Painting a clock for the art trail

When I was preparing art for the Adur Art Trail this year I began journaling ideas for creations to take with me. I wanted to offer something more than just original paintings and thought about scarves, collaged greeting cards and even zines. But when I focused on the coastal theme of the paintings, a tide clock seemed like a good fit.

Why a tide clock?

Anyone who lives near the sea will have observed the turning tide. Maybe wanting to catch a paddle at low tide or fishing at high tide. I have a tide clock on my wall I bought in Broadstairs years ago. I check it before I walk to the beach and it’s essential if I’m planning a swim. A tide clock is based on a 24 hour 50 minute lunar cycle to show how long until low or high tide.

Close up of a blue tide clock by Kore Sage

How to make a tide clock

Once I knew I could buy the mechanism specifically for a tide clock I knew I had to try one. I could hand paint the face in the same process as the paintings and create something unique for the open house.

I ordered the clock parts and a round wooden base on Ebay and spent some time in an image editor playing with circular crops of my paintings. This did not look good and it was clear I was going to have to paint something new. I decided on using a horizontal “strata” composition as this fit in best with the paintings on display and was a good contrast with the circular clock.

Painting the base

From the beginning I wanted to create a “reversible” clock. I would paint the clock on both sides with a dark, deep blue side and also a lighter side. This allows the clock to be displayed on dark or light walls. This was a bit tricky at times, waiting for one side to dry but wanting to keep both sides moving forward at the same pace. The warm weather helped a lot with fast drying paint.

Painting a tide clock

The surface was prepped with two layers of Gesso on the sides and edges. I chose my paint colours and tools from those I had used in my paintings to keep the work cohesive. I selected heavy body acrylic, some acrylic inks and a pale blue Posca pen for fine details. In this case it was necessary to plan this in advance. (If I was just making for fun, I might not do this.) You can find the full supplies list I used at the end of this article.

Using layers

Use paint and mark making that is loose and light to keep the feel of the sea and the coast in the painting. Switch up layers of opaque acrylic with inks and fine lines for an interesting painting. You can see how some of these layers were built up in this article about painting in layers.

Once I had a playful energy as my foundation I refined the design and added small details. It took a few attempts to get this right on the light side. Use a standard letter stencil and acrylic paint pen to add High and Low and hourly markings using a paper template. I’d like to say I did this the easy way and just printed off a clock face for this. But I dug out my pair of compasses and did it the old fashioned way.

Finishing off

Sand the edges a little to finish off. They can accumulate a bit of extra paint so it helps to smooth them out. Then Gesso is great for painting the edge of the wooden base as its opacity covers up any colour and tidies up the clock nicely. The paint is protected using a liquid matt varnish and left to dry before the mechanism is fitted.

Displaying the tide clock

The clock was displayed at the open house and got a lot of interest. The venue backed onto the river and was the perfect location. Many visitors asked why the clock had only one hand and were fascinated by how it kept time. I made only one for the show which sold on the second weekend only to be missed by the owners of the venue. So a second was commissioned by them and delivered after the open house.

Checking the composition of the black hand on a tide clock

My tide clock supplies

Make your own tide clock. Here in the UK I found a few suppliers online for both clock parts and wooden bases. Ebay and Etsy have a variety of sellers that can supply in the quantity you need. I chose Spare Clock Parts and Knoll View Laser Crafts on Etsy. My clock mechanism did not have a hanger integrated but a quick search on eBay got me a standard clock hanger delivered quickly.

  • Tips:
  • Check the length of the clock hands against the size of your base
  • Buy a base with a central hole already drilled
  • Use a tide times website to set your clock correctly

Supplies list

I used:

  • Daler Rowney heavy body acrylic paint in Cyan, Pthalo turquoise and Titanium white
  • Daler Rowney FW acrylic inks in Indigo, White, Ultramarine and Flame orange for mixing
  • Posca paint pens in Navy blue and Light blue
  • Liquitex white Gesso
  • Neocolor I in Turquoise blue
  • Liquitex matt varnish
  • 20cm circular clock base from Knoll View Laser Crafts (Etsy)
  • Tide clock mechanism from Spare Clock Parts
  • Standard clock hanger from eBay

I get my art supplies from Clarkes Art Shop and Cass Art here in Brighton UK.

Hand painting a tide clock