new Southern Electric Group logo

Class 450 New Forest Advertising Vinyls

Two Class 450 units, 450112 and 450118, have had full height advertising vinyls affixed - shades of the Class 455 (prior to refurbishment) advertising units in the early naughties - in this case publicising the New Forest National Park. We are extremely fortunate that Martin Davey, one of the two artists involved in this project, has written us an account of how they were produced.

All photographs are courtesy of Martin Davey unless otherwise credited.

During late July 2016 I was contacted by GTB advertising agency in London asking if I was interested in working with them on creating artwork. The project was to be for South West Trains (SWT). I was delighted to accept the challenge! At the time the campaign was to feature a number of trains, typically found on the route between Waterloo and Weymouth, and give them a "vinyl wrap", with artwork created by six artists. The artwork from each artist was to feature locations along the route, the painting conveying their inspirations and observations of the area.

I picked the New Forest National Park, a 566 square kilometer area of various types of countryside landscapes, that lies between Bournemouth and Southampton. There was no requirement to feature a train within the artwork, but I thought the notion would go down well with interested parties. I also knew the exact location that would suit my concept having been there a number of times in the past to take photos of the trains and surrounding countryside. This was an area just south west of the town of Brockenhurst, itself served by SWT. What made the area great was that the landscape is quite flat moorland, with a covering of heathers and few trees. The railway line is quite visible in this open location and does in fact split here too, with the main line continuing to Weymouth and the branch line going to the coastal town of Lymington. One other important factor in any image relating to the New Forest is the amount of livestock that is able to freely wander around the entire area, so it was important to feature cows and horses in the work. So this location meant I could show the forest as viewed by passengers, with a flat landscape that would suit the long format of the train, and have the added interest of animals to give extra charm to the painting. The use of a SWT train in the background would be the final statement within the composition.

A few days later I received a template of the section of the body side area that was to receive the vinyl print from the agency. I instantly recognised it as a class 450, the agency having no idea. Using this template would then allow me to experiment with my concept visually. I gathered some other photos of visits to the New Forest, plus some photographs of other paintings of mine and created a rough composite picture, using the image compositing computer program "Photoshop". This image was based on the working area on the template, and presented this to the agency and client, SWT, which was met with approval. I had to make two changes. One was that I had used an old picture of a 4-VEP just for positioning purposes, but it was at the right angle used it in my mock up. I did point this out, but as they had no idea about stock and just asked that it be a "blue" train. I was also asked to remove the cows and just have horses. I shall leave it to the reader to decide why this was, though think of the word.... "overcrowding"!

When working with the template I took care to make sure that elements within the painting would not be obscured by the (blank) window areas and that things of interest would fall between the window areas, to make sure that the image is pleasing to the eye as seen by the expectant passenger. Later, one Saturday during a beautiful August morning I visited the location on bicycle and took lots of photographs for reference. It was perfect conditions for what I wanted to show of the area, the trains and the animals.

The next stage was to refine the concept based on the one approved of a few days previously, and refine it using the latest reference material obtained in the forest, which in turn allowed me to "nail down" the proposed composition. In turn this was approved. Some of the elements had minor "shunts" to allow for pieces of promotional text to be placed on top of the painting again to avoid important details being covered up. Once everything was approved I could go ahead and do the painting.

I ordered a large canvas that was 150cm x 100cm. The canvas/painting was not intended for exhibition but just as a functional surface to paint on. Only half the canvas would be used for the painting to reflect the bodyside area of the train to be tackled. The first painting stage is to paint an orange "ground" or base colour. I do not like painting directly on white, and some of the orange will still show in the finished result. Following this I drew a numbered grid across the canvas which corresponded to a grid drawn on my concept art. This allowed me to scale up the plan accurately and on which I then drew, in brown acrylic paint, the features of the painting like the trees, horses and train.

The painting beig sketched on the orange ground

Once all of the elements are down I was then able to paint base colours, in darker hues, which acts as an underpainting. After the paint had dried I was able to paint the final 'viewable' layer of top, with the correct hues and tones, all in acrylics. Because of the short time to create the painting acrylic paint was used because of its fast drying properties. I do also paint in oils but they are slow drying and I would have missed the tight deadline by several weeks, as moving around a wet painting is fraught with potential disaster as well as being very difficult to photograph.

After approximately 12 days the painted artwork was finished. The next stage was to photograph it carefully and then bring the image in to the computer domain. As the artwork was large and needed to be recorded in fine detail, ten photographs of different areas of the painting were taken separately and within Photoshop the sections were rejoined to make up one very large photograph. I then placed the body side template and my rough concept in to the same image file at different visual densities so that I was able to line up the big photograph with the template accurately. When the positioning was correct I then removed those guiding elements so that I just had the finished image in front of me. The very last step was then to carry out some colour correction to bring the colours in the photograph back to how they looked on the painting itself.

