How should I paint an un­der­wa­ter cas­tle?

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Rachel Day, Eng­land

Paco replies

A cas­tle that’s un­der­wa­ter is much like a cas­tle on land. The main dif­fer­ence will be in the de­pic­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment and at­mos­phere, be­cause the struc­ture is sub­merged.

Nor­mally, if you’re un­der­wa­ter you’ll no­tice that the wa­ter ab­sorbs a good amount of day­light. There’ll also be float­ing par­ti­cles, such as sand or mud, that cre­ates a colour cast on the im­me­di­ate sur­round­ings, and ob­jects that are all but ob­scured and blend into the back­ground be­cause of the re­duced clar­ity of the wa­ter and lower light lev­els. With a few tweaks, a paint­ing of a murky, foggy af­ter­noon can re­sem­ble an un­der­wa­ter set­ting. How­ever, bear in mind that ev­ery­thing de­pends on the type of wa­ter you want to de­pict.

My ap­proach for this ar­ti­cle is to first paint a cas­tle with an ap­pro­pri­ate light source, pos­si­bly from the sun above the wa­ter, but per­haps from some­where un­der­wa­ter. Next, I add the de­sired amount of weath­er­ing to the cas­tle, caused by ero­sion, sea­weed grow­ing on the walls, and so on. Then I ap­ply a uni­fy­ing colour to the im­age: this could be blue, but I also con­sider green or brown. Fi­nally, I paint over the dis­tant parts of the cas­tle to blend them into the back­ground. I’m happy to lose de­tail, or make some parts of the cas­tle al­most ex­actly like the back­ground.

Don’t let the un­der­wa­ter set­ting dis­tract you from tack­ling the usual com­po­si­tion fac­tors, such as shape, per­spec­tive, il­lu­mi­na­tion and tex­ture. The wa­tery en­vi­ron­ment is es­sen­tially a mat­ter of colour and con­trast. Paint the stone cas­tle as usual, then add your uni­fy­ing wa­ter colour. If you paint the cas­tle with blue hues from the start, it may end up look­ing monochro­matic.

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