Thames Estuary Sea Forts: Finished Painting

Sea Forts Thames Estuary

This is the finished painting

I had intended to post another work in progress shot, but as I got into the rhythm of the painting, it was as easy to finish, and more interesting to look at anyway

I had one false start, which normally I wouldn’t admit to. I decided the sea looked too pale and insipid, so I scrubbed back the bottom half of the platform legs, so that I could paint over the sea again and deepen the colour. Especially the area around the platforms needed to be darker even though it wasn’t in the photograph. I used Viridian mixed with a little Lamp Black for the sea colour, which works well I always think, with a nod of thanks to Rowland Hilder.

This alteration did leave me with two hard lines which normally I would have been able to blend. I have disguised them a bit with white caps, so not too bad

As for the structures themselves, I used Burnt Sienna with a little Crimson to get close to the colour of rust, and drybrushed as much as possible to look like rusty paintwork. The very deep shadows on the platforms I did with Ultramarine Violet, neat straight out of the tube with as little water as possible and straight over the rust colour. The barnacles at the bottom were painted with Olive Green, but still not dark enough, so I overlaid with the Violet.

There were some red marks where brackets had been fitted, which was probably red oxide base coat in its day. Again some Crimson, with a little free expression, seemed to get that effect.

This turned out better than expected, I am pleased to say. I have learned from it, and it was a welcome change from the usual scenes. Not a painting anyone is likely to buy, so pure self-indulgence really.

Sea Forts Work in Progress


So far, I have put down a base coat of Cobalt Blue/Phthalo Blue mix right across. I fixed the horizon with a vague idea of coastline. One or two small details were masked out. There is a small buoy next to one leg of the first fort, which will be white eventually. One or two girders or rails facing the light will be pale blue when the mask is removed.

It may not appear so in the photograph but I have washed over the sea, with a dilute Cobalt green, and then rubbed in Raw Sienna at the base of the towers, as the sandbank is visible through the water

With the shadows on the metalwork, I have allowed myself to experiment and used a mix of Cerulean Blue and Ultramarine Violet, a combination I have not used before, but only read about. This makes a pleasant shadow colour, although whether it suits old ironwork is another matter. Some people put shadows in afterwards, and it is a personal choice. I find putting in shadows first gives me a dimensional image to start with, which I find helpful

I couldn’t get near the pale green colour of the paintwork on the towers. I used the Cobalt Green over the original blue wash, and will hope for the best. Time now to work on those delicious rust shades, which I hope will bring a touch of reality

I have absolutely no idea how this painting will end up

Estuary Sea Forts: Sketch

Estuary Sea Forts

This is the preliminary sketch from the photograph. Very quickly done, as I have dropped behind with this particular picture, probably because there is no deadline on this one. As I said before, I am just painting these forts for my own amusement

There is very little detail drawn in so far. This is just a basic framework put in with the grid ready to transfer onto watercolour paper, which hopefully will ensure that the perspective is correct, and that everything goes into the right place. I quite like finishing the drawing straight onto the surface that is going to be painted. It just feels more immediate that way

I have started to have a few thoughts on colour. I think I will go right across with a mix of cobalt and pthalo blue. Let that dry hard and glaze the sea with another coat of pthalo blue. The horizon line is quite low, so there won’t be too much of that

When that is hard, I could put in the shadows perhaps this time with a mix of cerulean blue and violet, just to show where they are. When that,too, is hard, give the metal work a glaze of pthalo green as a base colour. That should set me up for having a crack at all that rust and dirt and seaweed. The shadows can be deepened up with a dark brown

Once I get those base colours in, then things will get more interesting, I am sure

Thames Estuary Sea Forts

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I have just finished the work for my second exhibition which I set up tomorrow in the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford, for anyone living close enough to go, this will be on for a month. All new work, so hopefully enjoyable

With that said and with a couple of weeks spare before I start my next commission, I am going to indulge myself and tackle something totally different, namely the Maunsell Sea Forts in the picture above. These are in the North Sea about nine miles out from the Thames Estuary, and loom like ghosts in the mist as you approach them

They were designed by a civil engineer called Guy Maunsell, and had a short but intense life during WW2. Built in 1942, they were erected on sandbanks, and commanded the estuary of the Thames, so they protected London and the Kent coastline from low-flying attacks by the Luftwaffe.

After a spell as a pirate radio station in the 1960s, they relapsed into disuse and as far as I know nothing is being done with them, probably because they are out of sight and so out of mind. There were seven of them, but one was hit by a Norwegian vessel and had to be taken down

We went to see them some years ago on a one-off trip organised out of London. This was on a paddle steamer called the Waverley, which originated from the Clyde as I remember, but would sail round the British coast and would organise excursions from various ports. This one was from London. We started in the Pool of London, sailed through Tower Bridge which was novel at the time, although I think cruise ships do this quite often now, and then chugged down the Thames, stopping only at the end of Southend Pier to pick up some more passengers. The voyage continued out into the North Sea , passing a surprising number of ferry boats at anchor, mothballed until they were needed. The forts slowly came into view through the sea mist. Very atmospheric indeed

I thought I would paint them one day, and have finally got round to it. Not something that is commercial, although I may get a surprise, but that doesn’t matter. This will be an interesting project in itself, tackling all those rusty surfaces, and hopefully capturing something of the mood which the photograph has missed somehowPirbright 091