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Under Lock And Key

A dark painting

Of all the many paintings I’ve produced, this one – “Under Lock And Key” – has to be the darkest in tone.

Location of the scene

The lock belongs to a pair of large and very old doors in Lincoln Cathedral. I was visiting the cathedral a couple of weeks ago, when I saw the lock and thought it looked amazing. The surrounding wood was so dark with age it looked almost black, but the metalwork of the lock seemed to glow with a brassy sheen. I took a photo and moved on.

Back home, when I viewed the photo, I found it was disappointingly fuzzy. All the same, I decided I wanted to paint the section of the doors around the old lock. It was a new subject for me and I hoped I could rise to the challenge.

How I painted the doors and lock

I started with a pencil drawing, which I made as accurate as I could. However, I did omit one or two features I couldn’t make out on the photo I was using as reference. Then I mixed some puddles of Indigo, Vandyke Brown and Ivory Black. Avoiding the locks and bolt, I flooded the paper with these dark paints and let them mingle naturally. This provided a reasonably good, dark underpainting which I let dry overnight. In the morning, I repeated the process to get the background darker still.

Later I painted the bright parts of the metalwork with Yellow and Gold Ochre.

The final stage involved adding details in dark colours, mainly using Vandyke Brown and Ivory Black again. The doors were studded with a lot of black iron bolts and nuts. In tackling these, I made some look sharp and let others fade off into the background. I was pleasantly surprised with the result. The painting came together better, and more easily, than I’d originally expected. (That doesn’t happen very often!)


Apologies to Lincoln residents or anyone else who knows the cathedral if I got some of the details wrong (which I’m sure I did). I’m going to blame that fuzzy photo!

Unframed watercolour painting. Size 8.5 x 11.8 inches / 21.5 x 30 centimetres.

Sorry, this painting is not available for sale.

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