Painting Cityscapes in Watercolor: From Conception to Final Painting in Simple Steps | Rainb.w Watercolor | Skillshare

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Painting Cityscapes in Watercolor: From Conception to Final Painting in Simple Steps

teacher avatar Rainb.w Watercolor, (Rainbow) |

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (29m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Tools and Supplies

    • 3. Planning the Composition

    • 4. Preparing and Sketching

    • 5. Painting the Cityscape

    • 6. Adding the Details

    • 7. Painting Example #2

    • 8. Now... its your turn!

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About This Class

In this class you will learn how to paint cityscapes in watercolor

In this class you will learn how to:

  • Simplify different elements of the composition
  • Understand the use of perspective in cityscapes
  • Utilise values and contrast to create a "glow" in your nightscapes

The focus of this class here today is to help you put the theories of landscape or cityscape painting into practice. A lot of the time... we learn about the fundamental concepts behind what makes a good painting but are not given sufficient examples to utilize them and apply them to our own paintings. This class serves to bridge that gap by showing you the entire process, from conception and reference photo, all the way to painting and finishing the entire piece.

By the end of this class, you will be able to paint one of the two paintings demonstrated, and be better equipped to tackle cityscapes on your own. 

Follow along and you will be able to finish with these two paintings:



My other watercolor class (beginners friendly):

If you are starting out and would like a beginners friendly class, I have an 18 minute short class where I introduce watercolor from the very beginning while painting a sunset. You will learn techniques of how to create smooth transitions in watercolor, and control the water paint ratio.

Connect with me on instagram or facebook!


