Sketches and paintings of homes were at one time a popular gift for children moving away, parents selling the big family home to downsize, or grandchildren who’d never seen the place but heard the stories. Photographing a home well enough to make it a framable portrait of the place is not an easy task as it’s difficult to get a good angle, good weather, and nothing in the way like neighbor’s cars all at the same time. An artist could render the place from photos and leave out the things you didn’t want and add the things you did. Most often these sketches were in ink and were also printed as note cards in addition to the original art.
Growing up and even into the 90s I knew artists who made a good living with this sort of thing, and I practiced and planned to join the group. As digital cameras enabled more people to take more photos, these traditional ink sketches or paintings fell out of favor, but I’ve had the opportunity to sketch and paint a few.
Their mother still lived there and served Sunday dinners when the kids, middle-aged, decided to commission a painting of the house they’d grown up in. One daughter and her husband had commissioned me to paint portraits of their cats and then branched out to other subjects, so the idea was theirs. My customer had told me memories of the house and how her mother had cared for it. Fiercely independent, their mother had kept this centuries-old house comfortable and in very good shape all the years, and when I visited for one Sunday dinner in 1994 she walked me around and showed me all the special things about it.
I LOVE houses like this. I knew the spot where this house sat was one of the first settled in the area, and not far from it there was an original log cabin built in the 1740s and rebuilt in the 1770s on the same foundations. I drove past it regularly on my way out to my favorite fields and woods. This house was built in the early 1800s and, windows and all, remained visually about the same for all those years until a new porch roof with railing and second-floor access replaced the older one, and a large brick addition was added to the back as a family room. I took photos with my old manual film Pentax.
This painting is 26″ x 36″. They had wanted it large to be able to include some of the trees and to be able to see a lot of the details of the house. I had decided a watercolor worked well for architecture, especially brick, but I had always like the look of an ink sketch with watercolor detailing and knew that would help me keep such a large painting under control. I was fairly new to watercolor then, and even fairly new to sketching and painting, and I was honestly a little daunted by this. But I loved the house so much that I felt I could just take my time and work it out.
And so I did. I still worked a day job and would continue to for several more years, and the ink and watercolor also accommodated my bizarre work schedule. It took a couple of months, I think, but I felt confident with working slowly, and learning as I went.
Photographing something this big with a film camera is not easy, and I was not terribly skilled with that at the time either, so my photos of this are a little blurry even though I intentionally photographed areas in detail along with the whole thing. I am still in contact with this customer after all the years, and perhaps one day I’ll see if I can borrow it to scan it.
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