Steam & spray

Here’s a strange coincidence. I was recently commissioned to paint a view of a steam train travelling along the old Great Western line at Dawlish, where the line runs right along the sea wall. Imagine my surprise when, just a few days after completing the work, the line was washed away in the recent floods. It will be repaired of course, but for the moment there will be no trains at Dawlish, steam or otherwise!

Steam train at Dawlish Wall
Steam & Spray. King Edward VIII heads west at Dawlish. Watercolour 15ins x 11ins.

Paintings of this type require a lot of care in the research and in the actual work. I was fortunate to know someone with a large collection of railway books, and from them I found several examples of King class locomotives which used to haul the Cornish Riviera Express in the days of steam. I selected a photo of a train in full steam, but of course it wasn’t at Dawlish but elsewhere. So, I turned to the internet, and found some video on YouTube of a steam train at Dawlish, with a rough sea crashing over the tracks. But, it was completely the wrong type of locomotive. With careful drawing and a decent knowledge of perspective I managed to combine the two images, but there was a fair bit of artist’s license needed to make the scene into an effective composition. I had to think carefully about the tonal values of the work, to give prominence to the train but also convey a feeling of a dark, stormy day.

It took several sessions of work in my studio before I was happy with the end result, but I enjoyed doing it. It’s always good to be taken a little bit out of your comfort zone with an unusual subject. The lady who commissioned the painting as a gift for her steam enthusiast husband seemed to be delighted and that made it all worth while. An old artist once said to me “you can never be sure how a commission is going to go down when the client sees it for the first time. But, if they say they like it and they pay, you’ve done a good job!”