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I’m determined to paint an atmospheric rooftop scene, but can’t get the light right. Please help! Corine Westly, US
Answer Nick replies
There’s a passage of writing early on in Titus Groan, the first part of the Gormenghast trilogy, where the author and illustrator Mervyn Peake describes the magical rooftop vista that greets kitchen menial Steerpike after he escapes through a window. It’s the first thing that springs to mind when reading this question.
Rooftops offer a great alternative environment when you want a change of angle. They have an atmosphere all of their own and will vary according to their particular location: Eastern architecture versus New York skyscrapers, for example.
Go above street level and present the viewer with a different view of a fantasy city scene.
For my answer I’m depicting a European town suburb, but you should choose whatever environment suits your narrative. We want atmosphere, which can be a lot about lighting and aerial perspective, so let’s go for sunset. This will result in a low, dramatic light source and give me the opportunity to draw silhouetted shapes.
Working in ArtRage, I sketch out shapes over a tinted base, before laying watercolour washes on layers set to Multiply blend mode. I build more tonal contrasts in the foreground that diminish into haze into the distance. Finally, I add highlights for extra visual interest.