How to Paint Urban Landscapes Like the Impressionists
A friend and I were recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and she was adamant—as my sore wrist can attest—that we go immediately to see one particular painting, and so she grabbed me none-too-gently and we dodged, whirled, and scooted our way through the crowds to get to it fast.
It was Monet’s Garden at Sainte Adresse and I completely understood what the rush was all about. You see, cityscapes of the Impressionists are some of my absolute favorites, too. Though the Impressionists (when they first exhibited as a group they took the name of the Anonymous Society) painted so many subjects, it is the revitalized Paris scenes of the public gardens, the dance halls, the concerts, and the cafes that capture my gaze with the most intensity and seem most in keeping with the idea of “impressionist” painting with its high spirits, looseness, and energy.
If you paint urban landscapes, finding the right scene and the right balance of what can be an overwhelming number of elements can be tough. That’s why I recommend keeping in mind these tips:
- Paint Davids and Goliaths. Cityscapes by their very nature are going to have people—lots of them. Make sure one or two figures stick out—maybe they are in motion or are wearing bright colors—and the rest of the figures appear to recede, presented with less detail and in more muted colors.
- Don’t forget the directions. Cities or urban landscapes have lots of things that adorn them: trains, bridges, broad avenues, public sculptures, ports, and more. As a visitor to these places, you can get mixed up and turned around easily. The same can be said for a viewer of a cityscape that lacks direction or focus. Too many elements pointing us every which way can be confusing. Pick a point of view that enhances the elements you depict, not tangles them all together.
- Right off the edge. Cityscapes are unlike other paintings because there is a unique kind of energy to such a setting. To capture that pulse, consider sweeping your composition right off the canvas so that the viewer realizes how vibrant and larger-than-life the place you depict is.
- Color isn’t the answer. An urban landscape filled with color is like a jewelry box full of sparkling goodies. But you don’t put on every piece of jewelry in your collection, do you? You want to be tasteful and balanced in your color schemes for cityscapes and, in fact, paring down to a few pops of color can be just as, if not more, effective than including every color you see.
The Impressionists embraced the city of Paris and its people as a beloved subject. If you have the same ken for cityscapes, you will absolutely love Thomas Schaller’s Capturing Light in Watercolor: How to Paint Cities. This video workshop give you the tools to take on the city and see it come alive at the tip of your paint brush. Enjoy!