Little Village Process

As my series of little village paintings comes to an end, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give you a peek into my process for one of them. And as it’s a rather rainy day today (which I adore), the rainy mushroom village seemed a perfect choice.

Since my health limits me from getting out as much as I’d like (especially to hike), I’ve enjoyed painting these little villages as a way to explore all the pretty and magical natural places I’d love to visit. As a child, I always played outside, making little houses and villages for my small animal toys, and it was lovely reliving those memories as I painted. In a way, I’m still playing those same imaginative games, only now with watercolors!

These are small and easy paintings to undertake, done with relatively simple techniques, so feel free to use this as a guide and paint your own little village! I’d love to see where your imagination takes you.


Step 1: Sketch

First, I trace a 6 inch circle using a candle lid to trace (bowls and baking canisters work well too). I like working in circles, as it’s a more organic and peaceful shape to me, but you can use squares, diamonds, or any other shape you like!

I’m quite a messy sketcher (this is actually rather neat for me), since in painting, the sketch is usually quickly obscured. But since this will be inked, I wanted to give myself a few more guides to follow.


Step 2: Ink

Using a sepia .005 pen (I like Sakura Pigma Micron pens), I inked the whole scene, down to the teeny tiniest details. I like using sepia ink because it means the lines aren’t quite as harsh as with black, but you still get good definition.

Generally I don’t like inking paintings, as it’s rather like cheating in my mind, since the ink defines the edges for you, rather than forcing you to clarify them through light and shadow. But, inking allows me to keep these paintings relatively quick and easy, since I don’t need to render every aspect with paint alone. But that’s just my own personal preference and style!


Step 3: Base Washes

This is where the fun starts! Using watercolors, I painted a gradient wash over the whole scene, starting with an indigo/marine blue at the top and gradually shifting to an undersea green/subdued bluish green at the bottom. I like starting with some sort of overall gradient (oftentimes I’ll put the lighter/warmer color at the center, and the darker/cooler color at the edges, though I didn’t here), as it helps unify the piece from the very beginning, and sets the visual mood.

While the wash was still wet, I dabbed it with a damp sea sponge (a crumpled up paper towel will work in a pinch) for a nice bit of texture. This is an optional step, but I like the overall effect it gives.

Then, dampening a small sea sponge (a damp bit of paper towel will work too), I lifted the color from all my light sources, in this case, the windows and glowy mushrooms. I also lifted the color from the little animals with umbrellas, as I wanted them to be brighter/more in focus.

Next, I let the painting dry for an hour or two (while I watched some Great British Baking Show, made some more tea, and took a nap). When using such heavy washes, it’s important to let the painting dry completely between stages to keep your colors from bleeding together and becoming muddy.


Step 4: Light Washes

After the painting was completely dry, I went back in to start adding color to my light sources. Generally, I like warm light in paintings, as it looks glowier and cozier (and thus, more visually inviting), but bioluminescent mushrooms tend to be cooler and more aqua in color, so I took my cue from nature.

I like keeping the light washes rather wide and messy at this stage, as it helps give the impression of the light glowing, as it will infuse into the colors around it (such as the yellow window lights lightening the greenish brown of the tree trunks in the next stage). Painting light is a fun puzzle: figuring out where the light would fall, what color it would be, and what it might reflect off of.

In this painting, I kept the light washes quite simple, but often I enjoy adding many colors to my light sources (like a circular gradient, where the inside is light yellow/white, moving to gold/orange, and finally to a soft rose madder on the outer edges). But since I wanted this village to be a bit rainy and dark, and because there are so many light sources, I chose to keep the light washes simple.


Step 5: Darker Layers and Perspective

Generally, things closer to the foreground look darker, while things farther away appear lighter. This is an easy way to communicate perspective in your painting and thus break up the visual plane. You want your viewer to be able to wander through your painting, getting lost in its world, and this is a key way to achieve that. In this case, it meant painting my foreground trees a darker greenish brown than the trees in the distance, which are only slightly lighter than the background.

I also tried to lighten the bark around the windows a bit, adding more greenish-yellow to the mixture to communicate the glowing lights.

This is also when I started adding greenish blobs of moss to the trees to further that “rainy day” feel. The moss closest to the windows is more of a yellow-green, while the moss further away from the light is more of a bluish or turquoise-green. Mostly, I just really like moss.


Step 6: Details and Finishing Touches

For me, this is the most fun part. This is when I finished adding all the colors of the scene: the green of the grass, the grey-violet cobblestones, the brown mushrooms, and the warm brown doors with indigo eaves. The little animals were one of the last things I painted, as I wanted their colors to stand out bright and vivid (without the risk of getting muddied during previous washes). Also, by now I knew what colors they need to wear in order to best stand out, while still remaining a homogeneous part of the painting.

Before I added the raindrops, I decided to re-ink the main trees and animals with my same sepia pen. Using so many dark/heavy washes had faded my original ink lines, and I wanted a bit more definition. But, I only re-inked the outlines of the trees, windows, etc. and left the inked texture of the tree bark and all the little details alone, as I wanted them to blend in a bit more.

Finally, the last step for this painting was using opaque white gouache to paint the rain drops and little splashes. When it comes to these sorts of finishing details, especially done in white/bright gouache (which tends to stain if you try and scrub it off), I’ve found that less is more. I also used a watered down white gouache to add some reflections to the cobblestones, making them look wet and slippery. Then I dotted a bit of white gouache at the center of each light source to make it look even brighter and more glowy.

And that’s it, you’re done! After I scanned the image, I cleaned it up in Photoshop a bit (making the circle crisp and clean and adjusting the colors to match the original), but that’s a completely optional step.

The most important thing to remember with these little paintings is to have fun and enjoy the process. Let yourself play! Because play, I believe, is one of the best ways to grow (especially as an artist).