he was 22 and seven years later moved to Australia. He sailed with the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand as Mate and Master and then joined the New South Wales Pilot service. As a pilot, mostly in the ports of Sydney and Botany Bay, he handled thousands of ships, large and small, including passenger liners, tankers, container ships, fishing boats and freighters of all shapes, sizes and nationalities.
During his nautical career he was honoured by being made a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Navigation, an Honorary Life Member of the International Maritime Pilots Association (of which he was a Vice President) and a Fellow of the Nautical Institute which is based in London, England.
While he was a pilot in Sydney, he took up painting and studied at the Sydney College of Painting for six years and at the Julian Ashton Art School for two years.
In 1987 Malcolm left Australia, moved to Canada and settled on Pender Island, BC.
Malcolm has written and illustrated three books; the first “Pilot Ladder Safety” is a handbook dealing with safety procedures, regulations and advice for pilots and others who have to board and disembark ships by pilot ladder; this book is now standard equipment on thousands of ships all over the world; the Sixth Edition was published in 2012. “Practical Ship Handling”, now in its Third Edition is a textbook for pilots, masters and ships’ officers and is used in many nautical colleges. “The Cutty Sark and Thermopylae era of sail” was co-authored with the Australian historian, the late Cyril Hume; it contains illustrations, photographs, paintings and anecdotes from that era of sailing ships. All three books are published by, Brown Son & Ferguson Ltd of Glasgow, Scotland.
Malcolm also paints landscapes, but his specialities are ships and the sea. His favourite subjects are sailing ships but much of his business is commission work and includes all types of ships and privately owned boats.
To create a successful marine painting, the sea and sky must be well painted and believable. It can only be made to look real if the artist has knowledge and feeling for the sea that has been formed by a close association with it. The many years spent at sea as a professional seaman all over the world and experience in a wide variety of ships and conditions has well equipped Malcolm Armstrong for this task. Even with this background it takes a lot of practice with brush and palette. Malcolm goes to great pains to be sure that his ships (and boats) are painted technically correct so that there is little with which nautical experts will find fault. Thus the finished product is not only a work of art, but it is an historical record of the ship or event that he depicts. This entails hours of research from his studio reference library or whatever source is required such as museums, public libraries and archives. Out of necessity Malcolm has become a knowledgeable nautical historian as well as a fine artist. Research and preparation may take more time than the actual painting, whether it is an old steamer, a clipper ship or a private yacht.
One of Malcolm’s paintings was a commission for presentation to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is the United Nations body that is responsible for all aspects of maritime safety. This painting hangs in the IMO headquarters on the South Bank of the Thames in London, England. The building holds many presentations from member states of the United Nations. This painting was reproduced on the cover of the Australian Maritime Museum journal in 1986. Malcolm’s paintings have also been featured on the cover of the journal of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia and the journal of the Ontario Historical Society. As a winner in the 2004 and 2005 Foss Maritime calendar competition he was represented on the Foss 2005 calendar and on the Company’s Christmas card. Also in 2005 Malcolm was a winner in the Tacoma Tall Ships Festival Art Show at the Washington State History Museum and he was the only artist from BC selected to hang in this show. Malcolm shows regularly in the biannual international maritime art exhibition at the Kirsten Gallery in Seattle. He has held one person shows at many venues including the Maritime Museums in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia.