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Want a special keepsake to remember your childhood home? A gift to commemorate a friend’s purchase of a new house? Create a watercolor house portrait! 

Painting houses in watercolor is a doable project for artists of all skill levels—and the result is a beautiful and meaningful piece of art. Below, learn how to paint easy watercolor house portraits from start to finish. 

How to Paint Watercolor House Portraits 

Step 1: Prepare Your Supplies and Workspace

When it comes to your workspace, select a flat, open space that can easily accommodate your paper and supplies—ideally, one lit with natural light. It doesn’t have to be an art studio; a dining room table can work just as well!

Then, gather your supplies. You will need:

  • Paper: Try watercolor paper or bristol board. What’s the difference? Watercolor paper tends to be very textured, while bristol board is smoother and a bit easier to sketch on.  
  • Pencils: Use any pencil you like, as long as it’s easily erasable. 
  • Eraser: While some pencils come with an eraser on the end, it’s helpful to have a larger, separate eraser. 
  • Waterproof pens: Make sure they are indeed waterproof, since you will be painting over the ink. 
  • Watercolor paints: Use what you prefer, whether that’s a basic watercolor palette or professional-grade paints. 
  • Watercolor brushes: It’s possible to create watercolor houses with just one brush, but having a few different sizes—for example, one brush for large areas and one brush for fine details—can be beneficial. 
  • Cup of water
  • Paper towels 
watercolor supplies
To create watercolor house portraits, you will need paper, watercolor paint, paintbrushes, pencils, erasers, and waterproof pens.

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Step 2: Gather Your Reference Material

In addition to your painting supplies, you’ll need a clear, high-resolution reference photo to work from. This is a pretty simple task if you can physically go to the house to take photos—for example, if it’s the house you currently live in or the house is located in a nearby town. 

To get the best photo, think like a real estate agent. Consider how you want to present the house as far as angle and lighting. Aim to get at least one high-quality photo of the house from the exact angle you want to paint it. Then, you may also want some secondary reference photos that focus on other details you want to include in your portrait, like a particular tree or the intricate woodwork on the front porch. 

If you aren’t able to go to the house to take photos yourself, consider the following options:

  • Ask a friend who lives near the house to take photos for you 
  • Browse real estate listings to find a quality image
  • Check Google’s street view function to see if it has a clear image of the house

Step 3: Create and Refine Your Sketch

Next, create a basic sketch of the house. There are a few ways you can do this. If you want to be sure to get the intricacies and angles of the house correct, try tracing your reference image. Tracing ensures that the general geometry of the house is correct, so all you have to do is fill in the details. 

To go this route, start by printing out your image to scale—in other words, the exact size you want the final painting to be. Then, using a window, projector, or lightbox, trace the image onto your paper. 

If you feel fairly comfortable creating a freehand sketch based on a reference image, it’s still helpful to print out your image at scale. Then, use a T-square to take measurements of the house and translate them to your paper. 

During this phase, focus on making sure all the major elements of the house are accurately represented. You can also make decisions about exactly what you do and don’t want in your portrait. For example, you may exclude certain trees that you find distracting or unnecessary decorative detail. Make these decisions now, before you ink the sketch.  

sketch of house
In your initial sketch, focus on making sure all the major elements of the house are accurately represented. 

Step 4: Ink Your Sketch

Next, use your waterproof pen to go over the pencil lines of the sketch. It’s often easiest to start with the roof lines, as those are generally the longest straight lines of the drawing. From there, fill in the details. 

It may be a little intimidating to work with permanent ink, but whatever you do, resist the urge to use Wite-Out to hide any errors—you can’t watercolor over it. Instead, try to embrace any imperfections or mistakes. Those imperfections are exactly what will give your watercolor house portrait character and make it one of a kind. Plus, by the time you add in the watercolor paint, it’s likely you won’t even notice the mistakes. 

However, it’s understandable to want to minimize imperfections if possible. Here’s a tip: If your pen is prone to smudging, rest your hand on a scrap piece of paper while you draw. 

When you’re finishing inking—and you’re sure the ink is dry—use your eraser to remove all remaining pencil lines. 

inked house
Use a waterproof pen to ink your sketch, then remove any remaining pencil lines with an eraser. 

Step 5: Watercolor the Portrait

This is the fun part! Use your watercolor paints to add color and personality to your house portrait. 

Before you begin, it can be helpful to mix and swatch your paint colors, so you can see exactly what they will look like when they dry. (If you haven’t worked with watercolor paint before, be aware that a color can look drastically different when wet than when dry.) This way, you can take some of the guesswork out of the painting and put together an accurate color palette. 

There’s no one right way to approach painting houses in watercolor. However, if you’re not sure where to begin, try painting the largest and lightest areas first—like the roof or the main body of the house. Remember that you can always go back and make areas darker, but you can’t make them lighter. Then, move on to the siding and trim, and finally, add color to any trees or greenery. Throughout the process, pay particular attention to where the shadows fall in your reference photo—adding these to your watercolor houses can add depth and dimension. 

house watercolor
Start with the largest, lightest areas of the house, and then work your way down to the small details. 

Step 6: Add Final Touches 

The portrait itself is now complete, but there are a few final touches to make before it’s ready to hang on the wall. First, sign your work! Add your signature close to the bottom of the illustration, where it won’t be too distracting, and the year as well, if you’d like. Then, mat and frame the painting, and you’re done! 

framed watercolor house
For a professional touch, add a mat and frame to your finished watercolor house portrait.

There’s No Place Like Home

You may choose to draw your own home, a friend’s new house, a house from your childhood, or even something that’s not a home—like a favorite coffee shop or restaurant. No matter what, this easy watercolor house painting can make a perfect thoughtful gift or sentimental addition to your own wall. 

Get the Full Tutorial 

Watercolor: Painting a House Portrait