I painted this watercolor painting of the Forth Bridge in Scotland as a gift to a very close family friend. He has often mentioned how much he admired this bridge so I thought I would surprise him with this little gift when we visited him in Oregon.

I have seen this bridge myself and could see why my friend liked it so much. Unfortunately my photo reference was lost. It was also a very grey day during my visit. However I was able to find the photo below on wikimedia.org by George Gastin for which I thank him.

Drawing the bridge

The first step is to draw a detailed sketch of the bridge. The drawing is more important with these iconic structures.  If you have difficulty drawing this type of structure you can trace it and then transfer it to your watercolor paper.

Once you have completed the drawing you will need to mask any parts of the bridge that are in full sunlight. I did not mask the parts in shade or on the other side of the bridge as they would be slightly duller in color anyway.

Drawing of Forth Bridge Scotland UK with masking fluid applied

Drawing of Forth Bridge Scotland UK with masking fluid applied

Watercolor under painting for Forth Bridge

I painted the sky with cobalt blue and some Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ocre for the clouds. I made sure to leave some parts of the clouds untouched so the white of the paper could act as a highlight. You can read about how I paint these skies in detail in this article: Painting the sky and clouds.

watercolor under painting of Forth Bridge Scotland

Watercolor under painting of Forth Bridge Scotland

I ran the sky down to the distant waters edge. I then painted the water with mixes of French Ultramarine, a small amount of Cobalt Turquoise and a small amount of Alizarin Crimson. I used lighter tones (more water) in the distance and less water in the foreground.

The ripples in the foreground were dropped in wet-on-wet with a thicker mix of French Ultramarine, combined with a little bit of the other two colors. I have written an another article on how to paint water which is well worth reading if you are interested.

I let this stage of my watercolor painting dry thoroughly.

Painting the distant shoreline

The shoreline is painted with lighter and bluer colors in the distance with warmer ones in the foreground. For the closest land on the left I mainly used French Ultramarine and Raw Umber.

With the distant land masses painted I was ready to tackle the bridge.

Painting the distant shoreline with watercolor

Painting the distant shoreline with watercolor

Watercolor painting steps for the bridge

I used Cad Red with a little French Ultramarine for the bridge sections which are furthest from the light. I used a lot for water in the mixtures for the sections in the distance and reduced the water content as I painted the closer bridge spans. I use the water content of my watercolor mixtures to simulate the effect of atmosphere on colors.

Once this section of my watercolor painting was completed I let it dry completely before removing the dry masking fluid. I use a crepe eraser to take off the masking fluid.

First step in panting the bridge structure with watercolor

First step in panting the bridge structure with watercolor

To finish off this watercolor painting I did the following:

  1. Painted the pillars with mixtures of Yellow Ochre and Raw Umber. I used some French Ultramarine with Burnt Sienna for some of the darker and shadowed sections.
  2. I painted the remaining brightly lit beams of the bridge with Cad Red which was mixed with some Cad Orange in some places. Again the strongest tones and brightest colors were used for the parts of the bridge closest to the viewer.
  3. Once the bridge structure was completed I was able to work on the reflections. I used similar water colors to those used for the bridge but made them a little duller. You can read more about the color of reflections and shadows in my article on the subject.
  4. I first wet the entire area from under the bridge to the bottom of my watercolor painting with clean water. I used a very soft two inch flat brush for this. I then dropped in the reflected colors from the left hand side making them stronger and brighter as I worked from left to right. Notice how the reflections in the distance a quite a bit softer than those in the foreground. The sharpest edge reflections I put in as a second layer after the original soft reflections had dried.
  5. I placed a few birds in the sky to break up that space to finish my watercolor painting of the Forth Bridge.
Forth Bridge Scotland Watercolor painting by Joe Cartwright

Forth Bridge Scotland Watercolor painting by Joe Cartwright

While this article was about how I painted the Forth Bridge, the technique can be used or adapted for any other bridge in a similar scene.