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Rainb.w Watercolor

(Rainbow) |


Instagram: @rainb.w




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1. Introduction: Hey everyone. My name is Rainbow I'm a painter illustrator based in Hong Kong. One of my specializations in watercolor, I paint a lot of cityscapes, landscapes, night scenes. I love working with different colors and lighting to create a story behind paintings. Today in this class we will learn how to paint cityscapes, specifically, two watercolor nightscapes. Now, watercolor is a very transparent medium. It's soft and light. But here I'm going to show you how you can use watercolor to create something much bolder and greater in contrast. For this class, you will need a basic understanding of painting, the concepts of compositions and colors, and if you are just starting out and you would like a more introductory course on watercolor, I have another short class where I introduce watercolor from the very beginning and we'll be painting a sunset in that one. Anyway, the focus of the class here today is to help you put these theories of landscape and cityscape painting into practice. A lot of the times we learn about the fundamental concepts behind what makes a good painting, but we aren't really given sufficient examples to utilize them and apply them on our own in our own paintings. This class serves to bridge that gap and show you the entire process from conception and reference photo, all the way to painting and finishing the entire piece. We will talk about how to simplify different elements of the composition, gain a better understanding of how the perspective and the colors work together in support of the focal point, all by walking through real examples. By the end of this class, you will be able to paint one of these paintings and be better equipped to tackle cityscapes on your own. I'm so excited to have you here. Let's get our brushes and I'll see you there. 2. Tools and Supplies: Before we get started, I'll go through some of the tools and supplies that we will be needing for this class. So first we will need some watercolor paper. Any brand or type is fine, as long as the paper is thick enough to withstand multiple layers of water. I personally like to use paper with more of a rough surface because it gives a nice texture, especially for cityscapes. We will also be needing watercolor paints, and this is my palette. I used two paints, and I squeezed them out here. But you can also use watercolor pans and they will work just as well. Of course we will be needing our brushes. So you will need some large flat brushes. This will be great for when we're painting the big washes. But also the flat edge is great for creating straight lines. Then we'll have some smaller round brushes as well for detail, and last but not least, with our brushes, we will need a small cheap brush. So let me explain this more with our next item, which is the masking fluid. Now, the masking fluid is a liquid that dries into this rubber substance, and it prevents paint or water for going into wherever this fluid is applied to. I'll show you exactly how we can use this later on. But you will need a cheap brush for this or even a toothpick because the masking fluid can sometimes dry very quickly and it can clump up the bristles on your brush that will make it very difficult to wash off and you would not want that to happen to your favorite brush. So other than the masking fluid, we will also need a mixing palette, a towel, a pencil, some water to wash our brush and to mix our paint in. We'll also need masking tape, to tape the edges of our paper. Here is the list of materials again. In the next class we will begin planning for our cityscape painting. 3. Planning the Composition: Before we begin sketching and painting, we're going to talk a bit more about how to work with your reference photo, identifying its structure, the different parts, and this process of transforming it into the painting that we are going to paint. Here, I have a photograph of a street scene. It's a normal photo I took on my phone, nothing special. The first thing that we're going to do is to split this composition into different parts and different layers, mainly according to their values. So how dark or how light a certain part is. This is going to help us simplify the structure a bit, and for us to not be caught up in the details too much when we're painting. Here, we can split it into more or less four layers or parts. First, we have this guy, and then we have the trees, which is a little darker than this guy, then we have the buildings. We can extend this down towards the floor, and this will be the darkest part of the composition, and then finally we have the cars and the headlights, with little bits of light from the neighboring shops. This part would be the lightest area in the composition. Now that we have identified and split the composition in two different parts, it's going to become easier for us to organize. If I were to simplify the colors in these parts and just cover the details, just like this. This guy has a grayish blue, and then the trees are a little darker in the shade, and then we have the buildings which are a lot darker, and finally, we're going to block in some of a bright yellow and a little bit of white in the cars. Now that I've done some basic shading, I can remove the outlines that I drew, and as you can see, it's very clearly splitting up our composition into these parts, and you can see the basic structure ready. Definitely keep this in mind and refer back to this when we're in the painting stage. Which parts are lighter, which parts are darker, and how those parts are actually working together to help create this entire scene. Another thing to look at with the composition when we're working with the reference photo, is to understand the focal point and the perspective. So with this street view, it has a one-point perspective, which means all the diagonal lines here are going to meet with a single point, and that point is called a vanishing point. You can see that the diagonal lines actually form the sides of the building. Knowing the perspective is going to help you understand how to draw these buildings in their correct place and space, and you can definitely use it as a guide when you're sketching. Now, the focal point is simply where the eyes are drawn to in the composition, and it usually works together with the perspective and the colors. With this one, you can see that the lines here, the direction that they go in, point towards the cars and the lights in the middle. Same goes for the colors and the values of this composition. You can see in this example where it starts off from this guy with a mid tone color and not too light, not too dark, but then it progresses to a much darker color in the buildings. After that, it's going on to the focal point which is the brightest and the lightest. After that, it goes back to the darker colors, which again reinforces the brighter colors in the middle. Now that we have a basic understanding of our composition structure, we can start applying this, and putting this into our sketch with the next video. 