Accomplished watercolourist Uma Kelkar is also a fantastic teacher. We are fortunate to get a FREE Live Demo with her! If you have ever struggled to make your nighttime watercolour scenes look realistic, this is the demo for you. Before she even begins her painting, she shares some incredible nuggets of artistic wisdom.

The first building blocks to a successful painting, according to Kelkar, are perspective and composition. The very first thing you must do is make sure your horizon line is at the viewer’s hypothetical eye level, then chose a vanishing point to have every single thing in the scene recede to. If you don’t get this right, nothing else will look right, no matter how skilled you are in the other aspects.

Once you have perspective figured out, it’s time to make sure your composition is fascinating. A good composition is asymmetrical, with different elements and shifts in value that lead the eye in a circle throughout the entire painting, drawing the viewer to a focal point but not leaving them stuck there.

Once you’ve got those fundamentals in your mind, it’s time to begin!

Because Kelkar recommends doing a unique painting rather than copying hers, that’s what I did. I found a winter night scene reference that used similar colours and went for it!

The beginning of my painting was a beautiful wet-on-wet, greyed out yellow layer to represent the light coming from the city. Kelkar’s tips about mixing your own neutral tint were beneficial, seeing as I didn’t have any neutral tint of my own. I mixed up browns, blues, greens, yellows, and reds until I was happy with my neutral tint.

Adding the deep night sky was a satisfying step for me. It was so counter-intuitive for me to use yellow for the night sky, but Kelkar explained it wonderfully, and I knew she taught me well.

She did a helpful demonstration with a coloured light filter, describing how to make believable lighting with any colour scheme, which helped me understand what I was doing with this painting.

I made the colour just a tiny bit more blue-tinted for the buildings because that’s how they appeared in my reference. Using the same colours in the sky as the base for that mixture helped the painting stay cohesive.

I added just a bit more of a cool red for the road. It turned out super satisfying because it tied in with the deeper part of the sky.

Using the deeper mixture again, I added the shadow along the sidewalk and the light pole. It’s scary to add darker colours, but with experience, you will become braver! I am starting to get more confident, but it has been a journey.

I used my homemade neutral tint to grey out these shadows in the windows and the doors. In retrospect, I probably should have switched to a smaller brush to make these lines more precise because that would have helped me in the realism department.

I used gentle, light brushstrokes to make shingles on the buildings, leaving room for the snow but still gently shading the snow because it is, after all, nighttime. I didn’t want to make the shingles too detailed because that would distract from the focal point of the light area at the end of the street.

After adding the rest of the details, I looked at the painting again and realized something was missing. After adding some white gouache for the lamppost, thinking that a highlight was all the work needed, I realized that I had no choice but to do the scary thing and add a huge wash of dark brown on top of everything to add more contrast.

It was really scary, but I’m so happy I did it because it definitely helped the focal point stand out.

To fix some of the rough edges in the painting, I added some gently broken outlines with a wine-coloured fine line felt pen. Doing so certainly messed up the realism, but sometimes it’s okay to be a bit stylistic.

I’m not sure how I feel about my result, but I always say that if you paint consistently, you will make so many paintings in the course of your life that you can take a chance on them. Another one will happen tomorrow, so you can take a chance today!

Uma Kelkar is a fantastic teacher who gets right to the point in her lessons and brings such a fun energy to the process, so I highly recommend checking out her live demo. You can find it here

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator and graphic novelist based in Minnesota. She specializes in all things cozy and calm, but adds humor where she can. When she isn’t drawing, she enjoys playing musical instruments, but you’re more likely to see her staring at some silly tree or something. 

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