Landscape painting

Credit: Lois & Morgaine Davidson Art

Table of Content

I. Introduction

II. Essential Materials for Cityscape Watercolor Painting

III. Planning Your Cityscape Composition

IV. Techniques for Watercolor Cityscapes

V. Color Palette Considerations for Cityscapes

VI. Adding Atmosphere and Mood

VII. Answering Specific Questions

VIII. Tips for Capturing Specific Cityscape Features

IX. Common Challenges and Solutions

X. Conclusion


A. Appeal of cityscape watercolor paintings

Cityscape watercolor paintings are enchanting and give an insight into the artist's ability to show versatility and life in motion. The visually interesting night skies, moon, and buildings with lights depicting tiny stars. It is how you play with watercolors to bring your creativity to life.

B. Overview of the unique challenges and opportunities in painting cityscapes

Watercolor is a medium that requires patience, perseverance, and attention to detail to capture the spontaneity of the subject. It showcases the fluidity and transparency that the watercolor artist has to offer. 

Painting cityscapes offer both unique challenges and opportunities. Urban sketching tips within cityscape watercolor serves as a platform for the artists to show the essence of urban life. Watercolor cityscape brings a narrative dimension beyond the architectural features. Some watercolor artists face problems like over-mixing colors, water pigment consistency, and intricate architectural details. In this article, we have provided some tips on how to tackle such challenges.

C. Introduction to the versatility of watercolor in capturing urban landscapes

While deciding on the kind of watercolor cityscape you want to paint, choosing a subject and background colors that show versatility and distinction is crucial. One of the best things about watercolor painting is the various techniques used to create multiple effects.

Essential Materials for Cityscape Watercolor Painting

Drawing Material

 Credit: ZenArt Supplies

A. Quality watercolor paints and brushes

For the best output, selecting the best watercolor paint and brushes for cityscape watercolor painting is essential. Watercolor paint comes in two forms - tubes and pans. Tubes have a moist texture and pasty consistency, whereas pans are hard cakes that need to be moistened.

The best quality watercolor paints are mentioned below:

When buying watercolor brushes, there are three things to remember: hair, size, and shape. 

Brush Set

Credit: ZenArt Supplies

Choose soft bristles when opting for the perfect brush, as watercolor paint is delicate. Most artists use synthetic brushes for their watercolor paintings. Synthetic brushes are firmer, and when in combination with nylon and polyester, they can deliver the best results for your watercolor pet portrait. One can purchase them online on websites.

B. Choosing suitable watercolor paper for cityscapes


Credit: Ece Gurler

Selecting the right paper, brushes, and paint for watercolor cityscape painting can take time and effort. But don’t worry, we’re here for you.

What kind of watercolor press paper do you need to look out for? Let us first look at the differences. 

A cold press paper is more textured than a hot press. Cold-pressed paper absorbs water quicker than hot-pressed paper. But if you want a more detailed and realistic watercolor cityscape painting, go for hot-pressed paper, and if you are opting for a less detailed and looser painting, then opt for cold-pressed paper. Both papers have their characteristics. 

C. Additional tools for detailing and effects

Other tools and materials required for adding details to watercolor painting are a watercolor palette for mixing colors, masking fluid, a micron or another waterproof pen, white gouache paint, or a white gel pen. 

Planning Your Cityscape Composition

A. Selecting a reference photo


Credit: Vector Stock

Choose a reference photo that will serve as an inspiration for your cityscape watercolor painting. Ensure that the reference photo you have chosen has an engaging composition but is simple enough. Reference images should be dynamic and interesting.

B. Sketching the cityscape

Once you have chosen the reference photo, begin by sketching the outline. Sketch lightly and carefully, and if required, use a ruler. Your sketch will be the structure of your artwork. Take as much time as possible to sketch the details. 

Sketch of landcsape

Credit: Craiyon

First, sketch the larger parts of the reference photos, like all buildings and the moon, and then proceed to finer details. Keep going back and forth to the reference photo. Carefully draw windows and the reflection of the buildings in water.

Techniques for Watercolor Cityscapes

A. Layering and Gradients

Add the first wash of watercolor paints. Washes create various effects, from subtle to bold transitions and vice-versa. For painting cityscapes, we will lay down an underpainting, i.e., the background.

