In this step-by-step guide, I will show you how I created Rose Mill Cottage. I am self-taught. Which means, my system for building a painting evolved through years of working with the materials and discovering what works for me. There may be better or faster techniques that are taught in art schools. If you are new to painting, I hope that what I have to share about my own discoveries will help you in some way.
Materials: 12″ x 16″ canvas / acrylic paint / round and flat brushes of varying size / glaze
STEP 1: The Rough Outline
With black paint and a small round brush, I sketched a rough outline of my composition for several reasons:
1: If I don’t like the positioning of the cottage or animals, I can experiment and change it before getting too far in.
2: I get the proportions right early, so that I can focus on colors and shading later.
3: It helps to get the perspective (or point of view) right for all parts of the painting.
4: When you’re sure you like the basic composition, it provides a measure of confidence to move forward.
Eventually, I decided to paint out one of the sheep in the foreground and replaced it with three sheep in the background to give it a sense of depth.
I used black paint to do this sketch, but if you’re doing a watercolor painting on paper, pencil works best. The pencil will show through watercolor, so use it softly and erase any unwanted lines.
TIP: When I was a new artist, there were times I was tempted to quit in the middle of a painting because it wasn’t turning out the way I wanted. And, there are stages that just don’t look pretty. But keep painting! My rule is, I paint until I like it. That may mean painting over some parts. Or, it may mean fixing lines that look off. Or, I add more color or change the colors of objects. Just keep painting! In the end, I’m always happy I kept going. You will see what I mean by “stages that don’t look pretty” in the next few steps.
STEP 2: Experimentation
I experimented with adding in a chimney at different angles and a house in the background, but liked neither. It felt overcomplicated for a small painting, and I wanted to keep it simple and focused on the geese that are taking shape in the foreground. I also began painting in the gray foundation of the bridge and cottage. From this point, I will build layers of color.
The great thing about acrylic paint is, you can paint over what you don’t like or a line that went awry. If it’s a thinner paint, it may take a few layers to completely cover it.
STEP 3: Painting In The Background And Foreground
I began with painting in the sky because I wanted a smooth look extending behind the cottage. If I were to paint in the cottage first, then the sky, I would get a mottled sky look near the edge of the cottage where my paint brush stops. For this reason, I also painted the river before the bridge. It’s okay that the paint laps over the original sketch because I will go over it with several colors to create the roof and bridge.
I used several shades for the sky and river to give it variation and depth. I also added shadow under the bridge. I used a flat, wide brush to create the background layers for the sky and river. Sometimes I add in a little glaze so the paint will run smoothly and cover more canvas. I then used a medium round brush to create the clouds, distant lines of blue and lavender, and water ripples.
At this point, I was also bringing the water wheel into sharper form. Eventually, I would decide to add in distant hills where the outline of the sheep shows through the yellow horizon.
STEP 4: Building Up The Main Character
This is the stage where the painting really starts to come to life for me and I start dreaming about where the rose vine will climb. After I painted in the foundation colors for the cottage, hills, and bridge, I began layering colors for highlights and shadows. I used a small round brush for this work. I kept the strokes broken to give it a soft look. For the roof tiles, I used a medium, flat brush. You’ll notice there are white and black spots that I didn’t paint in. I left it to remind myself where I wanted to paint in the animals.
STEP 5: Painting The Animals
At this point, there is just one more goose to paint in on the bridge with a small, round brush. To paint animals, I always start with a base layer of one neutral color, then build in the details with layers of varying color, highlights, and shadows.
STEP 6: Details
My favorite stage is the details. The very last stage. I get to add in whimsical touches like the rose vine, water fall, sparkling light through the window, touches of light on the roof, and under the gabled entry. I also added in distant sheep to give the painting more depth and interest, other than just the action around the geese. You may have noticed I painted over the yellow horizon with a flat blue. The yellow was conflicting with the light greens and yellows of the hills. Also, the yellow paint lines were a little crooked. In this final stage, I added in the wheel supports and defined the bridge stones.
I hope this has sparked interest within you to create your own painting. Don’t worry about making mistakes. With acrylic, you can always paint them out. Have fun with it!