Two castles: Two different approaches (step by step)

February 24, 2021 | 15 Comments

Yesterday morning, Esther and I started our fortnightly zoom session again. (They were on pause due to my Sketchbook Design livestreams) We are continuing with our theme of Scottish Castles and this week I sketched Cawdor Castle and Midhope Castle. I have been to Cawdor Castle and sketched it quickly in the rain back in 2009 (see here) but have never heard of Midhope before.

We were talking non-stop while I was sketching, so these sketches are a good example of reflex sketching. I was relying on my instincts and not really thinking too much about what I was doing. I also wasn’t concentrating enough to achieve accurate colour or lighting.

I decided to switch my overhead camera on, so I’m able to share my steps with you. The only real thought I had beforehand was to decide how to start. Cawdor was complex and had only a few small shadow shapes so I decided to start with pen. It was 7:30am so this was a good safe option for a warmup. Midhope had a lovely shadow shape so I started with paint. BTW I explain this decision in more detail inside my Watercolour Course (Lesson 4).

I certainly don’t always follow a set formula when I sketch – I like to make it up and adjust as I go.

Cawdor Castle

Drawing the main components of the castle with my Fude 55degree pen.

Adding the base washes for the walls and roof.

Adding shadows

Adding darks to the windows.

Adding a little texture to the walls (initial wash is partly damp and partly dry)

Adding the green bits!

Adding the sky last!

Final Version

Midhope Castle

Paint first – starting with the main shadow shape.

A little splashing… just because!

Adding the trees and grass while I considered the tricky foreshortening…

And then I decided to start drawing.

And then I added the sky as this would help me work out the values.

Once that was done it was clear that I needed to strengthen the shadow areas.

And maybe add a little texture?

Then I wanted to add some warmth.

And then here is the final version.

I hope you have enjoyed seeing these! It was certainly interesting for me to review what I did as I wasn’t thinking about the order of my steps at the time.

BTW there are also some process photos of another castle sketching session here – it was a direct watercolour sketch (with no ink lines) and includes a few non-traditional steps!


  • Laurence Coulaud says:

    Thank you Liz for this post!
    It’s great to see both versions (even the three versions…). The different processes are very well rendered. I love the version where you start the sketch with watercolor. To read you, although I see a wonderful spontaneity in the execution, and I also see a lot of reflection and questions at each stage.
    Always as inspiring 🙂

  • Astrid says:

    This is a great post Liz, very useful for me. Thanks again for posting it. I always go for pen first although I know my sketches would be looser if I started with watercolor. I try, but it’s very difficult for me, because instinctively I always find myself with the pen in my hand first. I don’t know if I will be able to cross that bridge, but I will keep on trying.

  • Idol Worth says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the steps!

  • Mihaela SAVU says:

    Thank you very much for this step by step demos! Very useful for me, very well presented as well, easy to see the differences (and likelihoods) between the two approaches

    • Susanna says:

      These are my thoughts, too. Thank you, Liz, for being so generous with your time and techniques – they are invaluable to this novice sketcher!

  • Melissa Sabin says:

    I recognized Midhope immediately….it is Lallybroch from the Outlander series, which I highly recommend!! Loved seeing the breakdown of your process. The more I see these, the more it is making sense to me, and helping me in my sketching approaches. Your work is invaluable Liz.

  • Linda Arthur says:

    I loved seeing these Liz. For me I loved the paint first and then pen. The end result has so much more character.

  • Ellen Agger says:

    Very, very helpful, Liz. Please do more of these! I most often carry just a pen and small sketchbook when I go out then add paint at home. This inspires me to change my approach to how I add paint and to start with paint first once the weather (and my fingers) warms up.

  • Dana Richards says:

    I very much appreciate this kind of post featuring annotated process photos of your sketches! More please!

  • Jamie C says:

    Great idea to capture your process and steps as you go! What fun!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Thanks everyone – I’m glad you enjoyed this. More Step-by-step articles here

  • Tracy B Yates says:

    Would you mind sharing full views of the pictures you were working from? I’d love to try myself from the pictures. The hardest part for me is simplifying buildings and I would like to work through myself to help understand how you tackle these problems.


    Thank you so much, Lize

  • Suzanne Spaid says:

    Thank you for sharing your work. It is so helpful to see your process.

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