Friday, July 25, 2014

Painting a House Portrait Using Simple Sketching Techniques

How did this little sketch...

5 1/2" x 3 1/2", ink & watercolor in a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook

lead to this finished painting?

14" x 10", ink, watercolor, and gouache on 140 lb. Saunders Waterford paper

Well... when my dentist and his wife saw the sketch I did of the coffee corner in their office waiting room, they loved it so much that they checked out some of my other work online and decided to have me do a house portrait of the wife's family home. Her mother had recently moved from the house into an apartment and was still missing her old place. The painting was to be a gift for her, to remember the home she had loved for so many years.

Even though this finished house portrait might look very detailed and complex, up close it's not much more complicated than a simple sketch. Let's zoom in and take a look...

The trees were painted with variegated washes in shades of greens and yellows, with touches of blue and purple dropped into the darker areas. Most of the work was done with the initial wash. To finish up, I added some spattering and a few marks with a round brush to suggest leaves. Easy as pie!

Although the flower bed in front of the house may look complex, if you examine it more closely, you'll see that most of the plants were painted with a wash of light to medium value, then after that dried, a few touches of a darker tone were added to indicate leaves and shadows - two simple steps to a convincing-looking flower bed.

The stone wall was also painted in two steps: a light overall wash of grey/tan, and a darker shadow color. 

I painted the windows by simply wetting the area, dropping in touches of paint and allowing the colors to blend on the paper. Later, I drew the muntins with white Speedball ink over top of the watercolor. It worked great and was so much simpler than trying to preserve the white of the paper.

I usually just suggest the bricks on a house by painting a few individual bricks here and there, but for this painting,I went into a little more detail. It took more time, but it wasn't difficult. I brushed on a warm base of yellow ochre mixed with a bit of burnt sienna for the mortar color. After that dried, I painted the bricks with varied tones of burnt sienna. Here and there I washed over the finished bricks with a pale yellow ochre/burnt sienna mixture to soften the lines a bit.

My house portraits usually include little personal touches, like this "Dad's Garden" sign, which was a special request from the family.

The lettering on the sign was painted with gouache

And, if you look closely, back in the bushes you'll see a friendly fox who made it part of his daily routine to walk through this yard every day, right in the middle of a busy neighborhood!

The address sign was another special request. It doesn't take much time to add these personal touches, and it means so much to the recipient of the artwork.

The line work on the painting was done with a Sakura Pigma Micron pen, just like the one I often use for my sketches. I did the ink drawing first, then added watercolor.

As you can see by these detail views, my paintings are really just larger versions of my sketches. The same techniques I use in my sketchbook serve me well when doing a house portrait.


  1. Everything about this is special, Leslie. The fox is really sweet. The lady who had to leave this home will surely treasure this. Thanks for showing us! Your work always inspires.

  2. This is beautiful and I am sure the recipient will treasure it forever! Your mini tutorial is also appreciated. I LOVE your work and wish you would do an online class, which includes both sketching and your "simple" approach to watercolor . . . thank you for always sharing and keeping us inspired.

  3. Leslie- This was very helpful; all your little tips are clear and significant enough to make a difference. I follow your blog and learn something every time. Thank you!

  4. I love the looseness of the coffee corner and how it led to the commission of the house. How great! You are right that larger works are so similar to the smaller sketches. Thanks for analyzing this piece for us!

  5. Just beautiful! Thank you so much for the tips; they are so helpful!


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