Creating a perfect background is most important when dealing with watercolor painting. Hence, it is preferable to start with the background first so that the main subject of the painting does not get messy. Additionally, you can use masking fluid to cover the buildings to prevent background colors from entering the building.

B. Wet-on-Wet Techniques

Using the wet-on-wet technique, prepare a base for your watercolor paint. Using a brush, as suggested above, start by covering the paper with water. This technique is known as wet-on-wet. This technique will give your watercolor cityscape painting a smooth and realistic effect.

Purple color

 Credit: Winsor & NewtonBegin with wetting the paper. Add the undiluted paint of midnight blue to the wet paper and move the brush alternatingly. Moist your brush with clear water and paint the transition from dark to light. Keep in mind the water-to-pigment ratio. Now, incline the board more to spread the paint to the whole surface. At last, remove any excess paint to prevent backruns. Let the wet surface dry completely before progressing to the next part of the painting. 

C. Detailing Architectural Elements

Apply washes of paint on architectural elements like windows, doors, and other unique features. Once the watercolor paint has dried completely, take a micron or white pen and add highlights.

D. Reflections and Water Effects

Like water bodies, reflecting surfaces can add realism and depth to your cityscape painting. They are tricky to get right, but they can make your painting shine once you have achieved perfection.

Night landscape painting

Credit: Freepik

Color Palette Considerations for Cityscapes

A. Choosing a harmonious color scheme

Watercolors, although challenging, are rewarding when working on an art. One can achieve a smooth flat wash with practice.

Practice mixing colors to understand how different colors interact. Learn the basics of color theory from the chart to avoid getting muddy colors in your color palette.

Every artist, new or experienced, should have a color wheel before painting with watercolor.

Using a color wheel chart will help maintain harmony between the colors. Look at the color charts below:

Color wheel

Credit: Online Art Lessons

B. Playing with light and shadow through color variation

Take the color you choose for the first wash, and remember to keep it light. Slowly, try to develop the wash from lighter to darker shades. Eventually, you will understand how to play with colors and how new colors develop after mixing. After that, you can use it in your watercolor wash.

C. Utilizing vibrant and muted tones for different elements

For different elements, use vibrant colors. For example, if you want to create a nighttime cityscape painting, using blue and black colors is a good choice. Blue and black colors create a sense of mystery in the painting. For buildings or house paintings, using subtle or muted watercolors is a decent choice since they will contrast with the background and skies and make your urban life pop.

Adding Atmosphere and Mood

A. Using atmospheric perspective for depth

You can create depth by changing the saturation level of the paint to make it appear as if the background is distant from the foreground. The foreground should look darker. Atmospheric perspective is created using colors and values to create an illusion of distance.

B. Incorporating weather and lighting effects

With the right colors, one can incorporate or show weather effects. Pay attention to how moonlight falls on the buildings at night and use warm colors for street lights and windows. Use warm orange, red, and purple colors for sunset and sunrise scenes to capture the golden hour. Introduce dark tones with enhanced contrasts for stormy weather by applying bold, dynamic brush strokes.

Develop an understanding of different weather in cityscape paintings to create more realistic weather and lighting effects.

C. Creating a sense of time and mood in the cityscape

Creating time and mood in cityscapes involves considerations of lighting, colors, and overall atmosphere. For example, if you want to show in your painting that it is midday, you can use vibrant colors with strong contrasts and choose a clear, bright sky to enhance the midday time. Similarly, if you want to portray night scenes, then opt for colors that have dark tones.

Choose limited colors with soft tones and gentle brushstrokes to create a sense of tranquility in your cityscapes. Use a bold mix of warm and cool undertones for an energetic mood. Sketch dynamic lines and shapes to incorporate strong movements. Build up layers of transparent washes to create depth and intricacies.

Answering Specific Questions

How do you watercolor in cityscapes?

Let's learn how to paint a watercolor cityscape in this step-by-step guide.

