Work in Progress: A Watercolour Painting of the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

The Ardnamurchan Lighthouse has recently started stocking some of my landscape greetings cards in addition to my wildlife cards, so I thought it only right that they should have at least one image of the lighthouse among their collection of my cards.

I began work on this new painting in mid-August. This subject involves an iconic building which needs to be recognisable and which will require some detailed drawing, so I started by sketching the outline of the lighthouse buildings and rocks very lightly, and then masked out that area completely with masking fluid before I started painting, because it was essential to keep that part of the paper clean. The apparent texture in the rocks area of the masking is an illusion. Everything that appears to be a light golden brown colour is entirely covered with masking fluid which has dried:

Lighthouse-work-in-progress-stage-1

As I wanted some texture and grain in the paper for the painting of the sea and sky, I used Arches cold pressed (NOT) paper for this painting, although I would normally use a smoother hot pressed paper when making images which involved drawing as well as painting. This will undoubtedly make the final drawing a wee bit more difficult, but the surfaces of the buildings are themselves textured and not smooth, so in that respect it fits well enough with the subject.

Once the masking fluid was dry I painted a fine line to mark the horizon, and then painted in the sky very quickly, wet-in-wet, leaving some areas more or less white. Rather than mask out the sea, I simply placed a thick layer of folded blotting paper across the lower part of the painting, aligning it carefully with the horizon line, to ensure that any wet paint from the fluid painting in the sky did not spill over into the sea. Where too much colour bled into the areas of sky close to the horizon, I simply lifted the paint off quickly with a clean, damp brush, to create the effect of the rain falling in sheets on the Hebridean islands which lie obscured on the horizon. This effect of rain falling in moving sheets across the horizon is something we see quite often in this area:

Lighthouse-work-in-progress-stage-2

It’s not a good idea to leave masking fluid on watercolour paper for longer than is absolutely necessary (in fact it’s better to avoid it altogether whenever possible), as it does compromise the surface structure of the paper to some extent when removed. In this case, however, I will mainly be using watercolour pencils to draw in the lighthouse buildings, so it was less important to maintain the surface of the paper in its original state than it would be for painting.

As soon as the painting in the sky was completely dry I started on the sea, with the masking fluid still in place. The sea is always complex and impossible to paint, full of colours seen through other colours: an ever-changing pattern of shifting hues, tones and of course positions. All that anyone can do in a still image is to create their impression of the sea, which can never come anywhere close to the reality.

I started the sea with a layer of rough underpainting, emphasizing the deep turquoise colours which accompany dark rain clouds in certain conditions:

Lighthouse-work-in-progress-stage-3

When that layer was dry, I worked in more detail on the surface of the sea, using small brushes with a range of mixed blues, and tidying up the light area in the distance, which is so often perceived just short of the horizon. Once the paint was dry I used a scalpel to gently scratch back the tips of the cresting waves, which were in that state known to meteorologists as sea state 4 or 5, with many white caps all over, and removed the masking fluid from the lower part of the picture, leaving the lighthouse and rocks as a clean white “silhouette”, ready to be completed in the final stages of the work…

Lighthouse-work-in-progress-stage-4

You can find out more about the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse on their own web site, or follow them on the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse and Visitor Centre Facebook page.

[The colours of the sky look different in the different photos, but actually they are exactly the same throughout all the stages. It’s simply that ambient light conditions in my studio changed between the times at which I took the various photos.]