Perspective: prendre la rue

“Learning to take risks is an essential aspect of being creative with color,” says artist and author Brian Keeler (tweet this quote). You may be familiar with his nocturnes in oil, such as Keuka Nocturne with Mares’ Tails, which we’ve featured before. Today, view one of Brian’s demonstrations on drawing perspective with a vibrant and colorful cityscape. This comes from his new book, Dramatic Color in the Landscape, which is available at North Light Shop and with more than 100 additional books for artists through the artistmagazine eBook club. Enjoy! ~Cherie

Keeler’s materials for this demonstration: 

Surface: Stretched medium-weave linen, 26″ × 30″
Paint colors: Alizarin Crimson • Burnt Umber • Cerulean Blue • Chromium Oxide Green
• Cobalt Blue • Naples Yellow • Permanent Rose • Phthalo Green • Prussian Blue
• Ultramarine Blue • Venetian Red • White • Yellow Ochre
Other: Raw Sienna acrylic paint

Cityscape: Perfecting Street Scene Perspective by Brian Keeler

In this cityscape, our goals are to show the meeting of nineteenth-century architecture and today, showing old buildings contrasted in the reflections on a modern car, while demonstrating one-point perspective. In this scene, the midday sun was also creating interesting effects and bringing out the geometric designs of the buildings, which contrasted with the fluid curvilinear reflections on the car.

Cityscape: Perfecting Street Scene Perspective, by Brian Keeler |

Step One. Pin this painting demonstration!

1. Mind perspective as you sketch
Working on a canvas tinted with Raw Sienna acrylic, begin the drawing with Burnt Umber paint. The drawing stage here requires a lot of work and attention to details. This is essentially one-point perspective, with the vanishing point indicated with an “X” above the car’s luggage rack on the passenger side.

Cityscape: Perfecting Street Scene Perspective, by Brian Keeler |

Step Two

2. Establish a light to start
Start the painting stage by blocking in the light of the building on the right (I used Chromium Oxide Green, Naples Yellow and white to achieve the desired hue). Also begin to work on the signage. I particularly like the slant of light coming through the drugstore sign.

Cityscape: Perfecting Street Scene Perspective, by Brian Keeler |

Step Three

3. Block in and mass the darks
Start blocking in the shadow areas. This scene lends itself to painting because of the nice division of light and dark. It is helpful to try to mass the darks so they are more or less consistent in value. Use Burnt Umber with Phthalo Green and sometimes Venetian Red to create a sort of low-chroma, even nondescript shadow. For shadows, sometimes we increase the intensity as the Impressionists were known to do; at other times, as I did here, we exaggerate the mystery by keeping them less defined, with thinner paint and less detail.

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Cityscape: Perfecting Street Scene Perspective, by Brian Keeler |

Step Four

4. Start the car
Start to work on the reflected surface of the car in the foreground. The patterns of distorted reflections in the car add to the appeal of this image. Use a variety of blues, but keep them toned down or of minimized intensity. In the shadow area, use Ultramarine Blue with Burnt Umber and perhaps some Prussian Blue. In the light areas, the blue is a mixture of Cerulean Blue, white and Alizarin Crimson. In the windshield, the mauve is achieved by adding more Alizarin Crimson or Permanent Rose.

Cityscape: Perfecting Street Scene Perspective, by Brian Keeler |

Step Five

5. Begin the sky and street
Now block in the large areas of the sky and the street. While painting these, it is important to keep in mind the value relationships, determining what is light against dark or dark against light. For the sky, use Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue and white in varying degrees. The street is sunlit and light in value, a warm gray comprised of white, Burnt Umber, Chromium Oxide Green and Yellow Ochre.

Cityscape: Perfecting Street Scene Perspective, by Brian Keeler |

Step Six

6. Work on details and building contrast
Begin developing the woman hailing the cab and articulating details in the buildings and the car in the foreground. For the car, add some darker accents and increase the chroma in certain colors. Now articulate some of the details of the reflected buildings in the hood. The orange in the hood of the car in step 5 was still the undercoat showing through, and here I have painted this area. The steering wheel remains as the tinted undercoat and serves well as it is, with only minor additions. Push the highlights, adding glints in the mirror and the trim of the car.

The sky has had several layers of pigment added, and at this stage you want to move to a cooler blue, which means adding more Ultramarine Blue while darkening the value at the top. Darken the building on the right using Burnt Umber and perhaps some Venetian Red.

Cityscape: Perfecting Street Scene Perspective, by Brian Keeler |

Hailing the Cab (oil on linen, 26×30) by Brian Keeler

7. Bring the forms to fruition
In this final stage, continue to develop details and model form. Add some color to the cabs in the background and interject some lavender-like colors into the pavement. Make the sidewalk on the right darker and cooler with Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber, to contrast it with the sunlit street.

One of the challenges of this painting was that I was using two references that were not in complete agreement. This necessitated manipulating and inventing the perspective in the car in order to get the orthogonals to lead toward the vanishing point. There is somewhat of a distortion caused by the wide-angle lens used for the photo reference, which in this case warps and makes the perspective lines curvilinear. ~Brian Keeler

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