Monday, January 18, 2016

Commission #7: Tin Can Hollow Road

Here's the final house portrait in this series of 2015 commissions, a renovated farmhouse on the charmingly named Tin Can Hollow Road in Greene County, Pennsylvania. I took my reference photos in August when the yard was filled with flowers and the white hydrangeas were just beginning to develop the rosy blush that comes as summer winds down.

26" x 20", watercolor on 140 lb. paper

This painting is much larger than my usual work. I feel most comfortable working at sketchbook size, anything up to 9" x 12", but at 26" x 20", this one made me really stretch myself. I used larger brushes and a bigger palette, so I would have room to mix up substantial puddles of paint, but the techniques I used were the same as for smaller works.

I did a detailed pencil drawing of the home and yard, then sketched in the main trunks and branches of the trees, roughly indicating masses of foliage. I masked out the fence posts and the window frames and a few other small details here and there. Then it was time to give those big brushes a workout!

I began by painting the large tree to the left of the house, using olive green and yellow ochre for the lighter sunlit leaves and mixing in Hooker's green, ultramarine blue and Payne's gray for the darker areas. I worked front to back, meaning I painted the foliage closest to the viewer first and gradually filled in the spaces in between the light areas with darker values. I used round brushes, a natural sponge, and an old stiff-bristle oil painting brush to paint the leaves.

I began painting the light gray color of the tree trunks after I had my first few passes at the foliage, adding a touch of raw sienna to the gray where the sun was shining on the trunk.

As I moved back into the distant woods, filling in around the foreground trees, I allowed the deep, rich colors to mingle wet-in-wet. After the paint dried I lifted out a few tree trunks with a damp brush.

I repeated the same process in the trees to the right of the house, working on the light leaves first, then filling in the shadowy areas.

After the trees were nearly finished, I wet the sky area and dropped in cerulean blue, adding cobalt blue toward the top. To shape the clouds, I blotted with a tissue and lifted paint where needed with a damp brush. (I later added lavender-gray shadows to the clouds, but they don't show up too well in the photo.)

At this point, the trees and sky were mostly done, but I kept going back to the trees as I worked, adding a branch or twig here and there, spattering some color, or adding a darker tone.

Next, I tackled the lawn, sidewalks, and road. They were all built up with layers of washes. I moved around the painting, working on one area for awhile, then, as that part dried, I moved on and worked on something else.

The house is surrounded by lovingly tended gardens filled with flowers, all the work of my client, the homeowner.

As always, I painted the flowers with light, then medium, then dark values. I'm always surprised at what a difference those darkest values make. Without them, nothing "pops".

For the flag, I masked the stars early on, then carefully painted the blue background and red stripes. After the masking was removed, I softened edges and painted shadows. Doing this kind of detail work required me switching back to my smaller brushes.

The house was painted one step at a time, first a light gray wash for the siding, with a warmer gray for the roof.

A few dark lines suggested shingles on the roof...

The siding was indicated with thin broken blue-gray lines, then the large shadow from the tree was painted, making the sunlit parts of the house look nice and bright.

The leaded glass door and sidelights were carefully painted with a small brush, and I even included the wreath on the front door.

The shutters were painted a deep dark red, and highlights were lifted later with a damp brush. The darkest shadows help to define the form of each shutter.

The chimney was first given a base wash made up of yellow ochre mixed with a touch of burnt umber. Burnt sienna, burnt umber, and Paynes gray were dropped into the wet wash and allowed to mingle as they dried. Later, individual bricks were painted in a range of those same colors, mimicking the variation of colors found in the house's bricks.

To finish up I painted the white snowball hydrangeas along the front fence, then removed the masking from the fence and painted the light and medium tones on it.

Adding the dark shadows to the posts made them appear to be brightly lit by the sun, and the cast shadows on the ground add to the illusion. That contrast of values is so necessary for a painting to work.

All those individual parts and pieces added up to a cohesive whole. The picture has plenty of contrast, to look good from a distance, but it also is filled with the details that my clients love. After all, it's their home, and they enjoy seeing what they've built over the years.

I hope you've enjoyed this series of paintings and learned a little something from my tutorials. I know I learn something from every painting I do. It's all a matter of practice and learning from our mistakes. Over time, improvement comes, so take heart, and keep on painting!


  1. Thank you for sharing this series. I love to read how you achieve the 'look' in certain areas of your paintings and find your explanations very helpful.
    Thank you again for sharing.

  2. Hi, Leslie. This series is amazing. I really appreciate how you share details of your process and the colors you use. Your trees are so beautiful. I can imagine this house in August being sheltered and cooled under their leafy shade.

    How do you keep the lines on the roof and siding so straight?

    You mentioned the lavender in the clouds not showing up well in the photos. I can just see it, but this is something I have trouble with (keeping the pigments true in color and value). Can you talk sometime about your process--whether you scan or photograph your work for posting, what equipment you use, what organizing or editing software you use, how you size your pictures for posting, etc.? Since I have trouble whether I scan or photograph my work, I'm wondering if I need better equipment (maybe better lighting?) and better software, but I'm not sure where to start.

    1. To keep the roof lines straight, I lightly penciled in some guidelines before beginning to paint. Sometimes I'll even draw some light guidelines with watercolor pencil, because I can wash most of them away as I work, leaving just the ones I want to keep.

      That's a good idea, to do a post about how to get your sketches online, etc. I usually scan with my Epson scanner, which has a lot of adjustments that I can make to the colors, contrast, intensity, etc. And I'm fairly organized with how I keep track of everything. I'll keep your idea in mind. Thanks!

    2. Thanks for the tip on using a watercolor pencil to draw the guidelines. Now, why didn't I think of that?!

      I look forward to any post you do about getting our sketches online!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your detailed work processes. All the homes were so beautiful and I hope someday you will make a DVD/book for all of us to practice along with.


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