Paris cityscape

Ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games, in Paris, Alan Bickley demonstrates a Parisian cityscape in mixed media using watercolour, gouache and pencil.

Introduction

For this demonstration I’ve had to rely on royalty free photos for this relatively loose representation of this wonderful iconic landmark. I’ve deliberately avoided any photos of the Eiffel Tower positioned central within the scene, but preferred this monumental structure to be positioned off to the side and not take centre stage on this occasion! It can tend to give the illusion of dividing the image into two halves if it’s centred!

I’m not looking for an architectural style sketch, but a simplified view of the scene, my interpretation in fact, and in my preferred loose style. Saying that, I did feel that in certain areas, I was starting to add too much detail to the buildings in particular, so I had to reign myself in!

I’ve used a variety of medium but predominantly water based, with a few white chalk highlights.

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Sketchbook inspiration

Paris sketch

Pont Neuf Bridge across the Seine, Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook, A4

Above is my sketchbook impression of the Pont Neuf Bridge which was completed using a Rotring Ticky pen for the finer line work, and a Tombow marker pen to block in the darker areas - a watercolour wash was added at the end.

It can be quite a useful aid to include a colour swatch as you go along as this might be useful if you want to work up a larger more finished piece in the studio at a later date.

Paris sketch

Pont des Arts & Eiffel Tower from the Pont des Neuf

The image above shows a loose interpretation pen and wash sketch across two pages in my Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook 14 x 21.5cm (5.5 x 8.5in).

There was no particular attempt at accuracy as I was looking for an expressive interpretation of the scene.

Paris stage one

Preliminary sketch for the demonstration below

The above image shows my preliminary sketch to work out the basic composition for the demonstration below.

This didn’t form part of my work in progress as I wasn’t overly happy with it and started afresh with a new sheet of paper, however it's interesting to note that not every piece of artwork will work out - never be afraid to abandon something and start afresh though, after all, it’s only a piece of paper!

Demonstration: I Love Paris in the Springtime...

Materials used

Wallace Seymour watercolour discs:

  • Florence Red
  • Bergundy yellow ochre
  • Madder lake
  • Burgundy apricot ochre
  • Blue verditer

Gouache:

  • Burnt sienna
  • Raw sienna
  • Dark orange

Paper:

  • Two Rivers 200lb Turner Blue watercolour paper. I’ve worked on a half imperial sheet, the image is much smaller, but I like to have plenty of space around my illustration for testing my colours etc.

Brushes:

  • Size 1 rigger brush
  • Size 6 Dalon synthetic Round

Pencil:

  • 2B Wolff’s carbon pencil
Stage one

Preliminary sketch

Preparation:

For this demonstration, I’m working on a half imperial sheet of paper. It’s around 200lb in weight, so didn’t need stretching. I did take the precaution of adding in a few randomly placed vertical and horizontal lines using my tee-square and a pencil, I didn’t want to risk ending up with leaning buildings and particularly the tower itself! Something that I don’t generally do, but it was worth the effort of drawing in a few strategic guide lines.

Composition:

I plunged straight in with the general outline of the composition, using my rigger brush and a Wallace Seymour Florence red watercolour disc. You could just as easily have used a pen for this stage of course, but I opted to draw using my rigger brush on this occasion.

Working method:

My method of working is to use multiple lines, both horizontal and vertical, and then strengthening some of them as I progress. You can clearly see this if you enlarge any section.

Top tips:

My advice here is not to try and lay down one single accurate line in a single stroke, we’re trying to inject some energy and excitement into our drawing. Don’t, under any circumstance be tempted to use a straight edge such as a ruler… it will be obvious and it doesn’t look good - leave that to the architects!

Stage two

Paris stage two

I started to block in some of the main structures such as the buildings and tower, and began to define the arched bridge a bit more.

Top tips:

Note that I’m working over the whole of the composition, including adding spots of colour for the reflected images in the water. Don’t work on isolated areas and try and bring them to a finish, it doesn’t work!

This is one of the main reasons for failure, scratching around and spending an eternity on a single area… that, and the other main reason is to try and draw a single accurate line in one stroke, much better to use numerous pen or brush strokes, eventually strengthening the edge of the selected one.

Stage three

Paris stage three

Now is the time to inject some more depth and tonal value to the whole image.

We’re trying to create the illusion of a three-dimensional image from a two-dimensional piece of paper! That’s the challenge, and it’s a relatively simple method to achieve this.

Don’t be afraid to add tone, so many aspiring artist’s that I see online produce weak and insipid images. My top tip is to go in strong with these darkest areas, remember that watercolour dries considerably lighter. Rowland Hilder often started off a painting by blocking in his darkest tones using black Indian ink, one of the reasons that his work is so easily recognised.

I’ve been more subtle here as you can see, but I hope that you take that advice onboard! I’ve used a touch of gouache to loosely indicate the shapes of the trees that line the River Seine, perfect for breaking up the straight lines of the buildings, as well as adding interest.

Paris detail

Close-up detail of stage three showing my method of using multiple lines and fast flowing brush work. This all helps to add a degree of interest to a sketch.

Stage four

Paris

At this stage the painting is pretty much finished but I just tidied up a few loose ends.

The roofs of the buildings were strengthened a touch, as were the shadows falling on the buildings, and I’ve added some depth to the base of the trees.

Finally, I’ve picked out a few highlights using white pastel on some of the buildings and bridge. Don’t go overboard here, we don’t want highlights scattered everywhere, they become a distraction to the viewer. I’ve left the sky as I considered that there was enough to digest, and adding clouds etc, could possibly have been an unnecessary distraction, although I did consider adding a light graduated wash of neutral tint… but decided against it!

Conclusion

I hope that this short demonstration has been useful to one or two of you, even if you only take one idea away from it.

Many of you will not be confident enough to dive straight in with line work, so you can draw everything out in pencil first, I suggest a 2B. Don’t fall into the trap of adding in too much detail at this stage, it isn’t necessary.

Talking of detail, I’ve deliberately kept it to a minimum, including just the essential elements, or bare bones if you like. Let the viewer fill in the missing detail.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE TOWN AND CITYSCAPE DEMOS

About Alan Bickley

Alan writes regularly for The Artist and has produced a large number of demonstrations for PaintersOnline which can be seen by clicking here.

SEE ALAN'S WORK IN THE GALLERY

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