Tips For Painting Buildings in Watercolor

Painting buildings with watercolor can be both fun and challenging. Getting the perspective correct is very important. If it is off, everyone will notice. If it is just right, it will be taken for granted... but that's ok!

A good way to see the angles of your subject, is to refer to the large hand of your watch. Try corresponding the roofline of your building with the similar looking "time" on your watch. For example the pitch of the roof may look like "twenty past" the hour. In other words the angle made by the large hand at twenty past the hour, resembles that of the roof. If the large hand of the watch points at the number five on your watch, or twenty-five past the hour, it would correspond with a steeper pitched roof. A nearly flat roof would resemble the hand of your watch pointing at the number three. This is a very useful tool when painting plein air. It's helpful in approximating the angles of a building, then transferring this information to your paper.

When adding windows and doors to you building, make sure they follow the angle of your roof and foundation exactly. If the perspective is off, it will be very apparent. When painting buildings in watercolor, perspective is key. Try using the "watch hand" technique for accuracy.

Another tool when preparing to paint a building, is your camera. A grid can be drawn over your photograph, and a corresponding grid is very lightly drawn on your paper. Block off squares of equal size on both. The ratio could be 1:3, 1:5 etc., depending on the size you plan your painting to be. You may want to number your blocks lightly in pencil to make transferring your drawing easier. Making a black and white copy of your photograph can be helpful in two ways. First, you can make your grid on this, preserving your actual photograph. Secondly, the back-white-gray copy can help with your preliminary value sketch.

Once you have made your value sketch to refer to when painting, and have your building accurately drawn on your paper, you will be ready to paint. Remember to use the same palette throughout your watercolor. For instance, if you are painting a red schoolhouse, be sure to use red in at least two other places in your composition. Red flowers (which you may add if none are present) and the red stripes of a flag are two good possibilities. Never use a color only once in a watercolor painting; in at least three places is the "rule." For more interest, add reflections in the windows. This will give your painting a more realistic feeling, as well as adding depth to your composition. If you paint the reflection of the sky, make it a shade or two darker than the actual sky.

Experiment, and enjoy painting buildings!

Sue Doucette, Author/Artist

I have been painting with watercolor for many years, and am happy to share with you what I have learned.
For more watercolor painting tips, please visit

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I welcome commissions and can paint from your photograph.

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