The trouble with Painted Ladies

The trouble with San Francisco’s Painted Ladies is that they are just so hard to sketch! I sketched a few over a couple of days with Laurie Wigham and Liz Steel. It was a hit and miss process for sure, and my sketches were more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’. But you can see that between drawing things a few times over and all the ideas we were bouncing around between us, the later sketches start to have a glimmer of hope…

This first one I drew stands on a corner near Alamo Park. It wasn’t so hard to draw but I didn’t know it until I tried some other homes: darker-colored victorians are not that hard to draw, because the overload of detail and the too-much-fiddly-line just makes them look heavy and dark, which they are…


But my next sketch of the more famous Painted Ladies of Alamo Square is one I felt really didn’t work. For one, it’s hard to bring something new to such a cliche of a view. But also, if you’ve seen photos of these houses, you’ll know that even though these Victorians are full of fussy detail, the overall impression all that light colored trim gives is of lightness- a bit of a frivolous air…and my Victorians looked pretty dour.

So I kinda gave up and did two quick sketches of the view to my right.

But that didn’t solve my problem with trying to draw Victorians.

When I’m stuck and can’t articulate what isn’t working for me, I’ll often think of the work of an artist who I imagine will do a wonderful job of the subject. The very first artist that came to mind was Andrea Joseph. There’s such a sense of whimsy in Andrea’s capture of even the solid-looking brick buildings of Manchester.

With Andrea’s buildings in mind, I made these next sketches a couple of days later in Laurie’s neighborhood in Bernal Heights.

That’s (left to right) a green house, a white house and a blue house. To keep it ‘light’ I left all the sunny sides of the houses in white and only indicated their color in the shaded side. That’s a bit tricky when one of the houses is white, but I think it worked here. Color came before penwork in this piece: another way to keep from overdoing the line and making a heavy sketch.

What really helped with this sketch is that both Laurie and Liz told me to stop working on it at this point. And knowing when to stop is one of the hardest bits of making art.

About Suhita Shirodkar

obsessive-sketcher. graphic designer.
This entry was posted in california, Close to home, How to, san franciso and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The trouble with Painted Ladies

  1. Christine says:

    Thanks, Suhita! It’s always great to hear about process and the thinking behind the sketch.


  2. rhodadraws says:

    I enjoy learning about your process….and in this case, your struggle. Glad you didn’t give up.


  3. wallsonwheelsproject says:

    I understand what you mean about when you’re stuck. I have the same thoughts.
    I love your sketches.


  4. Sigrun says:

    Very instructive to get “inside” your process. I love all of these sketches, the three houses in the last work are beautiful!


  5. Bruce Martin says:

    Enjoy your work, a lesson for me in everyone. But I am puzzled with your process; could you please give a photo of the work before adding color. That would help me to try to replicate your art and learn. Bruce


    • bruce, I don’t always photograph my process ( only because I forget to , once I get going on a piece) : but I work differently each time:sometimes color first sometimes line, and often a back and forth between the two….


  6. Melissa says:

    Andrea is a good one to follow for this kind of thing. I think your last piece was quite successful!


  7. i love your sketches, its so feels so raw and carefree, yet really mature (im so sorry for my weird description xD). I aspire to be a sketcher too


  8. Knowing when to stop – the key to everything in life. And one of the things my mom still says, even though she has Alzheimer’s and probably no longer knows how good her advice is.
    Still, I like your ladies – I’d know them every time.


    • oh sharon, if only I could remember more often that i need to stop before I get too far… And thank you for always commenting. I may not reply to all of them, but it’s lovely to hear back when you write a blogpost!


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