Buildings, boats, trees, fences and rocks all make fascinating painting subjects especially when they have grown a little weather beaten due to the ravages of time and exposure to the elements.

A lot of beginners tend to shy away from painting buildings because they think an intricate knowledge of the rules of perspective is required. It is not so, in every painting. One can avoid the problems of complicated perspective by painting a house or a building from a straightforward view - point.

For the watercolour painter, the challenge lies in knowing how to render a convincing illusion of weathered textures, without overworking the painting.

A lot of beginners tend to shy away from painting buildings because they think an intricate knowledge of the rules of perspective is required. It is not so, in every painting. One can avoid the problems of complicated perspective by painting a house or a building from a straightforward view - point.

You cannot avoid buildings for long if you are painting landscapes. You must learn to make them look convincing and be able to portray the texture of their materials - stone walls, thatch houses, tiles, bricks or clapboards.

One of the most common faults with texture is overworking. Beginners often believe it is necessary to indicate every brick in a wall or to show every tile on a roof.

They take hours painstakingly, and needlessly, painting row after row of these. It is difficult to convince people that suggestion is the key, that it's only necessary to show details in small portions of the wall or roof, and the viewers will fit in the rest themselves.

Basic construction

Let's begin with the basic construction of the building, be it a house, temple or a church or a tower. You've to mentally strip it of all its trappings, decoration and detail, and regard it in its simplest form.

However complex and daunting a building looks at first sight, once its broken down into geometricshapes such as cubes and cones with squares, triangles or oblongs attached to them, it's not so daunting.

Combine this thinking with the basic rules of perspective. Once you've got these simple shapes looking right you can start adding the details, like windows and doors. But many beginners seem to want to do these first, like a builder trying to paper the walls before he's finished the foundations properly.

This is because - its the desire to see how at least one bit of the painting will look when it's finished, but there's nothing more disheartening than spending hours on the details only to find that the basic shape or perspective is wrong and the whole thing is ruined.

Light and shade

Once having got your basic drawing done, the next thing you have got to think about is light and shade. The usual mistake here is that not enough thought is given to the lighting, and the result is that a building looks flat and anaemic.

It seems fairly obvious that if you can see two sides of a building one should be darker than the other to give it solidity and depth. this fact often seems to be forgotten once a painting is in progress.

Try putting a little pencilled cross on one top corner of your painting to remind you of the direction of the light. It will also help you to get right the angle the shadows are cast.

Using very dark areas on a building would always make it look dramatic and the use of counter change, as described previously, is very important. Putting a dark tree behind a light roof to throw it up tonally, or placing the lightest part of the sky behind a dark building, are both effects you should be using in your paintings.

Don't neglect the use of smaller incidental shadows - the shadow under the guttering to show up the edge of the roof, under the window openings to give them depth; a chimney can be made to stand out by emphasising its shadow on the roof.

Remember the darker the shadow the brighter the adjacent parts appear. If the light, at the time you are painting a building, is not very bright you can use your imagination a bit and intensify the shadows, as long as their direction is consistent.

And that cross, I mentioned earlier will make sure you don't slip up. The form of an object is revealed by the contrast of light and shade on its surface, so shadows and cast shadows are a powerful element, in making buildings look three-dimensional.

Generally, late afternoon is a good time to paint buildings, when long shadows travel across the contours of walls and throw surface features into sharp relief.

Favourite subjects

Among the favourite buildings painted by watercolour artists are temples, cathedrals, villa, massive buildings, houses and churches. These can look very attractive, but they are often let down by over-burdened with details and all spontaneity is lost. Not only does this look amateurish, it also leaves nothing to the viewer's imagination.

Other popular subjects, of course, are cottages. Apart from the emotional appeal of the subjects themselves they give the watercolour artist the opportunity to use his skill to portray all the various materials involved, such as thatch, tiles, timber, bricks and stone against the surrounding textures of trees and shrubs.

Observe the building in my painting which looks more solid and real. I never wanted to paint modern buildings in the city. They do not arouse any feeling. I found old and weathered subjects like this building fascinating, and render their textures more effectively.

The building is not so grand. It's a old store house in a far off village. I have used the traditional techniques of glazing and heavy pigments of burnt siennd, to convey the texture of the weather beaten walls and the wooden shutters in the building. A touch of Yellow Ochore with deep Olive green gives a pleasing granular appearance.

Paper texture

The kind of drawing paper you choose will play an important part in the textures you create. For instance, dry brush texturing is especially effective on rough paper, which catches at the paint and breaks it up. On the smooth, non-absorbent surface of hot pressed paper, watercolour has a tendency to puddle.

One thing I urge you to do with textures is to try them out on spare pieces of paper first. This way if you're not sure how to tackle a certain surface, and if you find a potential technique doesn't work, you haven't ruined your precious painting. Remember, golfer practices strokes before putting a club to the ball.

Tissa Hewavitarane

Wednesday, 6 August 2008