Saturday, January 16, 2016

Commission #6: Victoria Belle Mansion

Imagine an outdoor wedding in this beautiful location, with violinists serenading the wedding party from the balcony and guests arrayed in white chairs surrounding the fountain. That was the scene when my client's daughter was married at Victoria Belle Mansion just a few years ago.

12" x 8" watercolor on 140 lb. paper

Victoria Belle is an antebellum mansion in Hogansville, Georgia, near Atlanta. It's beautiful in any season, but autumn was when this family wedding had taken place, so that's the season I was asked to paint.

Of course, I couldn't find any photos of it in the fall. (That would have made it too easy!) Instead I had to use my imagination and a little artistic license to change summer to fall.

I began the painting by sponging and painting masses of fall foliage using yellow ochre, raw sienna, and burnt sienna. I dropped in darker color mixes while some of the areas were still damp, allowing the colors to blend a bit. I also painted the first light washes onto the tree trunks using a watery mixture of raw sienna and burnt umber.

Next, I painted the sky, wet-in-wet, with cerulean blue and cobalt blue, carefully painting around the leaves I had already put down. I lifted the blue paint with a tissue when it encroached on the areas that I wanted to remain as white clouds.

It would have been a problem if I had painted the entire sky area blue first, before painting the leaves, because painting the yellow leaves over it would have turned them a dull green. And the rusty orange colors of the leaves would have turned brown. So the tedious work of painting around the leaves was necessary. It helped to have a lot of white clouds in the sky, since I didn't have to paint around anything there - I simply allowed the leaves to stand against the white clouds.

After the sky had dried, I  moved on to painting the distant trees using mostly wet-on-dry techniques, but also dropping colors into wet washes here and there to add interest.

The tree trunks were finished with progressively darker strokes of gray-brown. The medium tones helped to give the impression of textured bark, and the darkest color (a mix of burnt umber and ultramarine blue) rounded out the form of the trunks and branches.

When I paint an expanse of lawn, I usually use a yellowy green like olive green as my main color, but I vary the color to keep the grass from looking too uniform, adding touches of burnt sienna or ultramarine blue to mute it or make it look darker and more shadowy.

I had masked off the water dripping from the fountain early on, making it much easier to paint the fountain itself and the brick walkway behind it. After the masking was removed and the water was revealed, a few bluish shadows were added to break up the bright white.

The flowers and shrubs were painted in stages of light, medium and dark washes, allowing each step to dry before applying the next darker value. For the white chrysanthemums, I simply suggested the individual flowers in the solid mass of blooms by painting tiny strokes of blue-grey shadows on the top surface of each plant.

The tan concrete and bricks were first painted with a wash of raw sienna and burnt umber, which gave me a warm tan color. After that inital wash had dried, I used masking fluid to paint the mortar lines between the bricks. Then the bricks were painted with burnt sienna and burnt umber.

Rubbing off the masking fluid revealed the mortar lines, but they still needed a little more work. I softened some of the edges with a wet brush, dragging some of the brick color onto the lighter mortar lines. I also added cast shadows where needed. The last step was to give the bricks and foreground a fine spattering with watery burnt umber to add some texture.

It was finally time to tackle the mansion. I left it until last because I wanted to have the option of cleaning up any spatters of paint that may have inadvertently gotten on it, or any misplaced brushstrokes from the background trees. It's an easy matter to lift any unwanted paint with a damp brush at this stage. If I had already painted all the building details and shadows, then tried to remove unwanted spatters, it would have damaged what I had worked so hard on.

I used masking fluid on the window casings early in the painting process to make it easier to paint the shutters and windows. After the masking was removed, all the shadows were painted using a mix of ultramarine blue and burnt umber.

Every married couple has a photo album to remind them of their wedding day, but the happy young couple who was married at Victoria Belle on that perfect fall day also has this hand-painted watercolor reminder hanging in their home - this home!


  1. So adorable! Thank you for words about masking fluid - very helpful for me!

    1. I'm glad it was helpful, Olga. I have both Winsor & Newton and Pebeo masking fluid, and I tend to use the Pebeo more often. I think it flows a little better when I'm applying it. It sure does come in handy sometimes!

    2. Leslie, I use Sennelier now but it doesn't flow at all. I use it with a little bit of water - then it's ok. May be I should also try Pebeo, so thank you one more time!


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