Tutorial - Painting The Cottage - Part I

Tutorial – Painting the Cottage in Acrylic

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This is a painting I’ve been itching to undertake for absolutely donkeys (well at least since I started painting in ernest), the source reference which I discovered inside a movie, called Ironclad, about a Templar Knight in England who rallies a few supporters to protect a maiden in her keep, a bit on the lines of the Magnificent 7 (but without the mexican villagers). About a third of the way into the movie, the knight and some of his followers seek the aid of a blacksmith, the scene just before they arrive, is of a beautiful white stone thatched blacksmiths cottage nestled amongst a tree line at the edge of a wood, fading off into a dusky misty morning. So with a bit of fiddling on the computer, I managed to freeze the scene I saw in the film and then I was able to print a copy off to use as my source reference.

Reference screen shot

I rummaged around the wardrobe in my departed son’s old bedroom (my temporary studio) where I keep my assorted blank stretched canvases nice and dry, until I found one that I thought will do the job nicely, It was an Arturo brand (24” x 17.5”) and it still had it’s cellophane wrapper on (a forgotten present off some family member perhaps?).

I then fished out my old trusty Americana tin to use for the palette, I love this tin, used it a few times now, it is really shallow, just the right size to mold the mess I was going to make and best of all it had a lid that was tighter than a Bank Manager in the loans section of my local bank! This tightness, I’ve found really helps the paints last longer, and stop[s them drying out especially when you have to stop painting to answer the phone, see who calling at the door and heaven forbid, have to go downstairs for dinner! Oh the trials and tribulations of the artist art work. I have also found (through trial and error) that it doesn’t harm it to add a damp sponge that is cut to fit and then place a piece of old linen canvas, also cut to size on top, this is great, because the damp sponge helps the acrylic paint stay semi fluid and right up until the painting is finished, then you just lift out the canvas sheet to wash it clean under the tap.

STEP 1 (Sketching the cottage)
I first sketch out the basic outline onto the canvas (just enough to see where the trees, horizon and cottage will sit). I then use a Pilot Fineliner felt tip pen (black ink) to start drawing out the outline for the painting. I know your probably thinking why on earth use a felt pen on a stretched canvas, well there is a little bit of method in my madness…

STEP 2 (Drawing in the outline)
Once I’ve finished drawing in the scene with the Pilot felt tip, I’m now ready for the first coat to prime the canvas.

I read on the label that this canvas come pre-primed with a couple of coats of Gesso, but if you are anything like me, I like to add a coat myself, as this for me, is the breaking of the ice moment that heralds the beginning of my painting.

STEP 3 (Priming the canvas)

I start with a couple of pea size lumps of Titanium White and Cadmium Red, which I squeeze onto an old plastic tray, this tray I use as well as my tin palette as it’s only going to by used to prime the canvas and give it my first few washes. So using a flat brush (I have a wonderfully expensive wash brush I bought specially for this reason, but you know me, I grabbed a flat brush first and watered down the titanium white and started applying it in quick strokes horizontally across the canvas, then down vertically from left to right.

I chose to use the Pilot Fineliner to draw in the outline of the painting instead of a permanent felt tip pen for the simple reason, as you apply paint over the Pilot felt tip, it slightly smudges the edges of your sketch, which I think looks far better than the hard lines you would still see through the paint if you used a permanent felt tip pen. I found out that these Pilot pens blend in nicely just below a few coats of paint, and are sufficiently visible to aid me in keep my perspectives and objects on a true course. It also a bit like painting by numbers, but without the numbers LOL.

STEP 4 (Painting in the sky)

Once the canvas is dry, I now mix the remaining white wash with a little of the Red Cadmium, just to give it a hint of pinkness, this colour, I’ve decided, is going to be the base wash for my sky. I now use the same flat brush I primed the canvas with to paint in this white pink sky, it’s best to do this in good light (daylight preferably) as the pink can be hard to see on the white, and you won’t know if you’ve missed some patches until it dries. I am trying to get an even coat of a pink white sky all across the canvas, it doesn’t matter if I go over the tree line as when I come to do the greens of the trees it will help them blend into the sky.

