Monday, March 28, 2011

Little houses tutorial

As promised I am going to show you how I did my little cities/little houses in mixed media. Now please keep in mind this is my first tutorial, so if something is not clear please don't hesitate to ask any questions, preferably in the comments section, because then other people can profit from them too. Here we go!

What you need:
  • a substrate of some kind like paper or canvas, whatever you choose has to be able to take thick layers of paint and collage
  • gel medium
  • decorative papers (make sure you have at least five different ones that match well together)
  • gesso
  • a pencil 
  • four colors of transparent acrylic paint that match or complement the paper
  • paper towels or pieces of cloth to dab paint on with
  • scissors
  • brushes
  • a black marker (I used a sakura glaze pen, but any black permanent marker will do)
  • a white paint marker (or decomarker, or anything white that wil dry opaque on acrylic paint) 

Stage 1 - Torn paper background:

Take your decorative papers and tear some of them to pieces. Then apply them to your substrate with gel medium. Make sure the entire substrate is covered and that the papers are all over the place! Let this be the fun-who-cares-what-it-looks-like part of your work. I used the same papers in my background as I did for the houses in the foreground, but you can choose to use different papers or just left overs. The layer of paint that you apply later will mostly neutralize the colors, but not the patterns (the paint is transparent remember?). By the way, you don't need to cover or seal the paper with the gel medium, it will be covered by paint and gesso anyway.

Stage 2 - Some gesso dabbing

Take a paper towel or a piece of cloth, dip it in some gesso and that dab the gesso randomly on the surface. Don't cover everything. You're looking to create some structure, nothing more. Let dry, or, if you're like me, get out a blow dryer and make it dry faster. ;-)

Stage 3 - First layer of paint

Take your pencil and draw a wavy line about 1/3 from the bottom of your substrate. This will be the line your houses will stand on. It is also the line that will divide the first two colors of paint. Choose a color for the bottom (the ground) and one for the top (the sky) and just apply an even layer with a paint brush. Now we wait for the paint to dry and move on to the next stage.

Stage 4 - Second layer of paint 

Take two other colors of paint. Again one for the bottom and one for the top. Take a piece of paper towel or a piece of cloth and start dabbing again. Be sure to keep the colors for bottom and top seperate (I used a piece of paper for this cut along the pattern of the wavy line). I used red on top of the brown at the bottom and green on top of the ochre on the top in this example. Here's a little close up of the top:

Because the paint is transparent you can still see the patterns of the papers underneath. I really like that effect. Especially because these patterns will return in the houses. It gives a little balance to the piece and brings it together.

Stage 5 - Cutting the houses and other elements 

Now comes the part where you get to 'build' your city. I kind of wish I had taken more pictures of this stage, but I hope my words will make clear how I work. First cut out the base of the houses, which are basically rectangles of different sizes. Place them on the wavy line and cut off the bottoms in such a shape that they match the line. I paste them down one at a time. By this I mean I will cut a shape and then paste it down, cut the next shape and then paste that down, etcetera etcetera. I don't plan out how the thing will look in advance.

After I do all the bases like this (I vary them in size and shape for a playful effect) I start doing the roofs. Some are rectangles, some are dome shaped or minarets. Whatever takes your fancy. You can draw them in with pencil first to make sure they fit the bases. I paste these down one at a time too.

After this it's time for the doors and the chimneys. For some reason I want the paper of my doors to be the same as that of the chimneys. Why? I have no clue whatsoever! ;-) And finally I cut out little windows. As you can see these have different shapes too. Be playful. No architect is coming to check if your houses can stand up to building regulations!

When the houses are standing it's time to fill up the ground and the sky with some extra collage elements. I cut different size circles for the ground and stars for the sky and paste them down. All the pasting by the way is done with gel medium.

When all the elements are down and dry. I add a thick layer of gel medium to cover everything up and protect it from outer influences. I use matte medium, but of course you could choose to use gloss or semi gloss, whatever appeals to your taste. Now it's back to waiting for things to dry again. Make sure the medium is completely dry before you go on to the final stage or you will ruin your markers!

Stage 6: the final touches

This is the stage where your city comes to live. Use your white marker to draw little clouds of smoke coming out of the chimneys. Then use the black marker to outline all the elements of the collage as if you were drawing the houses, the circles and the stars. I put little swirls in the circles for an extra effect. I divide some windows into smaller sections. I draw some crosses on top of churches rooftops. When all this is done I make little dots with the white marker on the bottom to give a little more pattern to the ground. Let your markings dry, sign your work're done! Your very own little city has been built!

You may use a (spray) varnish to finish up your work or just leave it as it is.

I hope this was a clear enough tutorial to explain the process. I am open to suggestions for improvement in case of future tutorials and again: if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. If you happen to make one of these cities of your own I would love to see it, so let me know about your own little city adventures!


