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Painting Urban Spaces: Cityscapes

Painting Urban Spaces: Cityscapes

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Painting Urban Spaces: Cityscapes

287 pages
1 hour
Aug 4, 2015


Look at the city with new eyes and discover an exciting resource for creating dynamic designs. Explore ways to deal with hard edges and geometry that do not involve a compass and ruler.
The ebook is presented in three sections.
Section 1. The keys of design, geometry and pattern unlock the subject matter.
Section 2. Explores the pavements we walk on, the exteriors that surround us and the interiors that envelop us as material for imagery.
Section 3. I intend to inspire you with my personal journey of discovery and the development of an artist’s eye. It shows how a series of work evolves. This is both insightful and liberating for those who have no idea where to start with this subject matter.
Paint life as you see it today and reward your viewer with images that show them your urban world. This ebook opens your eyes and gives clues to help you harness your ideas and get them on to your paper or canvas. The discussion is relevant to all media because of the subject information. The specific examples in watercolor make it a must for artists working in this medium.
Aug 4, 2015

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Painting Urban Spaces - Ev Hales



Urban spaces are built for people, sometimes millions of people. Residential areas, leisure and entertainment facilities and office spaces for both private and government use are all part of urban design. Often the biggest challenge for any city is to facilitate the vehicular and pedestrian traffic generated by so many people.

If designers could see into the future and assess changing requirements then urban design may be quite different from the one that merely evolves. The best layouts work when planned from a street grid and the land is sculpted or the grid works into the topography of the site. However this rarely happens. An example of a juxtaposed planned but ancient city is Lisbon when an earthquake reduced a large part of the city to rubble and during the rebuild the streets were redesigned. Here the new city and the old sit side by side.

When a city just evolves and grows incrementally there are more challenging issues for access into and movement around it. In the past a cathedral or mosque was at the heart of a city. The streets created the grid, sometimes formal, sometimes not, around which buildings were added and the city grew.

Few people envisaged the demands and changes our car oriented lifestyles would have on our way of life. In most large cities replanning is needed to divert traffic around the center to an outer network, reducing congestion in the inner city. Often another underground network is built for car, bus and train traffic creating a layered subterranean labyrinth.

The individual buildings that exist above ground are based on simple geometric shapes and repetitions thereof. These shapes, which can be as large as an entire city block, are further divided into units of both single and multi-storeyed spaces that maximise the land use. Unlike domestic architecture, a city has massive, incredibly complex structures. Modern commercial buildings have such vast areas under one roof that their spaces become a mini city within a city. Rooms, corridors, interior voids, lifts, escalators, windows (both interior and exterior) and roof structures are all part of these complex buildings.

In this way a city will evolve. Because most cities have grown over many centuries we have quirky, sometimes questionably workable, but nevertheless dynamic urban spaces.

However the whole focus for a city is about people and moving large numbers of them easily in confined spaces. The pedestrian traffic is moved along both indoor and outdoor roads. The scale of a subject is immediately evident if there is a figure in the painting as seen in Plate 2. In some situations the figures are as minuscule as ants in a natural setting and are dwarfed by the size and scale of the buildings they move in and around.

If the people are removed from a city, the space will stagnate. Because the main focus of this ebook is urban spaces, the figure is merely referred to. If you require comprehensive information regarding how to paint figures then Volume 7, Figures Add Focus will answer those questions.

This ebook is divided into three sections

The first section discusses the technical issues and principles of this subject. This includes chapters on Design, Geometry and Pattern. The next section deals with the features of urban spaces - Pavements, Exteriors, Interiors and Reflections. The third section of this ebook focuses on two areas of personal interest, Café culture and Escalators. These chapters show how I have explored these themes.

Section 1:


Dynamic designs and compositions associated with urban places can be dramatic. Urban spaces, because of their scale, allow for bird’s eye and warped viewpoints requiring unusual solutions. In a city where geometry is so evident the abstract component is obvious in the design. This encourages artists to learn how to use abstraction positively in their image making and manipulate that imagery without needing to work to a list of design rules. Creating eye catching designs is merely the starting point for a discussion on composition.


