Monday, January 9, 2012

Watercolor Magic

To an artist, a red brick ranch may not be the most inspiring subject matter. But there's something about putting watercolors on paper that can magically transform even the most mundane subject, like a simple ranch-style house, into something special.

I was commissioned by a friend to do a house portrait of her parents' home in Washington, PA, and when I first received the photo shown above, I was a little concerned that the boxy house might look boring in a painting. After all, it didn't have any interesting details, like a welcoming front porch or gingerbread trim. The trees were bare, and that expanse of front lawn definitely needed something to liven it up.

This is where the watercolor magic comes in. In the finished painting, the house is still technically the same as in the photo - the same shape and dimensions - but it's been enriched with warmth, character, and a welcoming presence.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 8" x 10"

I started with a pen and ink drawing, then added layers of watercolor. The bricks on the exterior were suggested with varying shades of burnt sienna watercolor. The empty urns by the front porch were filled with cheery yellow flowers.

I decided to change the season to midsummer which required clothing the trees in lots of green leaves. I've added washes of blues, yellows, and reds to make things more interesting. Spatters of yellow ochre, brown, and dark green add texture and suggest random individual leaves.

I could see the remains of a summer flower bed in the photo of the house, so I conjured up a profusion of blooming flowers to line the steps leading up from the driveway. They add a much needed splash of color and help to lead your eye into the painting.

The final touch was the quote that I added to the wide front lawn. My friend chose the sentiment, and I lettered it in a casual font. It helps to balance the composition and adds a little something special to the painting.

As I work on a house portrait and add a little something here, or a touch of color there, I'm so focused on my work that I don't really see the transformation that the painting is undergoing. I'm worrying about getting the details right and wondering what my customer will think of it.

It's not until I'm all finished, and I've walked away from it for a few hours, then come back to take a look, that I see the magic that has happened. Looking at it with fresh eyes, it seems that the painting has become more than the sum of all the little parts I painted. It seems to have a spirit of its own. I think my customers feel it - these little paintings touch their hearts.


  1. Wow... another stunner!! I'm so glad that you included the reference photo and spent the time describing how you went about capturing this scene. This certainly is another beauty bound to evoke warm memories of "Home" for this family. Yes, the "Magic" shines bright!!!

  2. You did a fantastic job of creating a lovely home from that photo! This is where I need help; learning how to embellish a painting from something plain to something outstanding. Thanks for the tutorial.


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