Colors of the City
Watercolor Painting by Dennis Pendleton. We keep getting more snow in Denver so I decided to talk about this painting of downtown. I was lucky when I took the reference photo's because it was a wet snow that stuck to everything and, for some reason, there were these orange cones and barrels, maybe to keep people from wandering onto the light rail tracks. I actually rode on one of the light rail cars for a few blocks so that I could look out the windows and see all this from a different perspective. I wanted to indicate the canyon effect of the tall buildings leading down to the light rail so I tipped them in slightly and left off the details on the one on the right. Also I wanted to show the snow on the poles and traffic lights so I used a simple shape behind them. Deciding what to leave out can be just as important as what to include.
People always add interest and animation to a scene and in this case, with their winter clothes, it gave me a chance to add bits of color throughout the middle ground. Also, their gestures add rhythm and movement. The snow covered cones and barrels along with the light rail headlights are arranged to lead the viewer's eye into the center of the middle ground. The repetition of their orange and red-orange colors help tie together a complicated painting. Because I don't use white paint or masking fluid, I had to carefully leave unpainted white paper any where I wanted snow and then I used soft edges of cerulean blue to show how the snow was piled up. The foreground is fairly simple with the tracks leading up to the light rail car and, again, unpainted white paper with cerulean blue shading and spattering. I have heard that painting in watercolor is like playing chess where you are constantly thinking several moves ahead.
This is a historic area of Denver where the old brick buildings have been preserved and I enjoyed painting them with their intricate lines and ledges which allowed the snow to pile up. For the sky and most distant building, I used cerulean blue and, for the distant trees, cerulean blue mixed with a little olive green. The buildings on the left are mostly earth tones of burnt sienna, raw umber and very light yellow ochre along with grays mixed with cerulean blue and cadmium red. The utility poles and the darker parts of the light rail car are a mixture of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna and the light rail car window is a mixture of cerulean blue and indigo.
If you have never painted a cityscape I recommend it because of the interesting challenges presented by the different shapes and all the hustle of the pedestrians and traffic. Happy Painting! Dennis Pendleton
Starting February 7th, I am teaching a four week In-Person class at the Art Students League of Denver titled "Vehicles In The Watercolor Cityscape" and it meets once a week on Tuesday nights from 6-9 p.m. You can sign up through the Art Students League website or call 303-778-6990. Join me and have fun painting street cars, buses, and taxicabs, as they move through the city.