The first step is to assemble the materials required:

Reference photo

Watercolor paints


Masking tape

Two water container


Watercolor paper

Take a cold-pressed paper and tape it to a cardboard. With the help of a reference photo, sketch the urban cityscape on your watercolor paper. Apply water on the paper using a brush, which will be the first wash. Squeeze out some ochre yellow on your color mixing palette, and with the help of a bamboo hake brush, create a nice graduated skywash in a horizontal back-and-forth sweep technique. Now, drag some yellow paint over the pavement area a tiny bit across the water. Remember, the foreground and midground are just underpainting. Set it aside and let it dry completely. 

White sheet

Credit: Lois & Morgaine Davidson Art

Make a weak, watery mixture of indigo and ochre yellow, and with the help of a flat brush, carefully paint the buildings. Use horizontal and vertical strokes to add a little bit of variety. You do not have to follow or make a replica completely. Just get an overall geometrical shape of the buildings.

Landscape watercolor painting

Credit: Lois & Morgaine Davidson Art

Try to keep harmony between the colors when layering to darken up the buildings slightly at a distance. Use a slightly darker, richer mix for nearer buildings. Let the watercolor paints dry before jumping to the foreground painting. Now that your colors have dried jump to the foreground painting. Paint the foreground using yellow ochre.

Landscape watercolor painting

Credit: Lois & Morgaine Davidson Art

In this painting, lamp posts that run diagonally through the distance disappear into the vanishing point to the horizon. These lamp posts are a very strong feature, and to justify their importance, we will use grain indigo color for the base of the lamp post, and the thinner upper portion, we will use black color. The nearest one should be the tallest, and keep decreasing the lamppost's height until you reach the last one. Add trees and characters in the background and other necessary details. At last, add highlights using a white gouache or white pen.

Man Painting

Credit: Lois & Morgaine Davidson Art

Tips for Capturing Specific Cityscape Features

A. Urban landscapes with iconic landmarks

How do we capture specific cityscape features? Here, we will provide you with some tips. 

Use strong vertical lines to highlight skyscrapers and tall buildings and apply graduated washes to create a sense of light and shadow. Add vehicles and figures to add life and make it look dynamic. Experiment with bold angular lines to show industrial structures. Focus on unique and attractive features that make your landmark stand out.

B. Painting bustling streets and architectural diversity

Figures and buildings are important in depicting busy life and architectural diversity. Include people and their activities to capture dynamism. Additionally, add various modes of transportation or pedestrians crossing the street.

C. Approaches for night scenes and city lights

Focus on illuminated buildings and focus on the contrast between light and shadow. Select dark tones for the sky and use warm colors for streetlights and windows. Additionally, add reflections and highlights for a realistic portrayal of city lights.

Common Challenges and Solutions

A. Overcoming challenges with perspective  

Maintaining an accurate perspective can be challenging when it comes to detailed cityscapes. To solve this problem, sketching a light outline to establish the perspective before adding details is recommended. Use reference photos to maintain accuracy.

B. Dealing with intricate details in cityscapes

Dealing with intricate details in cityscapes is challenging, especially concerning intricate features such as windows, doors, or other architectural features. You can use fine brushes to create controlled details or use a masking fluid to reserve part of the paper for highlights.

C. Troubleshooting common watercolor issues

Creating watercolor cityscapes can be a challenging yet rewarding artistic endeavor. Let’s look at some of the common watercolor issues along with their solutions:

Color bleeding: One of the most common challenges is bleeding colors from one subject into another, especially in intricate cityscape details. We can use masking fluid or tape to protect particular areas before applying paint to avoid color bleeding.

Overmixing colors: Another problem for a newcomer artist is not having appropriate knowledge of color mixing. Overmixing colors leads to unattractive, muddy colors. Use a color wheel to solve this problem.

Waterflow control: Getting the right amount of water on paper becomes difficult, leading to unwanted puddles. For this, let gravity do its thing when working with watercolor washes. Gravitational force pulls down the paint on the surface, giving it a natural luminous look. Wipe off excess water with a clean cloth to prevent water from overflowing. 


Recap of techniques and tips for watercolor cityscapes

Let’s recap what we learned in this article.

We looked into the appealing aspect of cityscape watercolor painting, its challenges, and the essential materials required. Then, we dived into layering, gradient wash, and wet-on-wet techniques in watercolor cityscapes. We also looked into various tips for capturing specific cityscape features. 

Once you have mastered the art of cityscape paintings, you can sell them on any e-commerce website and earn an income for yourself.