Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway - How to Paint old Buildings

Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Watercolor painting by Karen A. Cooke
I have always enjoyed painting old building such as the mill above as well as cabins, old doors and windows, etc. This painting was done from a photo taken on a recent trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia in early fall of this year. Before we start painting, below is just a little background information on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the mill above.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway and an All-American Road which is the longest linear park in the United States running for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It runs through the Appalachian Mountains from its northern terminus in Virginia at the Shenandoah National Park south through Virginia and North Carolina to its southern terminus at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Mabry Mill is a watermill located at milepost 176 of the Blue Ridge Parkway approximately 70 miles southeast of Richmond, VA. It was built in 1903 by Edwin Mabry. The mill was first a blacksmith and wheelwright shop, then a sawmill and finally a gristmill. The mill is considered to be the most photographed structure in the United States. 
Now, let's paint!
The watercolor above was painted on Arches 140 lb. cold press paper. 
Supplies Needed:
Watercolor paper (size of your choice)
Masking Tape
Watercolor board
Brushes: flat and round (size of your choice based on the size of your paper)
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Yellow ocher
  • Sap Green
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Sepia
  • Burnt Umber
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Payne's Gray
  • Van Dyke Brown



Painting Instructions:
I sketched this drawing on my watercolor paper. However, if you feel you may need to erase multiple times, you may want to drawn on a piece of sketch paper and transfer your completed sketch to the watercolor paper. I discuss how this can be accomplished in my blog of May 11, 2016.

As a reminder: Multiple erasures can damage watercolor paper and cause pooling of water as well as differences in the way the paint is absorbed into or on the paper. Deep sketch marks will show up in a finished painting, even if they are erased. Correct perspective is an important part of this painting. Confirm that you like the perspective that you have executed in your sketch before you start painting. A poorly executed sketch done in a hurry cannot be overcome no matter how great a job one does with the paint.

Let's Paint!

Sky and Background Foliage:
Wet the sky from the top down to where the sky meets the buildings and the horizon using clean water. Using a wash of Cerulean Blue, apply the paint working from the top of the painting down to the horizon allowing the intensity of the color to become lighter.

While the sky is still wet, drop in a small amounts of Sap Green, Burnt Sienna and Yellow to paint in the shapes of the trees. This was early fall so there were hints of color change in the background trees. Allow to dry. Using a liner brush add in some tree trunks and branches in various locations. Refer to finished painting above. 


How to Paint Old Wood:
Wet the wood area with clean water and apply a place wash of yellow ochre, Payne's gray, and sepia. Drop in the colors in various locations. Some areas can even remain without color. Since the area was wet before the paint was applied, the color will run and blend.

Let this dry. Using a flat brush with the bristles fanned out slight, dry brush in wavy grain lines with a wash of Sepia and Payne's gray.

Let this dry and use a fine liner brush and draw in a few lines to further indicate the wood grain.
Don't forget to deepen the color in the shadows under the roof line.


Paint the mill siding and roof as above in the "How to Paint Old Wood" section. After the initial wash drives, add a few lines to indicate shingles. Do not paint each individual shingles/siding. Allow to dry.

Mill Run:
Using Payne's Gray, Sepia and Burnt Umber paint the mill run using various intensities of paint.
Refer to the photo above for the deeper areas. Use a clean brush to remove the paint for the posts. I originally thought I would mask out the posts with masking fluid, but decided that I preferred the indistinct quality of the posts. Allow to dry.

Mill Wheel:
Use a clean dry brush and painting wet on dry, paint the wheel with Burnt Umber. Add Payne's Gray for the water paddles and between the spokes of the wheel. Keep these lines fairly straight, but do not go completely top to bottom, leave a few gaps. Allow to dry. Using a utility knife and referencing the finished painting above, scrape in the water cascading down the paddles to the pond below.

Mill Pond:
Using a wash of Ultramarine Blue and Cerulean Blue Refer to the painting above. Painting wet on wet, drop in paint for the reflections from the mill, stone wall and grasses on the bank using the same colors. Let the colors mingle for the reflections. Use a deeper shade of blue at the base of the water wheel. Allow to dry. Use the utility knife to scrape in some water splotches at the bottom of the water wheel to show reflected lift from the water as it enters the pond.

Foreground Grasses and Foliage by the Mill Run:
Using Sap Green, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber and Ultramarine, paint wet on wet. Refer to painting above for colors and placement. Allow to dry.

Finishing touches:
Using a mix of Payne's Gray and Burnt Umber, add the split rail fence on the left side background. 
Using Sap Green deepened with Ultramarine, add some taller grasses near the edge of the pond.
Using a sponge and various shades of green mixed from Sap Green, Yellow Ochre and Ultramarine, add the foliage on the building.

Look over your painting and paint any finishing details you would like to add. Then, sign your painting!


Happy Painting!


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