View Full Version : Painting Buildings

10-10-2016, 07:51 AM
Hi everyone! I'm new here and pretty new to art in general. Took some classes in soft pastels in June and fell completely in love with it :)

Anyway, I was wondering if anyone might have some tips on how to approach painting buildings? My houses come out looking incredibly unnatural and garish, like they were forcefully scribbled over the landscape in crayon. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks! :)

Donna T
10-10-2016, 01:40 PM
Hi Sharra and welcome to Pastels! Since you're new to art in general I'd suggest that you make sure you understand the principles of perspective; there's no point in painting a building if the lines and angles it's created with aren't accurate. Set up and sketch some boxes (mini houses) from different viewpoints to see how important those lines are. If you've already got that figured out then painting buildings is much easier. Simplify! We don't need to see every window to know it's a house and painting every separate board on a barn results in a stiff, unnatural look. Too many details can make the building stand out unnaturally from its background. Another thing that helps create a natural look is to "lose" some of the edges of buildings, meaning that sometimes the edge of a barn will blend in with the background and we won't be able to tell the two apart. Our eyes don't see images in outlines so don't feel your building has to be painted that way. Check out the images of buildings by artists you like and notice how they use some of the same colors from the land and sky on their buildings to help create a unified image. These are just a few ideas. I hope they help a little!

10-10-2016, 03:45 PM
There are a couple principles of painting that pretty much cover painting everything. 1). Don't think of what you are painting (building, water, clouds, table, etc), just see it as shapes of color & value. Then piece those shapes together. 2). Observe closely and don't let your "mental image" get in the way. Sounds easy, but isn't. We all have mental images in out brains that can override what we actually see. A house, for example, has doors and windows. We might, without thinking, draw or paint in outlines for those doors and windows, but in real life we might actually notice that we don't see an outline at all, just shadow shapes - and light shapes that are formed by parts of the doors and windows. It's very common on portraits, for example, for a beginner to automatically paint an outline around an eye. We think we see that outline, but upon closer observation, we see that those outlines are really shadow shapes - and usually under the eye - a highlight shape! By closely observing our subjects, we avoid painting stereotypes - sort of generic versions of objects based on our mental images. That's why it is always recommended that you learn to draw and paint from life or photos - not from imagination.

That's my 2 cents!


water girl
10-10-2016, 05:24 PM
Welcome to pastels! Donna and Don have both made good points.

10-10-2016, 08:38 PM
Welcome to the forum, and to pastels! I envy you the classes you took... I'm trying to learn without that!

Could you, perhaps, post a photo of one of your attempts so we can possibly see what the issue is?


10-11-2016, 11:19 AM
Thank you sooo much for your tips :) I shall try doing some sketches to learn more about perspective first as Donna mentioned and work my way from there.
@Shallbe hmm I think there's this newbie rule where you can't post pictures yet. Taking classes was definitely a great thing for me. Learned heaps and it was so therapeutic... wish they lasted longer than a month!

10-11-2016, 05:14 PM
Thank you sooo much for your tips :) I shall try doing some sketches to learn more about perspective first as Donna mentioned and work my way from there.
@Shallbe hmm I think there's this newbie rule where you can't post pictures yet. Taking classes was definitely a great thing for me. Learned heaps and it was so therapeutic... wish they lasted longer than a month!

I am pretty sure you can post pics even as a newbie.

10-11-2016, 07:52 PM
I am pretty sure you can post pics even as a newbie.

Yes, I believe all you need is to have posted 2 or 3 posts before you can post a pic. You've already got plenty more than that!


10-14-2016, 09:25 AM
Yes, I think I may have hit the number of posts needed for posting pictures!

So this was my first attempt... I probably got the shadows all wrong. It looks terrible :eek:

10-15-2016, 02:54 PM
if you show us the reference, we can be more helpful with comments.

10-15-2016, 05:07 PM
I wouldn't say that your building looks terrible at all! But here's what I do notice: You have a very strong shadow shape under the roofline - almost black. And yet, the rest of the painting has very soft diffuse light and shadows - which seems right as the sky has some atmospheric clouds! The front of the building is a very strong intense color - as if it were in direct sunlight, yet, the tree and bushes do not have strong direct light on their front sides facing us.

So, it's not that the building is wrong, it's just is done in a different style with what seems like very strong direct light hitting the front and causing those almost black shadow lines.

Without seeing the reference, I could be wrong of course. But trying to keep consistent lighting and a similar style of application is something to watch for, in my opinion.


10-17-2016, 09:31 PM
Personal tips on buildings:

Like faces, buildings look best in 3/4 view with a distinct shadow side and light side, light from above to one side. Choose references with strong directional light.

Pay attention to accurate perspective, make sure it's consistent through the painting. Bad perspective can make the whole thing seem unreal. Remember that trees get very tall and may be taller than the building even if behind it unless quite far away, and that the building perspective applies to people in the scene and bushes and other elements. There's wiggle room for moving people (it might be a child or tall person), but try to keep them in the same plane. It may help to plan a perspective sketch.

Then apply staging. Move some bushes and other landscape elements to break up lines that move too fast, like roof line. Consider similar values and letting edges soften visually by them, or softer edges when in shadow.

Get good values by doing a thumbnail drawing in black and white, charcoal or grays pastel or something. Work out color later.

Only use white for one small detail, in bright sun, use light colors for "white" and reflect colors of what's around it. White buildings will be warm on sun side and cool on shadow side usually, sometimes surprisingly mid value or bright blue and still seem white.

People in a scene who are near the building should be a little shorter than the door, not much. Keep door and building size proportional with figures.

These are things I've often seen people have problems with.

A last thing is counter intuitive, most buildings are very geometric and blocky but paintings of them work better if loose and not so precisely hard edged! Windows especially can be hinted or smudged or imperfect shaped, roofs can slump, older buildings that sag through wear are more charming. Complex buildings can have ornaments hinted at rather than described in detail and still look ornate. A squiggle of lighter blue can be white Victorian gingerbread and be completely inaccurate but get the FEEL of it, especially in a pastel painting.

Forget outlines, think of the building as a shape on a plane with other shapes interacting with it, masses of shadow and light and color.

I actually leave out buildings much of the time as I dislike blocky modern ones and don't have a lot of thatched cottages and soaring castles around here to paint from life. That's personal taste. But if I did, I'd try to get them from an appealing angle, maybe with more than one structure, and liven the scene with a loose sketched figure or two. If there's people, there's people.

Of course being me, I'd also probably put a cat in the window but like the "orange carrot" figure the cat could be a couple of strokes hinting at the pose and not a fully detailed creature. Cat silhouettes aren't hard at all. They also do break a roof line nicely even if the people inside would be upset at her getting up there - my daughter's cat Gemini always got up on the roof pitch and then mew for people to help her down!

10-19-2016, 07:58 AM
Thank you guys for all your help and tips! If I get round to trying out some buildings will post my attempts back on here.

I definitely need to redo the shadows on that building and probably revisit the colours too.

Robert, I agree... don't really like the modern buildings, but unfortunately I live in a city with probably more buildings than trees :( That's why I generally avoid cities on holidays and take to the countryside... but I digress.