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


Textured Finishes in Watercolour:Rust


A while back now, I touched on the subject of accurately representing texture in watercolour. The particular texture that I mentioned was rust, and the patina of aged metal

The little study above, I did some time ago, and I followed an instruction from a reference book called  “Painting Country Gardens in watercolour, pen and ink “. This was written by Claudia Nice. This little painting was done in watercolour only, so no ink was used. I have had this book for some time now, and have found several of the techniques in it to be very useful indeed.

The rusty barrow does look very convincing, and is achieved through a straightforward glazing exercise. That is to say, one coat on top of another that has been allowed to dry rock hard. This is how she tells us to do it, with the following wash glazes in this order.

  1. Burnt Sienna (base coat)
  2. Cadmium Orange
  3. Either red muted with green or red violet muted with yellow green. I seem to remember using the first one
  4. Final glaze of Violet with Payne’s Grey

I must repeat that it is imperative that you allow each coat to dry rock hard. I usually leave each coat to dry overnight as I prefer natural drying. Some people speed the operation up with a hairdryer which is fine, unless the paper has cockled, in which case it won’t dry flat

With a damp brush, and there are specialist brushes on the market for this, but if you don’t have one, no worries as one of your detail brushes will do fine, just lift out highlights or sheen areas. If you are careful you can also use razor scrape on very dry paint, of course. Next image is a close up to give you a better idea


Not done as well as the Claudia Nice version but I hope that gives you some idea

Her picture had the barrow full of flowers, hence the garden theme. I was only interested in the metal finish at the time

I hope you find that helpful. Every now and then, I stress that I am not an art teacher, just a painter whom you can follow if you want