  1. Thanks so much for this great tutorial! I appreciate your sharing your talent with me!

  2. Love your little village. I actually made one similar recently but used boxes so the houses were 3-D.

  3. I'm so glad you described how you did that piece! It's the piece that made me bookmark your site to come back to. I think your directions were very clear, and I just might have to make a little town of my own! Thanks so much.

  4. Love the little town. Thanks for doing the tutorial and sharing with us.

  5. Caatje wat leuk! Ik ga hem zeker maken en showen in de cc!

  6. Great tutorial! I could easily follow it and understand what to do to create a paper city. Beautiful city, by the way! :)

  7. I've loved little houses nestled in a row for years! Thanks for some wonderful inspiration - and the tutorial to go with it!

  8. Beautiful artwork! Thanks for sharing! I have tried a little mixed-media art myself, but I always feel so insecure about it that I never dared posting anything... Maybe I will try to follow your steps and show off the result some day :)

  9. Leuk dat je deelt hoe je het gemaakt hebt Caatje!

  10. Very cool! I can't wait to try this out! I don't have all the materials now, so I may make an adapted version first. I'll let you know how it turns out!


  11. Thank you all so much for your nice comments, both here and through the mail. I am so happy my tuturial is clear enough to understand and I hope it will inspire some of you to make something. I will definetely do other tutorials in the future!

    xox happy Caatje

  12. LOVE it!! Very whimsical! I will have to try this, it just looks like too much fun!

  13. Do you use medium or glaze to get your paint transparent? Lovely houses and piece!

  14. @Carolyn. No, I have acrylic paint without...the Dutch word would be something like 'fillers', I have no idea what the English word is, you know, substances that make paint opaque. Depending on your brand and the color of paint you use some paints will be more opaque than others, so you may very well already have transparent paints. You can always just try this on a piece of paper before putting it on the canvas. If all else fails: just mix the paint with water and it will become transparent too. Easy peasy ;-)

  15. Fantastic tutorial of a fun way to create art =)
    I truly love the result

  16. Thanks for the clarification Caatje! Love the tutorial, going to give it a try!

  17. This was a great tutorial! And cute little village too! I love the addition of the ink line at the end, which seems to bring it all together!

  18. Great tutorial! I'd love to give this a try - the end result is fabulous! Thanks for sharing.


  19. Hi! I just wanted to let you know my friend and I got together this past Tuesday for a 'girls day' and I brought over all the art supplies needed along with your instructions to make the little houses on canvas. We had such a fun time! I would like to show you the photos of our finished projects, but ?I can't find an email address....

    This was a lot of fun...thanks so much! I am inspired to make more! I will post my finished canvas on my blog probably tomorrow.

    Until then! Emily

  20. @eis4em: I mailed you personally, but am not sure if you got it, because the mail on your info was different from the one the link gave me. So just in case: I put my mailaddy on my profile from now on.
    It's c.m.j.winkelman[at]

    I'd love to see what you've made!

  21. I am totally drawn to this and I think I'm going to have to give it a go. Thank you for a wonderful walk through on how to make my own.

  22. Wauw Caatje, wat is dit leuk!! Ik heb een 'tik' van huisjes en kan niet wachten om hiermee te beginnen. Leuk om met m'n beide dochters te gaan maken - die zijn daar vast voor te vinden. Ook ben ik helemaal geinspireerd door je Journaling Tutorials. Die tutorials ga ik gebruiken voor mijn vakantieboek dit jaar. Ik ga je volgen en kom hier zeker weer terug.
    Fijne dag verder; geniet van de lente!
    Groetjes, Anita

  23. I love this! It's given me such ideas for my own

  24. Ha Caatje, wel jammer dat je de tutorial alleen in het Engels geeft. Maar ik snap dat tweetalig teveel gevraagd is. Wel gaaf deze hoor!
    Dank je wel, groet, @nneke

  25. Great project! I'm going to try making one with a Halloween theme. Thanks for the tutorial.

  26. beautiful creation..... thanks for the great tutorial !!!!!

  27. Leuke tutorial! Vond het al zo mooi toen ik het op facebook zag. Nu kan ik het dus eventueel ook eens uitproberen, super!

  28. I stumbled upon your blog thanks to Pinterest. Thank you for this tutorial, I've done houses before but this gave me some great ideas to incorporate in my work.
    Thanks again I'm loving your blog!

  29. Found you on Pinterest. Thanks so much for sharing your tutorial with everyone! I love little houses and this looks like lots of fun to make!

    1. Hope you try them Hope, thanks for dropping by!

  30. I will definitely bookmark this page so I can come back and make this cute neighborhood in the near future. You did a great job with the tutorial, thanks so much for your generosity in sharing your techniques.

    1. Thank you Ruth. I hope your houses turn out great!

  31. Thank goodness for pinterest. I love this and am going to try this!!!! Houses are my passion. Thanks.

  32. What a great tutorial. It reminds me of a magical eastern town. Beautiful. Something to inspire me when I kick start my mojo again


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