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How to paint an interior scene in watercolour with Pat Harrison

Posted on Thu 06 Dec 2018

Painting the Interior of a Mansion with Pat Harrison

Having been commissioned to paint a mansion in watercolour last year my customer then asked me to paint the interior of the grand parlour.

All the correspondence with my customer was via my website and emails. We agreed on a layout and the initial drawing (see below) was approved. Of course it does not look very exiting without colour, but is a good starting point for the piece.

Step one - initial drawing

The painting was composed using several photos which were sent to me. As last year´s painting was a watercolour, this one was designed to match in both size and technique.

I used the following list of materials:

  • Acid free Hahnemuhle Fineart 30×40 cm watercolour paper 325 g/m² taped to a board.

Cotman Watercolours:

  • Ultramarine blue
  • Cobalt blue
  • Lemon yellow
  • Cadmium yellow
  • Cadmium red
  • Sap green
  • Yellow ochre
  • Raw umber
  • Black
  • Chinese white


  • flat brush no.14, no.5 and no.1 round

Step two

The windows of the room next to the main subject of the painting look out towards the bushes in the surrounding park. I used a very much diluted portion of sap green to create the illusion of light reflected from the bushes coming through those windows. The darker browns of diluted raw umber set off those windows nicely while cad yellow helped to outline the book shelves and the arches above the windows. Rather than using masking fluid I employed Chinese white to highlight the window frames.

Step three

Laying down the background colours of the pink walls and the two round tables near the windows I used a number 5 flat brush and diluted cadmium red. For the shadow areas I cleaned the brush and applied some watered down cobalt blue. The door frame was painted using a thin wash of cobalt blue mixed with a touch of raw umber employing my no.1 round brush. Chinese white was used to highlight the frame.

More cad red mixed with cad yellow was applied to create the curtains above the windows again using the no.1 round. The outlines of the folds required me to mix some raw umber with Chinese white. The dark edges of the picture frames for the family portraits were held in raw umber mixed with ultramarine blue resulting in a colour resembling black.

The table and floor under the family portrait on the right were again painted in raw umber using my no.1 brush for the table and a no.3 for the floor.

Step four

The figures in the family portraits were painted with a no.1 round brush using raw umber and cad red as well as ultramarine blue for the lady on the right. The lighter shades were created by lifting paint off with a damp brush. Next I used the base colours mixed with raw umber and blue for the shadows.

The marble mantlepiece was painted black with my no.5 flat brush on a previously wetted surface. The frame around the fire screen was left blank to allow me to add some cad yellow at a later stage.

For the mirror above the fireplace I had to create the illusion of a gold frame by mixing yellow ochre and cad yellow later tinting the dried up areas with a minute touch of sap green. Raw umber was used for the shadows while the shadow on the wall was painted with watered down cobalt blue. All of it was done with my trusted no.1 flat brush.

This then also served to paint the reflections of the curtains in the mirror using a very thin layer of cad red and cobalt blue mixed with raw umber for the shadows.

The patterns on the Chinese vases on the table under the family portrait were created by stippling them with cobalt blue. The folds in the table cloths on the round table were to follow employing cad red mixed with cad yellow and some Chinese white.

Random strokes of the no.1 brush using cobalt blue mixed with raw umber created the tassels at the bottom edge of the table cloth.

Step five

Next I completed the family portrait of the lady on the left with a no.1 round brush using raw umber and cadmium red. The lighter shades were created with watered down cadmium red.

Cadmium red with a little Chinese white also provided me with the undercoat for the two big chairs and the edge of the carpet. Here I was able to use my no.5 flat.

The underpainting for the armchairs next to the fireplace was laid in using sap green and white and plain sap green for the darker areas.

The parquet floor was applied with a no.5 flat brush using raw umber. I did not paint every single one of the wooden slates of the flooring but left some areas to the imagination.

The day´s final touches were applied to the glass panes in the door on the left using a mixture of raw umber and ultramarine to create a nice dark colour rather than using black.

Step six

As you can see the next step involved starting on the carpet and chairs. Still using my no.1 brush cad red mixed with white was used for the edge of the carpet. Leaving it to dry I then painted the wiggly lines of the carpet pattern with almost random strokes of watered down cobalt blue. After another drying period cadmium red mixed with cad yellow and white were applied in a similar fashion to add to the pattern.

The centre area of the carpet was painted in alizarin crimson with raw umber for the shadows.

The sofa on the right received a pale coat of sap green mixed with white after wetting the area first using a no.5 brush. Once dry I painted the shades using sap green mixed with a touch of raw umber on a no.1 brush.

The different shades of pink and brown of the chair patterns went in next. A steady hand was required to keep the lines reasonably straight with a no.1 brush. The pink consists of grades of cadmium red and white with alizarin crimson added for the darker shades. Further darks were created by adding raw umber. The matching sofa cushions were painted in much the same way.

The woodwork of the chairs at the back were put in with yellow ochre while I used various grades of raw umber for the chair in the front on the left with highlights of yellow ochre.

The white upholstery of the two chairs on the left was created with a watered down mix of cobalt blue, raw umber and Chinese white to arrive at a very pale grey leaving the paper to show through for the highlighted areas.

Finished painting

This brings us to the end of my step by step painting of the grand parlour of a mansion.

During the various stages and weeks of production I had kept in contact with my client who had commissioned the painting. I was able to send him photographs so that he could see how the painting developed.

Even at this final stage I had to make adjustments regarding the colours of several areas at his request. Never having seen the room and having to work from a photograph made it difficult to catch the setting in the right atmosphere. Comparing step six and the final image, you will notice the difference.

First of all I had to complete the unfinished areas. Then it was time to introduce the adjustments my client had asked me to work on.

In order to give the family portraits an antiquated look I went over them with a fine layer of black mixed with blue and white to create a pale grey. Then I had to brighten up the parquet flooring by lifting off some of the paint by wetting the area and dabbing it with dry tissue. Next I applied a layer of lemon yellow to brighten it up further.

The carpet had to be darkened by going over it with a stronger mix of the previously applied colours. The adjoining room at the back had to see a change of colour which was not easy as watercolour does not really lend itself to paint over. However I managed to follow the client´s suggestion to give it a hint of green by adding a thin layer of sap green.

The upholstery of the chairs also had to be darkened by adding watered down raw umber using a no.1 brush going down each stripe of the pattern individually.

When you compare step six and the final painting you will notice that other areas have also been reworked like the sofa and the shadows around the windows.

I am now happy with the result and hope that my customer will also be satisfied.

See more of Pat's work in the PaintersOnline gallery by clicking here, or visit the website

This demonstration originally featured on the February 2018 bonus features e-newsletter; click here to see the other features from this newsletter.

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How to paint an interior scene in watercolour with Pat Harrison


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