In the Bag – Painting a leather handbag

In the Bag (leather handbag watercolour 37 x 27)

When I asked my sister, Lori for a Precious Artifacts story, she presented me with a photograph of her leather handbag

The original photograph of the leather handbag

Here’s the story of Lori’s precious leather bag:

I have always been a fan of Carrol Boyes functional art. I own quite a few of her pieces. When I discovered she had expanded her range to include leather goods I was thrilled.

I am not a person who owns handbags to match every outfit. I have a good black Coach leather handbag which has been in use for about 15 years now, but I didn’t have a good quality brown leather handbag. I lusted after this one. The leather is soft and it has the Carrol Boyes trademark pewter details, but it was quite expensive so I added it to my “maybe someday” list.

Then I unexpectedly landed a commission to do the illustrations for a children’s book. I had not done any serious drawing for many years and the job terrified and excited me at the same time. Having completed the job to the author’s satisfaction, and having been paid, I decided to spend part of the money on the handbag. A useful, constant reminder that being terrified and leaping through that fear brings rewards, both tangible and intangible.

How do you paint a brown leather handbag and make it interesting? With a monochrome subject there is a danger of a boring painting.

My approach to painting Lori’s leather handbag

I started with blue underpainting to get my tonal values in the right places. The exciting aspect of painting this was capturing the folds and shadows, and the rich colours.

leather handbag watercolour WIP 1
Blue underwash defines tonal values

I had used masking fluid to save the white paper for all the metal fasteners. Fortunately I was using 640lb Arches smooth so the fact that the masking fluid stayed on for many days was OK. This isn’t something I would advocate, but this painting took a while. I had my fingers firmly crossed as I peeled off the latex at the end. Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber started the process of adding the brown tones over the blue underwash.

leather handbag watercolour WIP 2
Masking fluid keeps metallic fasteners clear as the browns start to go on

I found I could only go so far with the depth of colour using only those two browns, despite the tonal underwash, and this is where things started to get interesting. What other colours can you see in a brown leather bag?

leather handbag watercolour WIP 3
Deepening the colour section by section

Adding purple and blue really brought out the richness of the colours. The contrast made the burnished reds in the brown sections come out much more strongly. I found that painting with my fingers gave me a much smoother texture for the leather.

leather handbag watercolour WIP 4
To get a rich burnished effect, the last stage of the browns were painted with my fingers.

The final stage was putting in the gold colours for the metal fasteners, the stitching details, and adding in the background. I wanted an earthy feel to this painting. Lori loves natural things – good quality leather, natural fibres, being in the bushveld. I also wanted the bag to feel rich and filled with value because of its significance to her. And above all – not just flat brown.

7 thoughts on “In the Bag – Painting a leather handbag

  1. Wonderful rendition Vandy. Loved the blues and purples that you included. Really makes this purse come alive.

    1. Thanks Debbie. I really didn’t want to paint it in relentless brown. So the blues and purples gave the painting some lovely depths. I took a risk, but I’m pleased with the results.

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