House Commission - Process

Almost everyone I talk to who paints for fun, or who paints professionally in Acrylics or Oils, or who doesn't paint at all have one thing in common: they don't particularly like Watercolor. They all say it's for the same reason: "it's unpredictable". And I can kind of understand that. However, as somebody who works daily with two media that people often see as challenging (digital media and watercolor), I'm taking it upon myself to add more watercolor process posts, to peel back that curtain, and to try to show you all that watercolor doesn't have to be an evil, scary, uncontrollable medium.


This one was so much fun to do! I know I say that about every drawing I post about, but truthfully, I only post the ones I had fun with.

The client I was working with for this commission was really excited about this project. We both were: there had been a lot of things in both our lives that held up this project, so finishing it was such a satisfying moment.


The first step, of course, was to do our sketch layer (and that underlying pencil sketch is always sent to clients for approval prior to paint). My favorite part of this house was, and still is the three satellite dishes on the roof, the wires, and the gutters on the house. I wanted to make sure my drawing also had that same character to it.

(As an aside, unless you're going for a really special loose look, tape off your edges. You may think you can get away with just drawing in straight lines and "being careful" but you're not going to be that careful. I've been watercoloring for years and I tape off my edges. Professionals tape off their edges. Tape off your edges. And don't use Artist's Tape. They're lying to you. It's not for artists, it's for monsters who like their tape to rip apart their paper. Use blue painter's tape or drafting tape. Rant over.)

Next step was the paint itself. I unfortunately don't usually have time lapse videos of commissions from reference, since I'm using my phone to look at my reference and therefore can't use it to record my work. I'm working on a better setup, though. I will, though I have no video for this commission, share some of my general advice about the mindset you need to have while watercoloring: you can't think of it as uncontrollable. It's like an animal or a bumble bee or a child in that (and I know this sounds crazy, but trust me) if you are afraid it will sense your fear. The best advice I can give is that you have to be confident, and to just keep working. Everything looks bad until it doesn't. You're not sure if you want to put that color there but you think you'll like it? Do it. If you hate it, shove some more water in there and pull the color back out. The idea that watercolor is this unpredictable tsunami of color that is entirely irreversible is a lie. Another thing: watercolor isn't an animal you need to control. It's a business partner you need to negotiate with. if it bleeds outside of where you want it to go, that's not the watercolor's fault: it's your fault for not letting the paint beneath it dry all the way. Don't get mad at the watercolor because it did something you didn't like, keep working with it. If you abandon the medium you're always going to be frustrated by it. Watercolor is like a new friend: the more time you spend with it, the better you'll get to know each other. You will, over time, learn more of its properties, how it's going to mix with different colors and how sometimes you need to keep mixing or the pigments you're mixing together will settle, how it'll bleed and how far it will and how dry your paper needs to be to take the paint, what kind of paper you like and how much paint you can use before you paint a hole through your paper. And over time, you can use these things that seem like shortcomings to your advantage.

Following the paint, I added a pen drawing overtop the paint layer. ALWAYS WAIT FOR YOUR PAINT TO DRY ALL THE WAY BEFORE ADDING BLACK INK ON TOP. I DON'T CARE HOW DRY YOU THINK IT IS, IF YOUR PAPER IS EVEN SLIGHTLY COOL TO THE TOUCH, THE INK WILL BLEED AND YOU WILL CRY AND HAVE TO START OVER.

Here's our finished product! I think playing with the shadows of the trees on the house, the satellite dishes, and the masonry at the base of the house really gives the drawing this lovely free looseness that just feels so unique. Dang, I just love how much personality this house has.