Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Painting Small Buildings with Few Details

Echoes of the Past
5" x 7" watercolor painting

Painting Small Buildings with Few Details


Abandoned Cabins in the Mountains

The painting above was painted from a photograph I took in the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is a good example of painting small structures in a landscape with little detail in an Impressionistic style.   


To add a little background to this painting, below is a short history of the Elkmont area:


Elkmont was a former community in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee named for the numerous elk which once inhabited the area.  The community grew up adjacent to the former logging town of Elkmont when the Little River Lumber Company sold land to individuals to create a private social club.  What began as a “Gentleman’s Hunting Club” soon developed as a place for affluent Knoxville, TN families to escape the hot urban summers.  The Elkmont Campground of the GSMNP exists where the original town of Elkmont was located. 


When land was acquired for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the 1920’s and 1930’s, most farms and homes of the mountain people were purchased and residents were required to vacate the property.  The Elkmont Club residents were able to negotiate lesser sale amounts in exchange for lifetime leases on these properties.  The last lease expired in 2001.    The Park General Management Plan calls for all structures to be removed and returned to their natural state.  However, the park is currently conducting an Environmental Impact Statement to determine the future of this district.  All Elkmont buildings are closed to the public; however, photos can be taken from outside the structures along the trails.    


One can see the beauty of many of these mountain cabins in spite of the ravages of time and the elements.


I enjoy painting cabins and these were interesting in spite of their condition.    As one can see from the painting above, the buildings are in disrepair and the red cabin on the right has braces holding up the walls.   In this painting, I wanted to give a general feeling of the area, not a photographic representation. 

This painting was done quickly with few details in the cabins.  The emphasis was getting the feeling of the area as indicated by the muted color tones as well as the misty background trees and the lack of details in the foreground as well as the cabins. 


Supplies Needed:
Watercolor paper – your choice of size – I used a 5” x 7” piece of 140# watercolor paper
Masking Tape
Watercolor board
Brushes:  flat and round (size of your choice based on the size of your paper)

  • Yellow Ocher
  • Sap Green
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Viridian Green
  • Crimson
  • Sepia
  • Burnt Umber
  • Payne’s Gray
  • VanDyke Brown

    Painting Instructions:
    Lightly sketch in the cabins and background/foreground with very little detail.


Wet the top background area with is basically all foliage with clean water.  Painting wet on wet, drop in Sap Green, yellow ocher and Vandyke Brown.  Refer to photo above.  Allow to dry.



Wet the front section of your painting and again painting wet on wet.  Drop in the following colors:  VanDyke Brown, Sepia, and Sap Green.  Refer to the photo above.  Allow to dry.



Green Cabin:

I painted the roof first and worked my way down the cabin from top to bottom.  I painted the rock chimney on the right side last. 

Note:  I did not use masking fluid around the doors and windows, but painted carefully around the inside and outside of the window and door frames. 

The roof was painted wet on wet using a very light wash of Payne’s Gray.  Touches of Sap Green and Yellow ocher were dropped in various locations to show moss growth.  The underside trim of the roof was painted with a mix of Sepia and VanDyke Brown.  Paint the areas under the edge of the roof a bit darker.  Allow to dry.   

The cabin siding was painted next from a wash of Viridian Green mixed with Burnt Umber.  Refer to the photo and deepen the color in the shadow sections near the roof, under the windows and near the bottom of the cabin.  Allow to dry and then dry brush the same colors of paint onto of the wash to provide a little bit of siding texture.  Allow to dry.

Paint the inside of the cabin seen through the windows using Payne’s Gray and allowing for the view to continue through to the outside area.    Use a light wash of Payne’s Gray to paint the screen door.  Allow to dry.

Red Cabin:

The red cabin was painted using a wash of Crimson mixed with VanDyke Brown.  Vary the shades based on light.  The roof was painted with a wash of VanDyke Brown.  Allow to dry.    Add a few darker area of VanDyke Brown to indicate the siding on the cabin.

Paint the windows using Payne’s Gray.  Leave the frames white. 



I prefer to paint with few details.   However, the following details were added:

  • Add the chimney using short brush strokes of VanDyke Brown.
  • Add a light wash of Payne’s Gray around the window and door frames. 
  • Using a liner brush, paint in a few very faint lines for the screen in the door.
  • Using the liner brush, paint in a few tree limbs in the background using VanDyke Brown.
  • Check for any additional details you would like to add; however, remember it is not intended to be a photographic representation, but a general feeling of the cabins in that area. 
    Sign your painting!  Congratulations!

    Happy Painting!

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