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St. John's Alley, Devizes (14inx10in)
St. John's Alley, Devizes (14inx10in)

How to Paint Watercolour Towns and Cityscapes


Judi Whitton - Posted on 29 Sep 2010

Points to consider when painting in a town:
  • Have you found something that really appeals to you?
  • How might this subject work as a painting?
  • Are you in a sensible spot to paint?
  • Is the skyline interesting?
  • Can you create a lead-in?
  • Is there a promising design of light and shaded areas?

Judi’s problem-solving tips:
  • If you find yourself too close to the subject, look around to see if there is something else to paint.
  • If there is no alternative, or you choose to be close, devise imaginative ways of making the picture work.
  • If the subject is very complex you could use a viewfinder to isolate a limited area, or you could paint a vignette.
  • Remember you can plan your picture using a ‘pre-framing’ method or starting from an area within.
  • Take particular care over painting windows. If there are a lot of similar windows, paint some literally and hint at others.

Constructing a picture

If you are happy with a scene and have found a suitable place to settle, how do you begin to construct your picture? Many artists like to use a viewfinder to isolate an area that can be mapped out on the watercolour paper. The boundaries of the scene observed through the viewfinder are fitted within the edges of the watercolour paper from the start, assuming they have the same aspect ratio.
There is another approach however, where a viewfinder is not brought into play. Here the drawing begins from a small area within the observed view and creeps outwards towards the paper boundaries. Some artists prefer to use watercolour with no preliminary drawing. For me, however, the graphite lines form an integral part of the finished work. To keep a sense of freedom in the mark making it is worth being disciplined about practising your drawing skills. In his perceptive book The Amateur (Sidgwick and Jackson, 1985), Lord Thorneycroft said ‘Strive with all one’s might to keep the fluency of the first lines we draw with pencil, pen or brush flowing throughout the painting.’
The way you draw is to do with personal preference. The sketch made with a ruler (below centre) was certainly easier to achieve than the approach shown in the free-hand drawing (below) but you may feel it is worth striving to achieve a more expressive look.

From the beginning, the drawing is planned within the boundaries of the paper

The developing drawing

This sketch of the central area was simply copied from the reference and drawn with a ruler. There is no expression in the drawing – it is lifeless and dull

Here is the same subject with emphasis given to capturing the feeling of the place rather than a literal interpretation. The drawing was completed in a more ‘painterly’ and expressive fashion

Dartmouth by Judi Whitton

Dartmouth, watercolour on Schut Noblesse 140lb (300gsm), 9x12in (23x30.5cm).
In a large town a viewfinder is useful to isolate a manageable area for painting. If the viewfinder has the same aspect ratio as your paper then you can simply map out the observed scene.

The full article by Judi can be found in the November 2010 issue of The Artist.

Judi has also provided some additional, bonus material exclusively for subscribers to our e-newsletters, relating to her article which featured in the October 2010 issue. This bonus features page will be available via our next newsletter, register by October 5th 2010 to make sure you receive your copy.

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