About my painting of Greenwich

I love a bit of history, so I was thrilled to be asked to paint the Greenwich waterfront. Interestingly, my client did not want a contemporary view but how the area looked circa 1930.

The waterfront that I painted only takes a few minutes to walk end-to-end but tells a fascinating story of the life, times and culture of pre-war Britain. The whole of the Thames is like that, and on both banks too.

For this I sought the help of the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust and the good people of Greenwich via Twitter and Facebook.

Firstly I placed myself on the opposite side of the Thames on the Isle of Dogs and took in the view. Of course, I was walking in the steps of giants such as Canaletto and JMW Turner. They had once stood on the same spot musing on how to plan their paintings.

I worked-in loose ideas, deciding very early on to exaggerate scale and perspective (I do this in all my paintings), as I like to aim for an interpretation rather than a near photographic representation. I also wanted a slightly elevated view. Google Street View is an ideal companion here and as usual, I used it as a steer rather than a trace-off. Canaletto would have loved Google Street View.

Once the broad idea was set, I worked into a detailed drawing of each building. Doing this was rather sad in some ways as it seemed a great pity they aren’t there to be enjoyed today. I am sure the people who live and work in the modern buildings on that same site would much prefer their predecessors.

From here it was the ‘simple’ task of working through each building and from there, the Thames. I wanted the river to look choppy, cold, and muddy too, just as it really is. Canaletto couldn’t help himself and painted The Thames as a warm, calm Venetian canal.

Finally, the rivercraft. Here I wanted to reflect the times, depicting industrial craft and those used for pleasure as well.