Loose and Abstract Watercolor Cityscape Tutorial

Creating this artwork was an immensely enjoyable experience. Surprisingly, there were moments where I felt uncertain and feared the painting would not succeed. However, I discovered that during these periods of doubt, I often produce my finest work. It is as if I reach a state of mind where I release all attachment to the outcome and allow myself to freely express and explore without inhibition.

Let’s Explore Some Ideas for Painting Abstract Cityscapes

Watercolor cityscapes offer a captivating blend of architectural beauty and creative expression. Embracing a loose and abstract approach allows artists to capture the vibrant energy and unique character of urban landscapes.

In this article, we will guide you through the steps and techniques to paint stunning loose and abstract watercolor cityscapes that convey the essence of the urban environment.

Reference Image for Watercolor Painting
Reference Image for Watercolor Painting

Selecting Your Reference and Composition

Start by choosing a reference photo or sketch that inspires you. Look for interesting cityscape scenes with a variety of shapes, angles, and perspectives. Experiment with cropping and composition to create a dynamic and balanced arrangement that showcases the city’s essence.

Simplifying Shapes and Silhouettes

To achieve a loose and abstract style, simplify the architectural elements into basic shapes and silhouettes. Focus on capturing the overall impression rather than intricate details. Use bold brushstrokes and flowing lines to convey the distinct character of buildings, bridges, and landmarks.

The image below demonstrates how I have simplified all the elements from the photograph into a minimalistic design, enabling me to focus on the overall composition. It is at this stage that I introduce the point of interest, represented by yellow umbrellas. To finalize the design and composition, I will incorporate figures walking and enjoying themselves under the umbrellas.

Simplifying into large shapes with key point of interest
Simplifying into large shapes with key point of interest

Exploring Color and Contrast

Cityscapes offer a diverse range of colors and contrasts. Experiment with vibrant, saturated hues to bring energy and vitality to your painting. Play with complementary colors and color harmonies to create visual interest and depth. Incorporate dramatic contrasts between light and shadow to enhance the sense of depth and dimension.

Another option is to select either a chromatic or tonal palette. Personally, I lean towards the use of a chromatic palette for my paintings. Chromatic palettes offer a wide range of vibrant and vivid colors. On the other hand, tonal palettes tend to be less saturated, incorporating more neutrals and grays into the color scheme. The choice between the two depends on the desired effect and mood you wish to convey in your artwork.

Embracing Spontaneity and Gestural Brushwork

Loose and abstract cityscapes thrive on spontaneity and expressive brushwork. Allow yourself to paint freely and intuitively, capturing the dynamic movement and atmosphere of the city. Use gestural brushstrokes, drips, and splatters to add texture and a sense of liveliness to your artwork.

Achieving a loose painting style becomes more attainable when you have thoroughly planned and prepared your artwork. By focusing on proper design and composition, as well as selecting a palette of harmonious colors, you can gain the confidence needed to paint with greater freedom and looseness. When you have a solid foundation in place, it becomes easier to let go and express yourself more boldly on the canvas.

Balancing Control and Simplicity

While embracing looseness and abstraction, it’s important to find a balance between control and simplicity. Maintain control over the composition and major elements to ensure a coherent and visually pleasing result. Simplicity in brushwork and color choices can help maintain the focus and impact of your cityscape.

Adding Details and Accents

Once you have established the loose and abstract foundation of your cityscape, selectively add details and accents to enhance the visual interest. Use fine lines, hints of texture, and subtle highlights to suggest specific architectural features or points of focus. These details should be sparingly applied to preserve the overall expressive quality of the painting.

Small splashes of accent colors and some highlights go a long way at the end of a painting.

Mastering the Art of Loose and Abstract Watercolor Cityscapes
Finished art


Painting loose and abstract watercolor cityscapes allows you to unleash your creativity and convey the dynamic spirit of urban environments. By simplifying shapes, exploring color and contrast, embracing spontaneity, and finding a balance between control and simplicity, you can create breathtaking artworks that capture the essence of bustling cityscapes.

So grab your brushes, embrace the freedom of abstraction, and embark on a creative journey to paint vibrant and expressive watercolor cityscapes.