Friday, January 8, 2016

Commission #2: A Stately Home in Atlanta

House portraits require quite a bit of back and forth communication with my clients. I usually ask for lots of photos of the property from different angles, so I can choose what works best for the composition. The client often requests a change of season for the painting, so there are discussions of what type of plants would be blooming and when. I've even had to turn a summer scene into a snow-covered winter one. They sometimes ask me to add personal touches to the yard or to include children or pets in the picture. It's always challenging to bring it all together.

With this lovely home in Atlanta, my job was fairly straightforward. The only changes I had to make were to brighten it up with some sunshine, change summer to spring, and move a tree (easier done with a paint brush than in real life!)

I drew up a rough sketch to email to the client for approval. This step ensures that they like the composition and that all the changes have been noted and approved. From this point on, they just have trust that I'll turn it into something wonderful.

Here's how this one turned out...

Watercolor, 12" x 8", on 140 lb. paper

Don't you love how it glows in the sunshine?

Here's the process I used to develop that simple rough sketch into a completed painting:

First, I did a fairly detailed pencil drawing of the house and landscaping, then I painted the foreground tree with varying shades of red and rust. (The background was later painted in around it.)

Next, I painted the sky wet-in-wet, allowing the soft greens of the treetops to merge with the cerulean blue sky.

After that had dried, I sponged, painted, and spattered more leaves on the trees, being careful to keep it all light and airy, since the trees were just beginning to leaf out in this springtime scene.

I then moved to the foreground and laid in a pale yellow wash over the entire area.

Masking fluid was spattered onto the yellow underwash to preserve some of the light color...

and more masking fluid was painted on to suggest fern fronds and grasses.

Then I painted on several layers of greens and blues in the lawn and on the foreground plantings. After each layer of color, I masked more leaves, ferns, and grasses in the foreground. This gave me a lot of variety in the values of the ferns without having to spend a lot of time painting around small leaf shapes. When the masking was all rubbed off at the end, it revealed subtle color and value changes in the mass of vegetation.

The azaleas were first painted with a pale pink wash. After that had dried, I added medium tones, then the darkest values to indicate shadows on the left and underneath the bushes.

The roof was treated in a similar way, with a wash of color applied first and allowed to dry, then darker tones added to suggest subtle shadows and texture. I used a small flat brush to indicate individual shingles here and there. To make sure I kept the rows of shingles lined up properly, I drew a few horizontal lines with a dark gray watercolor pencil. I like using the water-soluble colored pencils on roofs, because they give me subtle guidelines that can easily be softened and blended out with a damp brush. It's an easy way to add dimension to an expanse of roof.

I usually work in many different areas of a painting at the same time, adding darker and darker values until I'm satisfied that everything is just right. So, all of these separate parts of the painting that I'm showing you were done a little at a time, allowing one part to dry while I worked on another.

For the house, I started out by painting a wash of warm, pale yellow ochre over the entire building. After that dried, I painted a warm medium-value wash of burnt sienna over the brick area, varying the color of the wash here and there by adding Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna or a touch of Paynes Gray. Finally, individual bricks were indicated with a darker mix of the same colors. Just a suggestion was all that was needed - it's not necessary to paint every brick.

The window muntins had been masked off earlier, making it easy to paint the blue-gray window panes. They are so tiny that it would be difficult to paint them freehand, without the masking.

Finally, the cast shadows and form shadows on the house were painted, including the dentil trim on the eaves.

It all came together in the end to give this watercolor portrait of a Georgia home the peaceful, serene feeling I had hoped to achieve.


  1. Your painting is beautiful!! I am sure your clients are thrilled! I love the way the house glows. Thank you so much for sharing your process. I am learning alot!

  2. Leslie, I hope some of these techniques can be included in your class at Cheap Joe's in May. Love your work.

    1. I'll keep that in mind as I'm finalizing my class plans. I'll look forward to seeing you there!

  3. Your house portraits are beautiful, Leslie. How happy and proud the owners must be to display them. I enjoyed reading about your process. I learn something from every post you share.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...