Behind-the-Scenes: The Stages of a House Portrait Illustration

Whenever I see an illustration I like, I’m always really curious how it got put together. It kind of feels like that thing where someone tells you their job and they’ll often use words like “coordinator” and “liase” and “outreach” and “development” and “capital” and you’re like, ah, yes, sure, but … what do you do??? At your desk??? When you sit down on a Monday morning? (I, uh, don’t understand a lot of jobs. I’ll be honest.)

Anywho, I wonder if anyone feels the equivalent of that when I’m like “I finished this illustration!” because I sure as heck do when I see other illustrators post their pieces. So! I figured I’d show you a little step-by-step of how it all gets put together.


I’ve been wanting to illustrate this particular house for a little while now. I think it’s on Gladstone just south of Dundas, but as you can see, there’s snow on the ground in this picture, and it’s currently April, so I took this picture quite a while ago and my memory only goes back about three hours — so we’ll never really know where this is.

But I love it and how cute and colourful it is! I had to illustrate it!

I start off by first sketching it out. This takes forever as I’ll often finish a drawing and be like, “dang it, it’s on the whole LEFT side of the page? have I ever heard of centering something???” and I’ll have to erase and re-draw it all. But I skipped all the erasing and re-drawing pictures to impress you guys. Look! A finished sketch! That definitely only took me one try to get correct and absolutely did not take me like seven tries to get all the proportions correct, why would you even think that!

I use two different pens to ink in the illustration after - I’ll make another separate post about the particular pens I use and whatnot, but basically a nice not-too-thicc-but-not-too-thin inky boy* for the main lines, and a super thin lil guy* for the details like bricks and the boards on porches, etc.

* I didn’t go to art school, but I’m assuming those are the correct technical terms.

And then on with the painting! The way I paint is a little bit slower because I almost always let the paint dry in between layers. Watercolour is a super versatile medium - you can let different colours swirl in with each other when they’re still wet and you can create lovely gradients, or you can layer ‘em up kind of like I do and create different effects.

So basically what I’m doing here is creating kind of a lighter base-layer of paint. But you see how in the original picture, it’s a bit more shadow-y on the porch and stuff? I’ll go on top of that, and add a slightly darker layer on top of that. Is there a word for that? I dunno. Again, no art school, so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Then I’ll go overtop the dried base-layer and add in more details, like bricks and shadows.

Then I’ll add a reaaaaally really light beige-y grey wash to add shadows to parts of the house that are ‘white’ - they’re never really white, and this little subtle bit makes a pretty big difference in making a cartoon-y illustration have a lot more depth to it.

And then, all the final bits! These last bits, like that very faint shadow on the white parts of the house, make the greatest impact, I find. If the house isn’t too busy, I dot in the shingles with a small wet brush. (The only time I won’t do it is if a house is built with panels that have lines across or anything else that would just make it too busy or scattered.) And then I paint in the windows — I start off with a blotchy blue-purple wash that’s dotted on in thick watery globs, and then I add very dark, very thin lines across to give the illusion of a window pane reflecting back.

And voila! All done.

Let me know if you dig this kind of thing and if you’d be into more of them, or if you think I am the nicest & best & funniest. Those are the only two types of comments I will accept, please and thank u (you can also comment both if u so please, I SUPPOSE).