Tantallon castle North Berwick

Tantallon castle is a beautiful old ruined castle right on the cliffs near North Berwick (which is East of Edinburgh). We visited recently but I’ve only just found out that it was actually the filming location of the film “Under the Skin” with Scarlet Johansson. It is one of my all time favourite books but I’ve never seen the movie, I guess I’m a bit scared in case it doesn’t live up to the book.

Tantallon castle was built in the mid 1300s by the Douglas clan which makes it 760 years old, so it’s pretty amazing any of it is still standing especially given it’s location, battered by the North Sea gales. The view is fantastic, looking on to the famous Bass Rock with its amazing sea bird colonies. Unfortunately as we were visiting in winter, most of the seasonal visitors hadn’t arrived yet so we didn’t see any unusual sea birds. It was however a beautiful (if freezing!) day which inspired me to paint it.

I had it in my mind that didn’t want to paint the whole castle. I previously did this with Doune Castle https://getthepictureart.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/doune-castle-castle-leoch/ and felt a bit frustrated in the process, not sure why. I knew I wanted to paint a part of the castle only, letting the rest fade away off to the side. A ruin is perfect for this detail-approach, with uneven edges and broken walls. One of the semi-ruined towers (I think this is the so called Douglas Tower – since writing this, I’ve been told that this is East Tower) grabbed my attention as the vaulted ceiling was still partially intact and created a great shadows. I loved the way the different parts of the walls were different colours and tones. I assume these were built at different times or perhaps they represent areas that were internal and therefore different stone was used. The way the broken parts jutted out also created great shadows.


I started with a quick pencil sketch to get the measurements right and then a pen drawing of the tower on Bockingford 300gsm watercolour paper. I use Pilot DR drawing pen which is waterproof so the ink wont run when I paint over it. I drew in the main features and hatched in the darkest shadows. The photo I have was in low winter sunlight so the shadows were strong which worked well.


Once this was done I started applying washes of colour using Daniel Smith watercolours in tubes and Winsor and Newton watercolour in pans. I like the paint better from tubes as I can see what colour I’m going for a bit easier.


I used a combination of  Hansa yellow light, New gamboge, Pyrrol Scarlet and French Ultramarine from the Daniel Smith set and Burnt umber and Winsor green from the W&N set.

I let the first wash sit for a few days. This is my normal pattern, I work in stages with days, weeks or months inbetween. I’ll leave my painting propped up somewhere and every time I walk past I have a think about what it needs. This is a form of torture and self-criticism but it works for me. Often the painting is relegated and filed away at this stage if I loose interest!

This one held my attention, however, so a few days later I added the sky and some darker tones and in the castle. Basically I used the same colours but less dilute. French Ultramarine with a bit of Winsor Blue and Quinacridone Rose added in places.

Here is the final painting……..Let me know what you think!





  1. Hi, I’m the Steward at Tantallon Castle, just want to say, I really enjoyed the painting! You’ve captured the hues of the castle really well! The tower you have painted is actually the East Tower – the Douglas Tower is on the other side of the curtain wall. The tower was probably used as accommodation for visiting nobles and potentially for keeping high-status hostages in relative comfort. You are correct about the differing shades in stonework being from different time periods – the castle was put under siege that required significant repair and strengthening work, most obviously in the greenish stone.

    Loving the work, and hopefully you can come and paint some more of the Castle soon!


    • Hi Aiden, thanks so much for your message! It’s really interesting to know about the different stone work, I wondered about the greenish parts. I only noticed these details when I tried to paint it. Also thanks for the info re. the tower, good to know!
      I’ll definitely be painting some more of the castle, it really lends itself to making art!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s