4. Preparing and Sketching: Here we will begin with sketching out the composition. This will be a great way for us to just familiarize ourselves with the paper, the space, and I have attached the reference photo that I used in the class files, so you can follow along and look back to it as well. We will begin by marking out the vanishing point, as we have mentioned before. This is the point where the perspective lines start from and diverge outwards. With this point we're going to draw the perspective lines outwards in all directions, and this will be used for our guide later, especially when we're drawing the buildings and the windows. Now after that, we can move on to draw vertical lines that are going to mark the sides of the building, as well as the horizontal lines marking the top of a building, the surfaces that face flat in our direction. Now you can see that there are only three types of lines out there really, they're either vertical, horizontal or diagonal, following the perspective direction. Moving on, we will work downwards and begin to sketch the structures in the middle. There are some interesting shapes on the right here. We're going to begin marking out some of the cars and the lights. For the cars, you don't have to focus on the detail and try to get the overall shape and just block them out in terms of where they are. I like to think of cars as little cubes or multiple squares. We can also start to sketch out the cars in the front. I wanted to particularly sketch out one car in the very front, a much bigger one to give a sense of space in contrast to the smaller cars at the back. This car runs off the composition. It gives our city scape a little bit more of a variety. We can also lightly sketch out where the trees are, just so we have a sense of it. Again, there is no need for too much details at this point. As we finish off, we can retrace some of the perspective lines because they'll be helpful for us later and we want to make sure that these are prominent enough for us to see. After you're more or less satisfied with your sketch, you can move on. We will then be adding the masking fluid. The masking fluid is basically a liquid that dries into this rubbery texture when it's applied to a certain spot on the paper, that part of the paper will not get wet so water can't get into it. This is not permanent, once it dries and it becomes this rubbery texture, it can be rubbed off pretty easily. I'll show you how that is, once we get to that part after we finish painting. We will apply this to the headlights and anywhere with lights in the composition that we want to leave white. This is very useful with watercolor because as you may know, the watercolor process is basically adding layers and layers of darker colors. The light that you see, the white that you see is often the white off the paper. Those are the parts that are not painted at all. With the masking fluid that we have, it's going to help us a lot in these situations where we have little spots that we want specific and intricate details, we want to be left white. One thing I must remind you about the masking fluid is to always use a cheaper brush. You can also use a toothpick. The reason for this is that the masking fluid can sometimes clump up the brush and it dries before you get the chance to wash it. It can sometimes ruin the brush and make it very difficult to just wash off. So definitely don't use your favorite brush for this part. Just use something cheap, something that, is disposable, that is not too important to you. Great. Now that we have done our sketch and we've done our masking fluid, we want to make sure that the masking fluid dries. After that, we're going to tape the edges of our paper and this will help create a nice edge framing our painting. Especially since our painting is going to have a lot of dark colors that is going to make it pop even more. In the next class, we will be looking more into the painting process and we'll finally begin painting. 5. Painting the Cityscape: In this part of the class, we can finally begin painting. So just to prepare our palette and our colors a bit, I'm going to spray mine with some water because I don't always squeeze out fresh paint every time and it gets a little dry. You can also do this with watercolor pads, and I find that it's easier to get the paint out this way. It's a little wet. So we'll begin by working from the brightest parts of the painting first, which in this case would be in the middle where the lights are. We're first going to start by brushing on some water so that those parts would be very light and transparent as we add on other colors over it. Then we will take some yellow. The color that I'm using here is [inaudible] gold, and with the flat brush, you are going to brush some of the yellow to this area where the light is. You can see that my brush is not very wet, so it's just right in creating a thin layer. There aren't any paddles here, and this time with a thicker paint, I'm using the same color but with even less water. I'm going to go over the same area, add some dots and some patches of yellow for variation and some depth. This thicker consistency of paint is going to allow us better control, because we're painting on a surface that is already a wet. This is going to be crucial in controlling how the water is going to spread. If you want to know more about watercolor control and just how much water we're supposed to use in different situations. I talk about this more in detail in my other class on painting a sunset. So definitely check that out if you're interested. But at this point, we are going to now move on to painting the sky. So here I'm using a blue mixed in with a little bit of brown just so the colors are not as saturated, and I'm going to begin painting from the top all the way down to the middle. The great thing about using a flat brush is so that you can take advantage of the shape to paint the straight lines in the sides of the buildings. So it's basically how you don't have to draw out a straight line. You can just use the edge of the flat brush to create that perfectly straight line for you. Then I'm going to add some yellow to the middle parts so the colors transition a little better. At this point, while the sky is still wet, we're going to paint the trees as well. This time use a small brush, mix it in with a color that is a little darker than the sky. So I'm adding a bit of purple into my mixture and start painting with short strokes on the two sides giving the trees more of blurred out look. Next, we are going to extend this to the buildings using a much darker color. So here I'm mixing ultra marine with a brown, and in this art remembers to use the perspective lines to guide you on the angle of these lines. Here, I'm also leaving little white gaps, both in the vertical and diagonal direction, just so that it's not big blocks of color, and there are certain shapes and structures within them that we are seeing. I just want to stress that this is not an easy process, so just take it slow and don't worry if it's not perfect because we will be adding details later on with lines and using our smaller brushes. So don't worry, just so keep practicing this slide. Now just a side note, you can see that as I'm painting this, I'm actually switching between different brushes. This is actually so I don't have to wash the brush for every new