Exploring the Magic of Lights, Shadows, and Perspective
Are you eager to sketch a captivating nocturnal street scene? The interplay of illuminations and darkness, the diverse light sources from billboards, storefronts, and streetlights, along with the artful mastery of perspective and proportions are the key elements you need to embrace.
In this guide, we’ll take a journey to discover how to create a night street scene. We’ll start with the first sketch and then go into details like shadows. By the end, you’ll know how to make a lively and atmospheric nighttime street drawing.
Before we start sketching, it’s crucial to contemplate how the street should come to life and pinpoint the essential elements. It’s best to prepare by seeking inspiration from the world around you and looking for good reference photos.
My inspiration comes from the bustling streets of Seoul, South Korea. I’ve chosen a side street adorned with an array of billboards, small shops, and a few pedestrians. The buildings stand at different heights, and the occasional utility pole punctuates the scene.
Creating a sketch like this demands time and dedication. In my case, I spent two days on it. Keep in mind that the duration depends on the level of detail you aim to capture.
For a street scene, having a strong grasp of perspective is invaluable. Streets are often brought to life through the central perspective. This technique presents an endless road vanishing into the distant horizon.
In my work, the central perspective takes center stage, with the buildings on the left and right sides adhering to it.
To avoid monotony and create a more dynamic composition, I also introduce a two-point perspective.
For instance, the central road in my drawing is disrupted by a building that tapers according to this two-point perspective.
I also incorporate objects that follow various perspectives, adding depth and visual interest. It’s essential to ensure that all vanishing points align along the same horizontal line for a correct perspective portrayal.
To make your street scene come to life with people, getting the proportions right is super important. If you don’t pay attention to this, you might end up with weird things.
A few years ago, I drew a street scene in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and I didn’t know how to draw proportions correctly at the time. The result was a giant riding a bicycle through my sketch. He was not only taller than the tuk-tuks next to him but also taller than the people in the foreground.
To avoid these issues, start by sketching a person in the foreground, making sure they fit well with their surroundings. To check this, draw lines from their head and feet to nearby objects.
In my example, the person on the right fits well to the scene. Their head is below the railing, and they can comfortably look at all the products.
Once you’ve got one well-proportioned figure, use it as a guide to size other people in your drawing.
Here’s how: draw lines from the head and feet of your first person. These lines should meet at the middle point where everything vanishes.
The next part might sound complicated, but it’s pretty straightforward.
To figure out how big a new character should be, pick a point on the street for their foot. Draw a line parallel to the horizontal line. This new line should meet the vanishing line that connects the foot of the first person and the vanishing point in the middle.
Then, draw a line upwards from the point where these lines meet to the vanishing line connecting the first person’s head and the vanishing point. This new vertical line tells you how tall your new character should be.
Using this method, you can make sure everyone in your street scene is the right size. Remember, not every person is the same height, so there can be some height variations. But be careful with big differences in the background. Even tiny changes can make elements look really out of place there.
When tackling the intricate task of portraying a street, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Nonetheless, I recommend a methodical progression from light to dark and from the foreground to the background. Whether you prefer segmenting your work into smaller sections or tackling the entire composition at once, the choice is yours.
The following steps will guide you through my process, offering some insights for your creative journey.
To create the lighting in my drawing, I start with the light sources. I begin on the left side and gradually work my way to the back or to the center of the drawing. Then I repeat the process on the right side.
Dedicate enough time to each light source. These do not only emit light but also cast their glow upon the surroundings. To capture the realistic play of light, use the same colored pencil to depict the light emitted by each source on the respective surfaces.
Besides the signs, pay attention to the light emanating from the ground-floor shops. These cast light on the street and nearby objects. While it’s optional to complete all light sources at this stage, I recommend tackling as many as possible now to avoid confusion later on.
To draw the buildings and elements within your nighttime street scene, begin by using the colors you would if you drew them in daylight. For all illuminated surfaces, add a shear layer of color, heightening the contrast between light and dark.
In the next step, intensify the shadows within your composition. Opt for a colored pencil in a cool shade, such as violet, blue, or green. You can find these colors on the color wheel. But, stick to one color for the shadows, as uniform hues create a harmonious drawing. Using various colors for the shadows can lead to visual confusion and disrupt the cohesion of the piece. To enhance the shadows, have at least one soft pencil at your disposal.
Apply the selected shadow color to all areas cloaked in darkness. Accentuate the shadows further by using a soft pencil. I use a deep blue-colored pencil and a 3B pencil to achieve this effect in my drawing.
It’s crucial to remember that surfaces facing the central street should be a bit brighter. This is due to the presence of multiple light sources casting their radiance upon these areas. The key is to abstain from using the colored pencil for these surfaces and to rely on the pencil for shadow delineation.
Surfaces oriented away from the light sources can be depicted with greater darkness. You can see this well in my drawing. The left side appears darker than the right side, despite both sides having a notable degree of shadow. However, using the blue color on the left side contributes to the visual distinction between the surfaces.
Drawing a street scene is no easy task! It gets even trickier when you add in light and shadow, which makes things more complex. But when you finally put down your pencil and finish your drawing, it’s a really satisfying feeling!
While there are always things we could improve in our artwork, I’m pretty happy with how mine turned out. So, if you’re new to drawing street scenes and don’t have a ton of experience, don’t be too hard on yourself. Finish your drawing, and enjoy the creative process. Later on, take a good look to see where you can make things even better in your next drawings.