Watercolour Waterloo Bridge

Friday 7th April

My charming nephew James has requested a picture of Waterloo Bridge. It’s for his wife for whom the view has happy memories.  So we’re looking for a ‘warm’ or cheerful look. Sunlight and dancing shade is maybe beyond me for a while, so ‘warm’ it is. I seek out a shot at golden hour for approval, and we’re off! 

For once, I’m going to blog this as it happens. I have plans but no idea what will happen as we go. And not really a clear idea of the outcome I’m aiming for. Anyway, Lizzie’s family will be able to watch it all take shape on WordPress. 

First I reversed the image before putting my iPhone into my cardboard projector. The corrected (twice-reversed) image appears (barely) on the wall of athe darkened room and I make a few registration marks to save a few hours. 


Back to the drawing board. And the rough drawing looks pretty rough! But after 30m of eraser and a 4B pencil, it starts to resemble the familiar cityscape over Waterloo Bridge. 


Next I have to plan an ‘outcome’ and the order of application of colour. In my mind the city and the bridge are lit from behind the viewer by a golden sunset! The sky is pale, the waters dark. So. Back to the sketchbook, and the thinking chair… I want to do a graduated wash for the sky, fading from pale amber to grey above. 

I want to make the water mottled with granulated colours, mid and darkest blue.  And the bridge; a splash of amber sunset-light echoing the fiery skyline, but mostly humble darkening of the quiet giant silently serving the unending crossing of buses and walkers. 

Can you see walkers on Waterloo Bridge? Research needed…

Saturday 8th April

OK. Final pencil work before colouring. Adding in a little traffic and some people. Larger people on the near bank, to allow for a cheeky finishing touch of a tiny pink coat. Note to self: Pink? Red with a touch of White Gouache? No idea!


And now, the graduated sky wash. I start with Raw Sienna, though Yellow Ochre looks likely, until I check my charts and realise that Yellow Ochre is opaque but Raw Sienna is transparent. I wet the sky with a water before the first wash, and lean the page to make to run into the skyline. 


Now after the yellow dries enough to not run back up, I wet the top sky again, and apply Cerulean Blue, the palest, to the top and invert the page to allow the blue to run to the top. Here it is, with the blue still blotchy and dark because it’s still wet, ..and upside down of course!

The graduated wash dries out exactly as I wanted. Great! Except one thing comes up. With all that water, the page has warped- which is why one should soak first and let the page shrink tight while taped and pinned to the board. However. I think the paint runs ‘naturally’ across the folds, and I’m hoping to go in a semi-abstract direction with this. Kind of. Later. Maybe. 


I’ll let it dry totally overnight. I don’t want the buildings bleeding into the sky. I also have to think about what’s next because I have no idea. 

Sunday 9th April

I actually love these unpainted drawings with painted backgrounds. (Example) but, we’ll never learn to paint anything if we don’t paint everything. One day I’ll have to ‘take a long walk up to the deep end’, and start painting without first using a pencil!

So, I spend a while blending colours on my test sheet, and decide to construct the skyline with Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, and Burnt Ochre. The dash of blue in the Gherkin will be Cerulean – not for likeness but to keep the palette simple as possible. 

I start with pencilling some river detail, and then colour the skyline shadows. Is it a mistake to do both highlights and shadows first? We’ll see later. These shadows are intended to have distinct edges, so they’ll dry before we continue with the body in blended Raw & Burnt Sienna:

You can also see some masking tape across the bridge to help (soon) to get a believable strip of illuminated pale blue roadway. The masking tape is the perfect Bridge colour! Can I keep it? No? OK then…

Monday 10th April


I’ve used Raw and Burnt Sienna to complete the Skyline and the style is a bit inconsistent due to my usual impatience with wet becoming dry. However, I’m now imagining some ink over the paint to replace the pencil. This often ‘unifies’ things and the variations become less like inaccuracy and more like ‘interest’.

The thin (Cerulean Blue) line of lamplight goes on, and the masking tape comes off. 

Once this is quite dry, The Bridge beckons, and Mary keeps asking, with intent, Where’s The Bridge? 


The Inconvenient Truth is that the artist had not solved the problem: What will make this not a picture of London? What will make this a picture of a bridge? Such good questions. Here’s a crazy idea. Instead of a concrete bridge with a pink dot, what about a PINK BRIDGE!?

I decide that there’s a sort of irony in one solution, the one where any paint applied to the bridge will diminish its impact in the frame. So in a sense, despite the request, the only thing I have not ‘painted’ is the bridge! Here’s how it looks in a mount, and I am tempted to call it,..

“Waterworth Bridge v1.0”

Waterworth Bridge v1.0
Finally James and I decide that the painting works as “Waterloo Bridge” as it is. I’m afraid to touch it now anyway even though my dad has advised adding the bridges reflection on the water, and other changes. I’m hoping to reveal the “Pink Lady” by erasing her pencil outline, later. 

So having talked about how to deliver the present over a family visit for tea, I’m moving on to the post-production phase. ..Where’s the scanner?

Tuesday 11th April

Printed a scan (600dpi = 28MB!) and it’s weak on yellow. I’m looking for highlights to enlarge but there aren’t any. Uninspired. However, suddenly this comes up:


..when I print two A4-portrait ‘details’ and notice that they continue nicely. Then I wonder about producing only a four-part panel. So, here’s how it looks. I’ve run out of frames, so we have to imagine the framed tetraptych:


I’m quietly confident 😎

Saturday 3rd June 2017


The present was handed over and received well. A copy also hangs on my own wall and it’s a good result. However I know there’s a huge journey ahead to master the subtle and myriad techniques of water colour; so I’m thinking I may need some lessons!

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