Back in the studio, the drawing of the castle forms the central part of what has become a much larger composition. I transferred the drawing, without any changes of scale, to the centre of a 29” x 43” Daler line and wash watercolour board (fine), which enabled me to extend in all directions as the need arose. I wanted a large expanse of sky with plenty of movement to contrast with the stillness of the river. Consequently, I needed a large expanse of river in the foreground. The trees and buildings along the banks were added after further visits to the bridge. I collected more information than I needed since I eventually decided against including more of the very large trees in the foreground. They tended to shift interest from the castle to themselves, but I needed some branches to provide a point in the foreground against which the space beyond can be measured.
Procedurally, I do not think that I have anything amounting to a routine, except that I often paint the sky first. Different paintings require different approaches and it would be difficult to set down a course of action that is largely an intuitive response to the subject matter. This time I have protected areas of the white card with masking fluid. There are many plays of contrast that I want to exploit in the picture: the light castle against the darker sky, light branches overhanging dark water and dark branches against bright grass. I do use body colour occasionally, but nothing can really substitute for the glow of a white surface through transparent colour. The masking fluid must be thin and runny when used for anything in the region of the sky, otherwise it creates a ridge against which the wash of colour can accumulate, resulting in a residual dark line. If this does appear to be happening resist the temptation to dab it or you will introduce an unintentional cloud! Better to turn the painting upside down on the easel and encourage the colour to run away from the masked area.
The huge sky in this painting caused some concern. The hot-pressed surface of the card has a fine feel to it and may not take much reworking. There is quite a variation in porousness of the surface of different type of watercolour board. This ‘line and wash’ board was one I had not used before and I had to decide whether to wash the sky area over with clean water first, moistening the surface and allowing it a few minutes to soak through evenly before applying colour, as I have usually done with Daler watercolour board.
In the event, experimentation on a waste piece showed that this card would accept a wash evenly without previous priming and, more importantly, would permit colour to be lifted off back to white with a clean damp sponge. Having mixed a saucerful of cobalt and cerulean, the wash was applied with a large sable brush loaded generously with colour before each long stroke. Card is not as tolerant of scrubbing as paper, so the softer the brush and the lighter the touch the better. Working at speed from top to bottom I began to dip the brush into clean water rather than the paint, to dilute the colour as I approached the horizon. I had decided that the structure of the sky should echo the shape of the river and with that in mind I allowed areas of cloud to suggest themselves: a fluffy ridge was easily picked out with a finely textured damp sponge and the richer darker area at the top of the picture was achieved by mixing a tiny quantity of Indian red into the blue.
It is a good idea to mix a fairly strong colour for the sky because if you start with it, as I often do, it is necessary to compensate for the bright white of the rest of the surface. The sky will appear less vivid as colour is applied elsewhere. It is possible to re-tint the sky at a later stage and I find it more satisfactory to apply this other wash, when necessary, with the painting turned upside down on the easel, working from the horizon. Do not forget to dab and soften the bottom edge of a wash or a hard edge will show persistently through subsequent painting.