Easy Paintings For Beginners: Watercolor Painting of a Sunset & City

Summer's here, which means it's time to warm up our watercolor palettes! In this tutorial, you'll learn how to paint a dreamy sunset cityscape inspired by a scene from the famous anime "Sailor Moon".

Summer's here, which means it's time to warm up our watercolor palettes! In this lesson of easy paintings, let's paint a dreamy sunset cityscape together, with Mako showing us how it's done.

Materials used:

  • Reference image of a background from Sailor Moon (or any sunset cityscape of your choice)
  • Hahnemühle's Watercolor Book A5 (135lbs, size 5.8 x 8.3") or any similar watercolor paper
  • Palette for mixing paint
  • Container with clean water
  • Dry rag or paper towel
  • Washi, artist's, or masking tape (1/2" width)
  • Dropper
  • Uni-Ball Signo gel pen (white)
  • Washi tape roll, or any similar round item with a flat bottom
  • White chalk or pastel

Schmincke's Horadam Watercolors


  • Da Vinci Student Series 3503: Round brush (no. 2)
  • Da Vinci Student Series 3503: Flat brush (no. 4)
  • Da Vinci 5880 Cosmotop: Flat brush (no. 12)

Step 1: The First Wash


Today, we're doing a dreamy urban sunset inspired by a background from Sailor Moon! To prepare for today's easy paintings, put down a border of artist's tape (alternatively, masking or washi tape) around your watercolor paper.

This will give your watercolor painting a clean edge after you've finished working on it. Use a dropper to add a generous amount of water into a well in your palette, then mix Permanent Carmine with a no. 12 flat brush. Apply the diluted red paint to the page via the wet-on-dry technique, which means adding wet paint to a dry surface. Cover all but an inch from the bottom of the page. Load your brush with diluted Cadmium Yellow and drop it into the still-wet red layer. By adding wet paint to a wet surface, you're using the wet-in-wet technique.

This technique will enable you to blend colors together seamlessly on the page. Concentrate the yellow along the bottom half of the red layer then move on to the next step. In case you were curious, here's what the reference image looks like:



Step 2: Making An Impression Of A Sun



Here's a fun little trick you can try on your easy paintings. Your first layer of color should be wet for this to work, so do this quickly! First, take a roll of washi tape (or any similarly-shaped object with a round, flat bottom) and cover it with a piece of paper towel. Next, press the flat side of it onto the wet layers of paint. When you remove your makeshift stamp, it should pick up the wet paint and leave behind a nicely rounded impression of the sun. If there's any paint left behind inside the circle, you can dab that out with the corner of a paper towel or a dry rag.


Step 3: Adding a Warm Glow



Pick up your flat brush once more and load it with diluted Permanent Carmine. Add more pigment to the mixture to darken it, and use the tip of the brush to dab subtle clouds into the sky with the wet-on-dry technique. Next, use the same color to add a subtle glow around the sun. Start from the edge of the sun and spread the paint outward, using a graded wash (i.e. adding water to gradually dilute the pigment) so that it fades naturally into the sky.


Step 4: A Yellow Sunset



To complete the dreamy sunset in the background of this watercolor painting, load your flat brush with diluted Cadmium Yellow and fill in the sun. Apply your brushstrokes in a circular fashion to give it some depth, concentrating the darkest of the pigments around the middle while leaving the center alone. Lastly, finish off this layer by spreading the yellow paint out into the sky to enhance its warm glow.


Step 5: How to Begin A City Skyline



Now that the sky's all set, it's time to work a city skyline into your painting! This urban cityscape looks like it has a lot of details, but it's actually just made of several rows of buildings. Here's how to start: First, deepen Permanent Carmine with a hint of Ultramarine Finest and dilute the mixture with water. Next, with a no. 4 flat brush begin painting the row of buildings that are furthest from the front.

Take advantage of the square shape of the brush to produce a line of blocks, taking care to vary the sizes of each one. Space them out unevenly as well to give this landscape painting a more interesting silhouette. Be sure to leave space on the left and right sides of the painting; we'll cover them up with bigger buildings later on. Let everything dry before moving on to the next step.


Step 6: A Second String of Buildings



After the first set of buildings have dried, mix a slightly deeper shade of red for the second row. Use the same thought process as before, varying heights, widths, and distances to create an interesting silhouette. Paint this row of buildings slightly lower than the first row; this position and the darker pigment will help to push these buildings forward in the painting. Use this darker shade of red and the tip of your flat brush to add details to the row of buildings in the back. Since they are far away, you are simply making suggestions of windows and texture, so you don't need to add too much detail. Again, let everything dry before moving on to the next step.


Step 7: Filling Easy Paintings with Urban Skylines



For the final row of buildings, prepare a violet shade by combining Permanent Carmine and Ultramarine Finest. Like in the previous steps, block in the largest buildings in the front, this time covering all spaces left on the page. While the paint is still wet, use the wet-in-wet technique with Cadmium Yellow to give the buildings variety and warmth. Since these are the largest buildings in your easy paintings, add perspective to the silhouettes to further enhance the illusion of depth. While this layer dries, use the violet paint and the tip of your flat brush to add details to the previous row of buildings.


Step 8: Drawing Details With A Brush



With your no. 4 flat brush still in hand, mix more pigment into the violet paint to deepen it, then draw on the details for the frontmost buildings. Vary the temperature of your lines by adding more blue or yellow to cool down or warm up the violet. Perspective is your friend! Try to imagine where your horizon line would be. If a building is below it, make sure the top of its roof is visible to the audience. When you're done with the building details, strengthen the warm glow around the sun with a graded wash of diluted red. Finally, use the edge of your flat brush to create Tokyo Tower (which is technically still a radio tower) jutting out from the second row of buildings.


Step 9: Creating Sparkle With White Ink



We're down to final touches! Make sure your painting is completely dry before busting out your other art supplies - in this case, a white gel pen. Use white ink to add highlights to your urban landscape painting, and be consistent with where you place them so that there's harmony in your work. Once you're done, use a no. 2 round brush loaded with violet to reinforce the darker outlines, then make sure everything is dry before moving onto the final step.


Step 10: Creating A Dreamy Haze



Let's finish off your easy paintings, shall we? This last step is easy and fun. Take a piece of white chalk or pastel and scribble lightly over the buildings. Now use a fingertip to smudge that white scribble into a fog-like haze, giving your sunset cityscape an extra dreamy feel. Neat right?

Don't forget to pull off the tape around the borders and sign your work when you're done! And if you have spare time, check out our other tutorials on other easy paintings and crafts you can do.

If you'd like to see how Mako paints her cityscape, you can watch her video here:



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by Greg Conley

July 16th, 2019