One of the most breathtaking sights in the city is when the clouds break after a rainy day just in time for a golden sunset. Irena Spector knows just how to capture the fleeting beauty of those moments in watercolour, and luckily she shared her process with us in a FREE Demo!
Follow these steps to learn her secrets to painting an urban sunset after the rain, complete with car taillights reflecting in the puddles!
Step 1: “Ruin” the page
The most psychologically difficult part of any new watercolour piece is simply starting, especially when it comes to the first page of a new sketchbook! First Page Fear is very real!
There is no going back once you do anything to that piece of paper, so adding the first paint can be scary.
Irena’s advice is to wet the entire paper right away and quickly add splotches of the base colour. If you “ruin” the paper right away, you won’t be afraid of “ruining” it more. I’ll show you what my “ruining” process looked like.
I’m using a mixture of ultramarine blue and a few different browns here to achieve the different complementary mix greys and greens that work well in the background. The redder the brown, the more purple the grey, and the more orange the brown, the greener the grey.
Step 2: Hint at the buildings
While the first wash is still wet, add some indication of the buildings just as a rough guide for your future self, who will be adding the details. Use a more concentrated form of a greener brown you’ve been using for the sky on the building to your right.
For the lighter coloured building, I used the bright turquoise that came right out of the Etchr 24 Half Pan Watercolor Set. It was a perfect colour match to the Live Demo example!
Step 3: Outline major shapes
Irena has a water-soluble orange-yellow pencil, and she uses that to outline the objects in her sketch. The golden colour gives the objects more of a natural glow wherever the sketch shows through the paint, which really helps with the sunset effect.
We've got a great article on how to use water-soluble graphite if you want a more in-depth tutorial on it.
I didn’t have a water-soluble coloured pencil on hand, but my regular one seemed to do the job.
Step 4: Define the foreground
At this stage, we will use those blue and brown mixtures from earlier and a bit more turquoise and define the shadows and colour gradients along with the buildings and puddles again.
Please don’t touch the cars at this point because we’re defining their presence as the focal point by leaving them light. Defining a shape by shading around it is called negative space painting, and it’s a useful watercolour technique!
Step 5: Add car details
This part is super satisfying, and it’ll make your painting feel alive. The wash below it needs to still be wet for it to work.
Use some bright neon orange that would be completely out of place in almost any other setting, and splash it into the taillights of the cars and onto the ground beneath them in streaks to represent puddle reflections.
Then, take a clean brush and scrub some headlight reflections beside the taillight reflections. These will add so much dimension to the painting!
The next thing we can do to make these cars look real is add the window colour!
Use the neutral blue and brown mixtures from throughout the rest of the painting, and darken the windows of the cars. Let a little bit of building colour show through because windows are transparent!
Step 6: Increase the contrast
Now, it’s time to lean into the purpler version of the blue and brown mix. I used the reddest brown with my ultramarine to make it more of a purple than anything else.
Add the shadows under the cars and wherever else you think needs more contrast to define the foreground. Using whatever blending methods you’re comfortable with, make sure the highlights and reflections stay light while the rest of the asphalt looks darker. The mottled and layered colour makes it look like a real water reflection!
Step 7: Add more details to the cars
Irena spends some time here detailing the buildings and the cars with her orange pencil. For the filled-in colour sections, she added water to the lines since her pencil is water-soluble.
In my case, I used yellow watercolour to fill in those areas and achieved the same results. You can achieve this painting if you don’t have specific water-soluble pencils.
Step 8: Add details to the city
Once again, use the blue and brown mix to add some definition to traffic poles, windows, and other things in the city. Use your orange pencil for any details you think would look good in orange pencil.
Step 9: Add the greenery
Using green that’s calmed down with brown and orange, add some vague indication of trees and shrubs. You’ll find that this adds loads of realism, and it’s so easy!
Step 10: Tie it all together
Often, the difference between a professional-looking painting and an amateur one is the level of finish. It’s definitely easy to over-finish a piece, labouring over minute details until the finished product is stiff in appearance and not convincing.
Still, it can also be easy as a beginner to overlook ways to take your piece to the next level just by spending some extra time with it.
As you can see here, Irena takes a fine brush and some white gouache for the highlights and spends a little extra time adding telephone poles and other things like that to make the scene look more realistic. The result is worth the effort!
The last little details can be in coloured pencil. That’s what Irena does, and it’s what I recommend you do too because it’s so effortless.
Once you have the telephone wires in the scene and do any touching up with coloured pencil that you see fit, your piece is done! The glow is beautiful, thanks to the orange pencil!
If Irena’s technique is as helpful to you as it is to me, I highly recommend you check out her Mini Workshop. She will go more in-depth on her process.
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