Martin Davey applying fine details to the painting

The finished computer file was then sent on to the agency for approval. Once approved, and backed up, the original painting was destroyed. This is because it was only designed to be seen on the train, where the layout fits the side of the rolling stock. On its own the painting was quite ugly as a composition, though this was expected, the effort being put in to the art to making it work in context with the train. Also the picture was far too big to keep around, and was always in the way in my home, no matter where it was stored.

On October 27th I was kindly invited by SWT to see the vinyl wrap actually being applied on to the trains. The two units 450112 and 450118 of the class were to be used. My painting would be applied four times on each 4 coach unit, twice on each side. Another artist, Caz Scott, would "share" the unit with me and her wonderful artwork of Durdle Door, in Dorset would occupy the remaining space. It appeared that the other four artists originally planned for the promotion had now been dropped at some stage. My New Forest artwork would be applied on car 1 and 3 on one side, and on car 2 and 4 on the other side. This means that the painting had eight copies in total, taking the two units in to account, that would be viewable to passengers travelling on the region.

Strawberry Hill depot, in south London was the location of where the work was to be undertaken. Originally the work was planned to take place at Wimbledon but was changed quite late on during the previous day.   I met the party consisting of members of SWT and other interested parties by the level crossing at Strawberry Hill station. We were asked to don reflective jackets and a fence was then opened and we made our way along the side of the track down towards the depot buildings. It could be seen that parts of the depot are never used with the tracks rusty through lack of use and there was an air of quiet dereliction, quite different to Wimbledon I imagine.

Vinyls being applied at Stawberry Hill Depot

(above) Vinyls being applied to a driving motor coach of 450112

I remember on arrival I could see through the small Victorian windows of the depot building, small hints of the artwork that had been applied and some idea of its scale and detail, and I was pleasantly surprised at how clear it. When I finally came face to face with the vinyl inside the shed, the scale was quite impressive and I was very struck by how good the printing and colours were, especially when considering how many times the artwork had been enlarged. The vinyls were created by Aura Graphics and were created in sections to be applied by hand by men standing on a ladder. I had expected to find that the vinyl was to be in one large piece and applied using a special machine to keep it all aligned. I was surprised however to see that the window glass had retained the vinyl, expecting to see clear glass. While there I took photos of the work and was also asked to pose by the train for various official photographs and some video footage. A time lapse movie was also made of the application process, with other media materials relating to the campaign, though these were unseen at the time of writing. Most of the vinyls had been applied to the one unit (450112) in the depot at the time as I arrived, the other unit was not there and was be done at a later date. Also the vinyls for the other artist were not in evidence, being due possibly to a poor quality photograph of the art or some other reproduction problem. This situation was apparently rectified a day before launch. Of interest, parked in the next road to the 450 was 4VEP 3417, looking very smart in all over blue and cast steel BR emblem. However appearances can be deceptive and I was informed that the interior was "rotten".

Marin Daveys artwork on the side of a coach
On November 14th the trains were finally revealed at a small press launch held on platform 14 of Waterloo station. It was due to start at 11am but changed to noon, because of logistics. The unit arrived (450118), carrying passengers. Once they had all gone then the people invited, mainly from the interested parties in the production of the campaign and interests in the New Forest, turned up and a number of photos were taken with some brief speeches. It was also the first chance to see the great art work by Caz Scott who provided the painting of Durdle Door, a part of the coastline of Dorset. Unfortunately a mistake had been made on her name printed on the vinyl, but it is hoped that this has been rectified by the time this article is published. One problem facing SWT (media) is keeping the units together and not having a non, re-livered car in the formation as well as keeping the units clean. The eventual aim however is to sell advertising space on the trains. Keeping the trains clean and in formation would be an important goal to achieve if a third party is paying for advertising using this method. The rail companies plan is for the public to photograph the units and post them on to social media, using the #ArtOnBoard tag.
Martin Davey poses by his artwork

(above) Martin Davey poses in front of his artwork, photograph courtesy of the New Forest National Park Authority.

To conclude it was a great commission to produce and I met lots of nice people during the time. I thank the agency GTB and South West Trains for the opportunity to produce the painting for their promotion. It was great to combine two interests in my life, and I look forward to a proposed gift of a cab ride. History does repeat itself however. 50 years ago my mother, in her role producing publicity artwork, was painting pictures of the New Forest for Hants & Dorest bus services at Bournemouth.

Martin Davey