How to Paint City Night Shots

Written by carol kory
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How to Paint City Night Shots
Working from photographs will give you time to plan for the detail work of tiny lights in a city night scene. (Simon Willms/Lifesize/Getty Images)

A nocturne painting describes a scene at night and contains impressions of lights, silhouettes and colours found only after sunset. A city skyline at twilight presents various opportunities for the artist to practice the art of nocturne painting. In the process, the artist will become well versed in rendering the glow of street lights and car lights and the varying reflections on metal, glass and water.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Enlarged photograph of your city scene
  • Stretched canvas with layer of gesso
  • Acrylic paints
  • Large, medium and small acrylic brushes
  • Ruler

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  1. 1

    Work from your own photograph. Take several shots of your scene at night, making adjustments to the shutter speed to capture the lighting effects. Make an enlarged photocopy of the image and create a grid of 2-inch squares.

  2. 2

    Divide your canvas into a grid based on a one-to-one ratio with your photograph; the canvas will have the same number of squares as your photograph. How big your squares are depends on your canvas size. They can be as large as you like, but they should match the number of squares on your photo.

  3. 3

    Draw your city according to your grid. Draw the shapes in each square of your canvas to match the shapes you see in each square of your photo. Pay close attention to glaring bright lights and interesting reflections. Outline the areas of greatest highlight and contrast. Capturing these elements will give you the most realistic effects in your painting.

  4. 4

    Work from background to foreground with acrylic paints. Blend your hues to represent the colour of the sky at twilight. Use midnight blue, violet and muted cerulean with a hint of a warm sunset near the horizon line. Paint colours in your cloud formations to reflect the fading sunlight. A pure black night sky is not realistic.

  5. 5

    Choose colours for the silhouette of your buildings that are darker than your sky in order to create depth in your composition. Lay in the colours of your buildings according to the colours of your photographs. Blend dark greys and blues with reds and purple to create gradation in your buildings so that they do not appear flat against the sky. Pay close attention to the sides of the buildings that catch reflected light. Avoid painting the areas of highest contrast -- spire lights, high reflections, lamp lights or head lights -- until the end of your painting.

  6. 6

    Blend small amounts of colour with lots of white to create tints for your city street lights. Pale yellow, pale pink, bright orange and light blue will help vary the different glows in the city scene. Once you paint your tints in the lightest areas, use a detail brush to dab a bit of pure white in the centre of each light to make it shine. Then soften the glow around the outside of the tinted colour with a dry brush to blend it against rest of the night scene.

  7. 7

    Use a ruler to evenly stipple the smallest lights -- typically lighted building windows -- of your composition. Pale tints on dark grey tones will create a realistic glittering effect. This step may take the longest amount of time, but the result will be a detailed portrayal of city buildings lit up at night.

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