Sunday, September 16, 2012

HOME "PORTRAIT" COMMISSION - 201 East University

"The Fowler Home - 201 East University"  16 x 20 Watercolor

Home portrait commissions are hard work.  Most go together pretty quick; the elements are easily defined and arranged into a pleasing composition.  If it's one of the quick ones, the "research phase" only involves 2 on location sessions for color notes and sketches of architecture details that are lost in the shadow areas of a photograph. The "drawing phase" is about 4 hours and the "painting phase" takes from 4 to 6 hours.  Then there are commissions that take a bit this one; "The Fowler Home".  As you can see from my reference photos below, this is not a small house!  

This 2-1/2 story home is a 100+year old beauty sitting on a 1/4 acre lot in a historical residential district of Waxahachie.  Mature trees surround the house and in the summer the dappled light adds to the charm.  One tree on the north side is probably older than the house.  On the south side toward the back is the carriage house.  The home and carriage house have been through many phases of restoration which involves a lot of time, patience, and expense. After many happy years of raising a family, the owners are now "empty nesters" and have decided to down-size.  They commissioned the painting as a memory to take with them and will pass the painting on to the children.

This is a close-up detail of the front door.
View looking north toward the 100+ year old tree
View of the front from the street
The carriage house

During my interview with the owners, I quickly discovered that the carriage house and the big tree were important to them.  In order to include both in the composition, the "angle" of the house had to be "straight-on" with the tree on the right and the carriage house on the left. Oh, and the brick walk was important too; they laid it by hand themselves. 

This is the finished drawing.  I worked on "thumbnail" sketches for 3 days, which involved several trips back to the house to verify bits of detail.  My process is to first get the proper "scale"; the house compared to the size of the carriage house and the big tree.  Next is to accurately draw the house. "Getting it right" on a project like this requires a lot of drawing, erasing, and the original draft is on a piece of transparent vellum that erases easily.  Throughout the entire drawing process, I'm checking to make sure all horizontal and vertical lines are "true".  If those lines are right, then all other lines fall into place easily, such as the hipped roof angles.  When I'm satisfied with the drawing, I transfer it to the watercolor paper using a graphite-based paper - it's the artist's "carbon" paper.

 This is about 50% complete.  I've washed in the pale yellow color of the house leaving the white of the paper for the porch railings and trim.  Added some landscaping and part of the background on the right.  and lightly washed in the big tree's foliage. The Crape Myrtle tree and carriage house on the left are about 85%.

 I apologize for the "slanted" angle of this photo; the drawing is straight; it's my camera that's crooked -  This shows the washed in shadows and dappled light cast from the big tree on the roof & front of the house.  A little more detail is added to the trees and I've defined the brick walk and detail of the windows and doors a little more.  I will apply 2 or 3 more light washes to deepen the color of the house and finish the big tree & foliage.  The last is to finish the foreground'; I'll add shadows cast from the tree across the lawn and walk.  The home during different times of day is usually in "dappled light" and partial shade. It sits facing the east so this is a "morning" painting.

 I compare values and color against my photos and sketches - I allow the paint to completely dry to make sure there are no more value "shifts".  Watercolor when dry is usually 3 to 4 times lighter than when it is wet.  Since this painting is on 300# Arches paper, it takes about an hour to dry completely.  When completely dry and under low humidity conditions, I'll apply 3 coats of clear matte acrylic - front and back - to seal the painting and render it "waterproof".  My clients can make the decision to mat and frame it traditionally under glass...or (my preference) frame it without the mats or glass.

This commission was a lot of work - about 20 hours total; but it was joyful work.  I love turn-of-the-century homes...they just don't make 'em like that any more, and I appreciate people - like my clients - who take time and money to care and preserve them for the next generation.