color that I use, and not only is this going to save a lot of time, it's actually going to help me in getting better control of the dampness of the brush. This is because of brush that is recently washed off is usually dripping wet, and if we're not aware and don't dry it off properly, it can make our paint mixture very watery and therefore difficult to control. Now we are going to extend these colors that we use for the buildings downwards to the floor, add some of the browns and the blues. Essentially what you want to be doing is to create a darker surrounding environment for the lights in the middle to appear brighter. Remember the four parts that we talked about in the previous video with different values, work together to create both contrasts and harmony. It's going to help us point towards the focal point. For the floor you want to create strokes that are vertical to mimic and exaggerate the light and the reflections from the cars. At this point we're going to keep adding dark blocks of color, just altering between the browns, and the blues, and the yellows to create some transition between them and some variety. You can see that I'm doing this while the layer is still wet so that the colors blend in a little better. After that, if we are satisfied with the overall dark and lightness of the different parts, we can wait for this layer to dry. In our next video we're going to add some more of the details and the little bits, and finally, completing our painting. 6. Adding the Details: In this video we're going to be adding some more of the details to the different parts and I'll walk you through from this to the end of finishing this painting. Now we're going to begin by adding some details to our buildings using the side of your flat brush to help you create those straight lines. Focus on creating the vertical and diagonal lines. You can make some of them shorter, some of them longer. You can make some of them in dotted lines. This will form the details of the windows. You can see that here I am using this while the layer beneath has already dried. The lines are a lot more solid and prominent and it's going to leave harder edges. As we darken the top half of the painting, we're also going to do the same with the bottom half. At this point you can also add some of the perspective lines on the floor. This is going to help define the distance and the space between the car than the entire composition. You can also use your nails to scratch out these white lines and create a texture. Just remember to wash your hands after in, it's no big deal. Moving on, we are going to paint the cars. This time use a light brown. You can mixing a little bit of the yellows and the blues and browns that we used before, and paint little squares around the headlights that are covered with the masking fluid. Once this has dried, we can remove the masking fluid with an eraser or just by rubbing it with your fingers. After that, we can add a little bit more details to the cars. You can very lightly add some yellow to the edges of the mass parts so that the transition between the white is not too big. We're almost there, so we're going to finish off by using a light brown to add some details to the trees. You're going to paint these branches with a dotted line motion. This is going to help it look a lot more natural and a lot more subtle so that it doesn't pull away our focus from the main areas. Great. Now, add any of the finishing touches or any details that you might want to add. This would be a great time to think about the four parts of the composition that we talked about previously. You can ask yourself the questions, are the cars in the light section the brightest? How are the buildings working with the entire composition? Are they dark enough to create that contrast between the cars in the middle? How is the transition between the dark parts in the light parts? Are they working together for the cityscape? Once you feel that it is of the right balance, you can wait for it to dry and then remove the masking fluid and congratulations, you have finished your beautiful sunset painting. In the next video, I'll briefly go over the same process with a different cityscape painting. You can reference both examples and try one of them on your own. 7. Painting Example #2: This is the second painting that we are going to paint here. I've also attached this reference photo in this class so you can try it out on your own. Just as we did before in the planning video, try defining the structure, the perspective of this composition. Try to split this cityscape into different parts and to simplify it. Here we will go through the same process from the beginning with the sketch. We're going to start by marking out the vanishing point and drawing the perspective lines, and we're going to go all the way to sketching the cars and the position of the lights. Then we're going to add the massing fluid just as we did before, and then tape the edges with masking tape. Again, we're going to begin by brushing some water to the lighter parts of the page. We're going to move on to adding some yellow and expanding that into the sky, mixing with some blues and some purples. We'll continue to spy painting downwards to the rest of the composition, and just covering it all in one layer. While this layer is still wet, we're going to mix a thicker paint, so this time add a little bit less of the water into the mixture. We're going to blot out some clouds. Because we're still working on a wet layer, the clouds are going to appear a lot softer, which is what we want. Using a similar technique, we're going to mix an even darker color and paint the brushes towards the side that are beneath the clouds. Then we're going to darken the floor and add some details to the cars, creating a bit more depth. And we're going to continue this process of layering, of adding more details, increasing the contrast between the light and the dark. Just throughout this process, try to remember the parts that you have first identified in the planning stage. Where is the focal point, what are the different elements of this composition, and how are they working together? Focus on the lightness and the darkness of each part. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Try to experiment with using different colors or putting an emphasis on certain parts of the composition. See where it leads to, see what effects it makes. If it doesn't work, then that's okay, you can always paint again. If it does work, then great, you found another way and you found something that works for you. 8. Now... its your turn!: Thank you so much for joining this class. I hope that you enjoyed it. In this class we've talked a lot about putting what we know into practice. So now that you've seen two examples of how to paint cityscapes, it's your turn. Here I've attached both reference photos I use in the class so you can download them and follow the same process I've shown in the videos. You can also upload your paintings in the class project section. I'd love to see your work and if you share your work on social media or Instagram, be sure to tag me. I'd love to see your work there as well. Feel free to message me. I'm always here to help and that's it for today. So I'll see you in our next class. Bye.