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Dis­lo­cated shoul­ders, a mod­ern bat­tle, hor­ror hu­mour, wind su­per­power and aliens.

Ques­tion

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.

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