Size does matter, no matter what you've heard. In this case, Mike Thomas shows us in his FREE demo how small may be somewhat challenging but is just as enjoyable as big. 

Grab a coaster and some art supplies; we're doing a tiny urban painting, a quaint blue store from Soho, in West London. Let's do this mini mixed media challenge together!

Step 1: Tools and Prep 

You'll need a coaster made of thicker paper or cardstock. If you're reusing one from your last pub visit, make sure it isn't too destroyed. Because coasters were designed to be incredibly absorbent, you'll have to prime it by painting a layer of white acrylic, so it doesn't absorb all your paint. 

Note: If you don't have a coaster, use your usual watercolour paper or card roughly 3" x 3". 

Before priming, tape the edges of your paper or card to a hard surface with artist's tape to help keep it from moving around while you paint. As for your other tools, you'll need: 

  • Gouache Paint in:

    • Spectrum Yellow

    • Naples yellow

    • Coeruleum (hue) blue 

    • Ultramarine blue

    • White

    • Cadmium red

  • Mixing Palette

  • Two Water Containers

  • Paper Towels

  • Round Brushes - size 1 and 3

Once you're ready, jump straight to painting! Using the size 3 brush and a diluted cerulean to "sketch" guidelines, position the buildings, the archway, windows, and the door.

To avoid it looking too flat, add perspective lines extending from the vanishing point to the edges of your painting.

Tip: If you're unsure how to draw perspective lines, check out this blog about perspective! It's a great way to add depth while keeping lines at the right angles.

Step 2: Base Layer

We have a warm and cool hue of yellow, which we'll use to create different colours and contrasts. After painting your sketch, add a layer of diluted Coeruleum (hue) blue for the main building and Naples yellow for everywhere else. 

Mix some white for the lightest areas of light coming through the archway, and don't worry too much if your sketch still shows through – you'll be building up your layers later.

Step 3: Second Layer - Strengthening

Add a line of Coeruleum (hue) blue to better define the curb in front of the building. Paint a slight shadow within the archway.

Check the reference photo to see where the shadows go. At this stage, it's still ok to keep your layers lighter than usual.

Paint the wall panelling along the wall inside the archway, making sure to follow your perspective lines. Then, mix a brown by adding red to your Naples yellow and Coeruleum (hue) blue, then paint the walls of the buildings on either side of the blue building.

Create a texture by "pulling" the paint and scumbling your brushstrokes to make it look like bricks. Scumbling is a technique where you scribble many circular marks on top of one another  and is usually used for sketching. 

Tip: Layers of gouache will most likely reactivate when you try to paint on top. This is fine for this wall area because you want the brown to mix slightly with the underlying layers to make it lighter.

But if you ever want to layer a different colour without it mixing, wait until the previous layer is dry and use less water in the paint.

Next, add some warmer tones by mixing spectrum yellow and white to paint the light coming from inside the blue building.

Bonus Tip: Though we have a reference photo, you don't have to follow it exactly. For example, Mike paints the blue building with the door open instead of closed. I have the door ajar with light filtering out.

You're the artist, so adjust the details as you like. Do what you think is best for your painting, even if it's not the same as the reference.

Step 4: Third Layer - Building

Once your previous layers are dry, you can lay it on thick now. "It" is your next layer of paint because you want to get very bright colours going (and to cover your sketch lines). 

Paint the main building first with a thick layer of Coeruleum (hue) blue, mixing in some ultramarine blue for the shadows and the building's sign.

For an ombre effect, pull down the ultramarine and mix it with the underlying cerulean so your shadows have softer edges. 

Add some details, and don't forget to paint the blue areas to the left and right of the main building. Then, switch to the same mix you used to paint the windows, and add a few more to the other buildings.

Use pure white for the windows above and add some reflective areas to the windows of the main building.

Build up the paint along the pavement and alleyway, and add some lamppost details along the same alleyway.

Step 5: Detailing

Keep adding details by strengthening your darkest shadows and lightest highlights. Add the white edging on the main building's sign and anywhere else you see fit.

Further enhance the shadow right underneath the archway, and lighten some of the posts on the blue building by mixing white with Coeruleum (hue) blue.

Next, mix a light purple using ultramarine, red, and a touch of Naples yellow and white. This should produce a grey-ish purple to use for the pavement.

Mix pure ultramarine and red for an indigo colour for your deepest shadows, and paint these areas. Add ledges for the side buildings' windows too!

Tip: Mike advises against using black for shadow tones because shadows are rarely pure black. Additionally, the colours in your mixed shadow tones make your painting come alive with nuance.

Step 6: More Details

Now it's time to add your almost-final details, such as the windows and pavement. First, use ultramarine blue to paint the muntins (i.e. the bars across the windowpanes) on all the windows.

You don't have to make them especially neat or even connect all of them – you just want to capture the impression of a window.

For shadows inside the blue building, use your brown mix and add a little white before dabbing some within the window. Then, use pure white to add back some reflective areas on the glass.

Enhance the curb by mixing a little white with your indigo mix and adding some texture to the pavement with a few marks here and there.

Step 7: Other Media and Final Touches

For the "mixed media" part of this painting, grab some coloured fineliners or markers, using them to add some details. Make sure the colours you use will harmonise with the rest of your painting. You can paint over it and try again if it doesn't work out.

Use a white gel pen for some of the more delicate white highlights, but at this point, your painting may be too thick to add them easily without accidentally digging up the layers of paint.

If that happens, go back to using white gouache and a size 1 round brush. 

Paint any final details, like the muntins on the archway, drainpipes, and of course the "Blue Posts" sign on the building. You know you're done when you start thinking that putting a stroke here or there won't add anything more to your painting.

As always, when you're done, add your signature! And don't forget the peel reveal – it will be incredibly satisfying this time. Peel slowly because your paint may flake off if you move too quickly.

I hope you had fun making this tiny artwork! For the whole experience, watch Mike's live demo recording. If you want to learn more from Mike, check out his 90-minute art class! Keep creating, and don't be shy about sharing your work with our Etchr community!

Want more ideas or lessons to stoke your creativity? Subscribe to our email newsletter! Whether you're following along with our blog, workshops, or live demos, we'll notify you of all the latest happenings with Etchr.

Nicola Tsoi is a practising graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. She likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm during her downtime. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 

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