Because geometric shapes are so visible in the urban environment, understanding the dynamics of different geometric shapes will allow you to enhance your story. The shapes are used differently from the geometry discussed in Volume 6 Painting Buildings where traditional viewpoints dominate the imagery. Here, dynamic lines rather than traditional perspectives will engage you in urban spaces. Learning how to work with segments of geometric shapes, like arcs rather than full circles, or triangles created by using just a segment of a rectangle, will all result in more dramatic shapes, Plate 3. I will explore the tools required to make such geometric marks.


Underlying all of this geometry and design is repetitive pattern. Streets form grids, windows break up wall spaces, street poles and signs dot roads and pavements to guide pedestrians, see Plate 4. These markers become a vertical emphasis. Steps and stairs form horizontal bands across the canvas. Artificial lights and colors attract attention amid large areas of neutral gray. All in all, any urban space is a pattern maker’s paradise.

All patterns require repetition of mark and when the pattern is regular there are more challenges for the artist to hold the viewer’s attention. The ability to make regular crisp marks without being boring is one of the technical challenges for artists when working with this subject. It does not have to be a tedious process.

Section 2: The different features of urban life


Pavements and roads form the links of a city and pictorially they become an artistic opportunity. A road is almost a blank canvas that is rich in information and littered with symbolic marks - visual calligraphy if you like. Pavements are built for people and therefore figures are often part of these spaces. The pavement or road can also be an area of neutrality in color against other more dynamic spaces and objects.


The exteriors of public buildings are different from the textural patterning of domestic architecture. The size can be intimidating, calming, inspiring or protective. The structures of a city street block the sun-filled natural world. The shop fronts and buildings confine and cocoon us in a man-made environment. Often only a small area of blue sky will be seen above the palette of gray that is the basic color of urban spaces. As such, this small clear color becomes very important. Other colors intrude in splashes or accents on the signs in shops, cars on the street or on clothing. How to paint large areas of gray and make them interesting is one of the challenges for an artist.


Because the scale of buildings can be massive, amazing interior spaces exist, so very different from domestic architectural subjects, see Plate 5. Increasingly, open void spaces are used for transportation blocks like escalators and lifts as well as commercial activity such as restaurants and shops without walls. The sky is screened and the air temperature controlled.


Urban buildings often display building materials that are both reflective and shiny. When these materials are used extensively they mirror the world around them, playing a dynamic role in expanding the sense of the dimensions of interior spaces. In an urban setting a reflection can echo an aspect of your scene or be used to soften a stark area in your work. A reflection becomes a way to include some unseen element of a place that can be contrived and on occasions be absurd, or to introduce an intriguing element.

Section 3: Follow an artist’s exploration into the urban world

Café Culture and Escalators

In this section I will take you on an artist’s eye journey of picture building in urban spaces. Paintings can be literal translations of a subject or they can be a vehicle for an artist to play with imagery. Philosophically, I believe my art should represent my life today and so this world is a rich source of inspiration for what I choose to paint. I find the whole urban environment one huge visual playground where I can dream, focus, wander and explore without boundaries. I will show you where some of these explorations have taken me as an artist and how several series of works have developed.

Do you see this utilitarian world as not romantic enough to capture in paint?

The preceding introduction reveals the essence of this ebook. I hope the curiosity bump is starting to itch. Enjoy this stroll through our urban spaces, discover ways to change your perspective as you view life from different angles and find a new world of inspiration in these everyday places. Explore this volume and see through my eyes what Painting Urban Spaces has to offer the artist in you.

1. Design


The general arrangement or layout of a product. Plan, concept, layout, form, shape, pattern. These words taken from the dictionary definition of the word design all deal with arrangements. For an artist this translates as an arrangement of shape and color.

When I studied design at art school, one of our very first exercises was to take a circle and a square and using a minimum of three cuts from the shape, reassemble the pieces in such a way that there was still the sense of a circle or square. I spent hours and created an intricate design. One of my friends cut

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