STEP 5 (Painting the distant horizon)

Now I’m starting to paint in the horizon starting from the left side of the canvas, to do this I mix more of the Cadmium Red into the white and then squeeze out a pea size lump of Permanent Magenta

I start mixing the white into the red and then down into a new mixing puddle with some of the Magenta, until I have a colour I want for the distance hills and background behind the trees.


I now transfer over to my tin palette and begin by squeezing out a few pea size lumps of Sap Green and Brilliant Yellow Green onto the damp canvas liner in the tin palette.

I now add a pea size quantity of Titanium White and using a small flat brush, start mixing in a little of the Yellow Green into a new mixing puddle coming from the White, I’m looking for a very pale white green colour which will not clash too much with the hues of the horizon. I then start painting that distant little patch of lime coloured field just below the magenta of the distance mountains.

STEP 7 (Painting in the middle ground)

Cleaning the narrow flat brush, I start mixing in the Yellow Green into a new mixing puddle coming from the Sap Green, and with a little water mixed in to give a a good fluidity, I start painting in the middle ground which is moving right to the middle of the scene. The darker, richer green blends in nicely with the earlier lime green I applied (which is still a wee bit damp) to give it a nice blend in between the two. To help this blend in, I pinch a few strokes from the white green I mixed earlier.

STEP 8 (Starting the foreground)

I now add a pea size quantity of Raw Umber ( a good earthy mixer) and begin a new mixing puddle with my still sap green lime tainted narrow brush, I love have lots of colours on one brush, it adds something unique to your strokes. Which I begin to add in the bottom left hand corner of the foreground, in very slap dash upward strokes, matching the direction of the long grasses in the foreground.

STEP 9 (Painting in the base grasses in the foreground)

I now add some Yellow Ochre to my palette another brush, and using both brushes )one after the other) I carry on with the foreground until I reach the middle ground where my strokes are smaller, as these grasses are starting to move away from the observer. These stroke are still very much in the earliest stages of the painting, some of you refer to this stage as the underpainting stage.

STEP 10 (Starting painting grasses into the foreground)

Now mixing the Yellow Ochre with some Titanium White, I start to use a clean flat brush to make some impressions of grasses onto the canvas, I’m just using the straight flat edge of the brush to make several diagonal lighter grass marks onto the middle foreground I have just painted

Here you can see the progression of how I use the flat narrow brush edge on as I work along the foreground area to paint in the grasses. I chose to use this size narrow flat brush, as it gives me consistent lengths of grasses in the foreground, to get slightly smaller grasses, I tilt the brush to the canvas slightly so as to press only about two thirds of the brush edge onto the canvas, it’s a great way to paint paint long and medium grass lengths.

I realise, that I need to bring a bit more darkness into the middle of the foreground, so I quickly used the brush with the Sap green and Raw Umber to dab a few darker patches here and there to add some depth to the foreground, then back using the lighter flat brush to bring out a few more grasses, as I’m working wet on wet, the strokes and grasses are practically growing on the painting before my eyes! I love this kind of gardening, so much better than pushing a clapped out lawnmower across the garden LOL.

STEP 11 (Starting to paint in the tree line)

Now that I’m quite happy with the foreground grasses in the bottom left hand section of the painting, I’ve decided to start on the tree line. For the tree line, I wand a stronger green, a green I don’t have yet, so I decided to add a couple of pea size quantities of Ultramarine Blue onto my palette. With this blue, I mix it into the Raw Umber/Sap Green puddle I already possess and mixing in the Blue, gives me a stronger duller green I’m seeking. Using a small filbert brush (the one that has an oval flat end as opposed to a flat or pointy end) I start painting in the tree line starting about six inches from the left hand side, using this darker green. I

STEP 12 (Giving the centre trees some form and depth)

I need more darkness to the green (especially on the ground under the trees), I just add more blue to the puddle mix and paint a few daubs of darkness along the base of the tree line and into the first two taller trees sprouting in the centre of the scene. I using all the greens on my palette, I’m trying to sculpt the shapes of each tree starting from the smaller ones on the left of the tree line (those furthest away) to the two or three larger ones in the centre of the painting. These trees are important, as the observer will be looking between these and the cottage (I hope!).

