Monday, February 9, 2015

Sneak Preview! Step-by-Step Watercolor Painting: Terracotta Tile Roofs

In just a few short months I'll be going back to Italy! I can't wait to see the Tuscan hills again and enjoy the endless delights of fresh, delicious Italian food. And the gelato...don't even get me started on that!

October 3-10, 2015, will find me teaching a week-long workshop in Sketchbook Journaling at Fattoria Bacio, in Certaldo, Italy. We'll be painting, touring, feasting, relaxing and having a great old time together. I thought you might enjoy a sneak preview of one of the painting tutorials I'll be sharing with my students in Tuscany.

So, let's pretend for a moment that you're sitting on a sun-drenched hillside, straw hat on your head, sketchbook in your lap, pencil poised, ready to sketch a centuries-old villa with with a red tile roof.

How should you begin? Well, here are some ideas.....

Painting Terracotta Tile Roofs

Red-orange terracotta roofs are a distinctive part of the Tuscan landscape, as typical as rolling hills, vineyards and cypress trees. They add a bright spot of color to a painting, and often may be indicated with nothing more than a splash of burnt sienna.

Title page from my 2013 Italy journal, 10" x 7", ink & watercolor

 The rusty red color sings in a landscape filled with its complement, green.

7" x 2.5", ink & watercolor in Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook

When sketching distant views that include clay tile roofs, I paint them very simply...

5" x 2", part of a larger gridded page; ink & watercolor in a Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook

3.5" x 7", ink & watercolor in a Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook

For a mid-range view, like the sketch below, a bit more detail can be added to suggest the dips between vertical rows of tiles. A few quick brush strokes serve to indicate individual tiles here and there. There's no need to paint them all.

10" x 7", ink & watercolor in a Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook

The only time you'll need to worry about including more details is when you're focusing in on a roof in the foreground of your sketch. In that case, here's an approach you may want to try:

  • Study the roof and note any irregularities - a broken or crooked tile, an area that's moss-covered, etc.  You'll want to include those unique details in your sketch. You're not just painting any roof, you're painting this particular roof.
  • Do a preliminary sketch in pencil. This is your chance to figure out the angles and spacing of the roof tiles.
  • Ink the sketch, if desired. (I used a Pigma Micron 01 black pen for the sketch shown here.) There's no need to trace over every pencil line or to draw every tile.
  • Erase unwanted pencil lines.

  • Paint a variegated wash for your base color, which will be the lightest tones on the tiles. 
  • Use warm colors such as Winsor Orange, Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Gold, or Burnt Umber.
  • Touch the lower edge of the wash with a wet brush and allow some of the color to bleed onto the wall below. This will help to unify the painting.
  • Add a pale warm tone to the wall, if desired.

  • Add varying mid-tones to areas of the roof or to individual tiles.
  • Paint a variegated base wash of greys, browns, and yellow ochre for the building's stone walls.

  • Begin painting shadows. I used several different color combinations for shadows, like Ultramarine Blue + Rose Violet (or Quinacridone Violet) + Burnt Umber (or Burnt Sienna or Quinacridone Gold)
  • Add shadows between vertical rows of tiles.
  • Add shadows at the base of individual tiles. Vary the color and darkness of the shadows, so the tiles don't look too uniform.
  • Paint the shadow under the bottom row of tiles.
  • Paint any support boards or eaves that show under the bottom row of tiles. (In the photo I worked from, a horizontal support board showed below the last row of tiles.)

  • Begin painting the stone wall, indicating mortar joints.
  • Use a natural sponge to dab on some color to indicate texture on the wall. 
  • Add any other detailing to the wall. (My photo showed bricks on the corners of the building, half-covered with mortar, so I painted them at this point.)

  •  Paint the darkest shadows on the tile roof.
  • Add a touch of very dark shadow color under the bottom row of tiles.
  • Paint the shaded side of the building with a purple-grey wash. (Ultramarine Blue + Quinacridone Violet or Rose Violet + a touch of Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber to tone it down)
  • Use the same purple-grey to paint the shadow under the roof overhang. Run a clean, damp brush along the lower edge of the shadow to soften the line.
  • Add any final spots of color to the painting.
  • Lift highlights on the roof tiles with a damp brush, if needed.

Here are some options for mixing convincing colors for terracotta roof tiles.

For more information about my all-inclusive workshop at Fattoria Bacio, October 3-10, 2015, click on the "Italy Workshop" tab above, or visit the Artravelitaly website. Let's paint Tuscany together!


  1. Thanks for the mini tutorial. Wish I could take some of the trips you teachers offer but its out of the question at least for now. Enjoy your trip and teaching session!

  2. Thanks for the tutorial. I would love to come to Italy with you, but my husband and I planned to go to France at the end of Sept. Maybe next year.

    1. Hey, I have an idea...why don't you combine your trip with a visit to Tuscany and join my October 3-10 workshop at Fattoria Bacio, near Florence? Wouldn't that be fun? We even have activities planned for non-painting partners.

  3. Thanks for sharing this. Always enjoy your painting and tips.

  4. Leslie, Your BlogSpot is wonderful - your work is beautiful. You are so gifted, not only in what you create, but also in your ability to instruct and guide.


  5. I've been busy and haven't had much time to visit your blog in a while. How exciting to be anticipating a trip to Italy. I may be heading back there in September. Love the steps to painting the roof, and I really enjoyed seeing your post about your trip to Florida.


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