Groups of tourists have been coming to the Wye Valley since William Gilpin’s book Observations on the River Wye was published in 1782. Gilpin’s book was, arguably, the first tour guide to be published in Britain and was one of a series of guide books to help travellers enjoy the most ‘picturesque’ aspects of the countryside.

The obvious attraction of the Wye Valley is the river – its meandering course takes it through the Herefordshire lowlands and laterally through the magnificent Wye Gorge, a popular tourist attraction to this day. Most of Gilpin’s truly ‘picturesque’ scenes were sketched from the river level with the shimmering water as the foreground for the brooding forests and cliffs behind. Dotted along the valley are the ruins of Goodrich Castle and Tintern Abbey, which were very important to the notion of the ‘picturesque’. Many of Gilpin’s sketches bore very little resemblance to the sights depicted. Rather they were examples of correctly ‘picturesque’ idealisations based on real views. In fact it was his descriptions rather than his illustrations that brought the tourists to the Wye Valley.

Picturesque rules

Gilpin’s rules of the ‘picturesque’ were particularly suited to the steep-sided Wye Valley, for it restricted the view and conformed in all aspects with side screens, detailed foregrounds and only limited distant views. He considered there were four different kinds of ‘ornaments’ of the Wye – ground/landforms, woods, rocks and buildings. Travelling by boat, he was able to achieve the low viewpoints and upward-looking perspectives that his ‘picturesque’ rules required. Gilpin was criticised for his narrow perspective, but he defended himself by saying, in one of his three essays, that his ‘picturesque’ rules did not apply to all beauty, just to that suited to the pencil.

The fact that artists have always felt free to alter nature in the interests of picture making was not lost on him. I realised, when taking in some of these views, how many of those 18th-century artists had been creative with the perspective and drama of the actual scene.
Gilpin considered the view of Goodrich Castle, as seen from the river, to be one of the grandest views on the Wye. In fact, although rather pleasing, in reality the view isn’t that imposing, so I have taken the liberty of dramatising the scene, making the banks rather higher and steeper than they are in reality (see below).

Goodrich Castle, watercolour, (25x25cm)




  • Schmincke Horadam Artists’ Watercolours: pure yellow, Indian yellow, rose madder, madder brown, cobalt blue, helio turquoise, cobalt turquoise and manganese violet
  • Da Vinci Cosmotop brushes Nos. 12, 8, 6, 4 and riggers, Nos. 2 and 4
  • 2B pencil
  • Block of 140lb (300gsm) Hahnemühle
  • Torchon
  • watercolour paper
  • My new ‘Cloverleaf’paint box



I lightly outlined the main details in 2B pencil: the trunks of the trees, a few branches and the path. I decided not to use masking fluid but reserve the whites by painting round them.
Starting with the background, I wet the area and proceeded to drop in Indian yellow, cobalt blue and cobalt turquoise with a No. 12 brush, keeping this section predominantly cool



Using Indian yellow, madder brown and manganese violet I painted in the foreground sunlit tree, the path and the bank. I let the colours mix on the paper, leaving white spaces here and there for ‘sparkle’ in the finished picture. Having established the underpainting, I began to develop some of the individual trees. Starting at the base, I moved the brush upwards into the foliage, blotting out paint here and there where leaves overlap



Moving on to the foliage I flicked and ‘stamped’ on colour, once again letting the paint merge and mingle on the paper. This is how I was able to get little flecks of light into the scene. Laying in the shadow areas of the path with cobalt blue, madder brown and manganese violet, I started to get a real feel for the structure of the painting



Using a No. 8 brush I started to delineate the form of the main tree and some of the smaller trees and branches with mixes of Indian yellow, rose madder, madder brown and cobalt blue. With my foliage colours I started to extend the leaf areas, painting carefully around the sunlit passages on the main tree. With my riggers I extended some of the smaller branches and twigs to blend with the areas of foliage



With a slightly darker wash I overlaid the shadow areas of the path with a glaze of cobalt blue, manganese violet and madder brown, flicking some colour into the still wet wash for texture



Piercefield Woods, watercolour,(37x50cm)
Using a little white gouache tinted with Indian yellow I dropped some individual leaves into the shadow areas and some highlights on branches and twigs


An exhibition entitled ‘The Picturesque Wye Valley,’ will run from July 21 to September 3, 2012, at Parkfields Gallery, Ross on Wye,; telephone 01989 565266.

Barry regularly organizes painting breaks and holidays throughout the year, both in the UK and abroad, and he is available for workshops and demonstrations to art clubs. His new book Barry Herniman’s Travelling Sketchbook is available from our online bookshop, price £29.99, to order click here or telephone 0844 880 5853.

For details of Barry’s new DVD Painting Watercolours in Andalucia and his new ‘Cloverleaf’ paintbox, see, or telephone 01989 770505.



The full article by Barry can be found in the Summer 2012 issue of The Artist and includes a step-by-step demonstration to paint Goodrich Castle