STEP 13 (Making the trees more bushy)

I initially just dab green hi-lights onto the bigger trees over the darker shading, trying to leave clumps of dark and lighter green showing through. As I work up the tree to their tops I have to leave more sky showing through, if as I have sometimes done, blocked out to much sky, I quickly give some sky back into the trees with a few purposeful dabs of pinky white. I have found it is also fun to mix a few richer dabs of richer Yellow Ochre/Sap Green and the brilliant Green Yellow mix into the foliage of the tree, anything that take away the uniformity of the colours I’m using. When it stops looking flat and more bushy, I know I’m succeeding with my trees.

These central trees, really need lots of love and care, especially around the top edges, slowly is the best way to go here, but eventually I am beginning to see real trees appearing on the canvas. Feeling quite pleased with myself, I use a touch of white and sap green to paint a couple of very small sheep far in the distant fields.

STEP 13 (Looking for more shades of green)

I now add some Hookers Green onto my palette, this is going to give me yet another shade of green, working this new shade into the central trees seems to help define the depth I’m looking for.

STEP 14 (Using black – very carefully!)

I now add a couple of pea size quantities of Black (Process Black) onto my palette, this, I’m going to carefully work into the body of the central trees, these central trees are more defined and need to appear darker in between the branches and bunches of leaves. I use a very small point brush to paint in my darker areas, this black is too dark!

So I tone it down a few notches with the Sap Green, there, that’s better! Changing to a rigger brush (that long skinny brush end) I can paint in some tree trunks visible between the openings of the trees.

STEP15 (Painting in the path)

Making a few new mixing puddles, I mix blues, greens and white trying to get a few tones of grey, eventually I have the right colours for the underpainting of the path, and using a small filbert brush (that ovally flat ended one, remember?) I start defining the curvature of the path, and running in the centre of it to the bottom of the canvas is a small narrow verge of grasses (mostly green and short) this verge is split horizontally by a strip of track/mud? I also add a few scattered stones on the left of the track. This is also a good time to start defining the wooden post outside the cottage (looks like a hitching post of sorts), milky green post and a rigger of dark green down the centre does that nicely.

STEP 16 (Starting to work on the tall trees)

Using a medium size flat brush, I choose a dark green (near black) mix to start paining in the trees and darker areas on the right hand side. You can see that I’m just filling in, leaving a few openings of bare canvas here and there, as I get near the middle of these large trees, I start using the edge of the flat brush to give me some shape to the larger overhanging tree branches on the right of the scene. Then Using the same darker green brush, I pick out some brilliant yellow green on my palette and brush in some lighter bigger leaf branches, making sure that there are darker ares below the lighter branches. I carry on working up the tree.

STEP 17 (Painting the tops of the larger trees)

I’m using a narrow flat brush, to paint in the top branches and thicker top trunks in a very dark green almost black, I again use the edge of the flat brush to define more and more branches, not all of them mind you, only those with a bit of substance to them. For some of the very thick areas of the trunk, I use the full width of the flat brush, not to worried as I know this ugly part will soon be sprouting finer branches and leaves.

STEP 18 (Painting in the foliage to the large trees)

Now I’m attacking all that darkness (which I still need) with lighter shades of green, and using my long skinny rigger brush, start adding a few moire thinner branches between the thicker ones. As long as the darkness remains underneath the lightness the trees start miraculously appearing right in front of me, this is one of the stages I love about painting, how, if you just keep dibbling and dabbling with colours, light and dark, suddenly something quite amazing starts to happen on your canvas (hopefully).

I’m quite pleased with how this is painting is turning out, but I think this is enough for now, I’ll start on the cottage proper tomorrow, got to go now and fill my belly and have a lovely cup of tea with my feet up in front of the telly, waiting to see who gets kicked off X-Factor, of yes, retirement can be fun!

Thank you for reading this tutorial, watch this space for part II.


[TUTORIAL :]- Painting the Cottage – Part I

[TUTORIAL :]- Painting the Cottage – Part II

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