A step-by-step street scene

A few weeks back someone asked me how much of a scene I draw in pencil before I add paint to my sketches. I haven’t had much time this semester for any instructional posts, but today I took some quick phone shots of the process so I could illustrate the steps.

Lately I’ve been finding places to sketch right near my school so I can paint as long as possible and then scoot over to class. This is the type of scene I often sketch on the way to work. Time spent sketching in the car for this one: about an hour. Time spent adding details at home: about 15 minutes.


The first step is to add some quick pencil lines. I chose this scene because I like the way all the utility poles on this street are leaning to the right. I don’t draw in a lot of details that I can add later with a brush such as writing on the street signs or details on the buildings. Just a general placement of things on the page.


The first wash I put down is the sky and the road — both grey this week. I didn’t have time to draw in a full double-page spread but I did go over the middle of the book a little bit.


The next step is to add in the middle values, using a limited palette of Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Green and Quinacridone Gold (for that late autumn warmth).


After that I frame the little white building in the distance with some good darks, and I try to vary them as I go — gold to green to red to brown. I use a bit of blue for the trash cans and house shadow, and I start to add in some of the finer details but realize that my rigger brush is at home, and my class is about to start.


After school, I add in the details with a finer brush: the wires, the signage, and a few details on the buildings. Sketched in a Handbook Journal, 8 x 8″.

77 Comments on “A step-by-step street scene”

  1. christine says:

    A wonderful lesson. Thanks, Shari!


  2. Dottie Aiken says:

    Thank you for documenting this. Love it. You’re great at using every available moment. Hope u weren’t late for class.


  3. romy2611 says:

    Thanks Shari for showing step by step how you create your paintings. It’s really helpful for our practice and improvement🙏🏻💋


  4. Super helpful, thank you Shari! I see how much the first grey wash lightens as it dries…


  5. Leslie Blackwell says:

    I like how your paint puddles at the end of some strokes, and your sense of composition. Thanks!


  6. Helen Phillips says:

    Thank you!


  7. DiniAlice says:

    Thanks so much. Really apprciated seeing your process.


  8. David says:

    Thanks for letting us see your process, this is important stuff!


  9. Dee says:

    What kind of paper exactly is in a handbook journal? Lovely sketch!


  10. sue says:

    Love this, I always add too much detail to the pencil drawing and then have to erase, or hope the paint will cover it. thanks for the step by step.


  11. And yet another, thank you! And,” this is important stuff.” Your step by step is most helpful.


  12. Helen C says:

    Thank you, Shari. This helps a lot!


  13. loisajay says:

    This was fantastic, Shari. For a minute (just a minute!), I was thinking ‘this looks easy enough. I should try it.’ What was I thinking?! 😀 I will keep trying, but thank you so much for the step by step. It really helps me to have it broken down into little sound bites.


  14. Belinda says:

    Being the “someone”, thank you Shari for this illustration! Never even thought of using a rigger brush. I use pen after the watercolor is put down, but I find the sketch becomes less spontaneous. Excited to give this a try. 😁


  15. Mary says:

    You are so generous to share. Some of your painted sketches look so ambitious, and now to see this step by step, it makes more sense. I especially appreciate that you included the amount of time it takes. This has been extremely helpful – THANKS!!


  16. Amazing ! So much time and dedication for your sketches. Thank you for sharing your process You are such an inspiration 🤗


  17. M. L. Kappa says:

    Thanks, Shari, I enjoyed this! Question: do you take a photo to remind you of the details when at home?


  18. Doug Elliot says:

    An excellent tutorial.


  19. Bernadette says:

    Thank you for taking the time to give us explicit examples of your painting from start to finish. You have a wonderful gift of sharing so that we may better understand and follow.


  20. rosjenke says:

    Just marvellous. It’s great to see how little you put in with pencil and bring it all together with confident washes and bold strokework. Your work is always a real treat to view. Thank you for sharing this.


  21. anne farmer says:

    Thank you very much – a brilliant lesson


  22. andre savard. says:

    Thanks for the lesson, well done , It is allways a good a reminder of how to do it properly.


  23. Judy Sopher says:

    I can only add another thank you for this lesson. You always get such good darks without overdoing. Learned to vary color from your Craftsy class but still working on this.


  24. Kevin Mack says:

    Love your unique style. Your brush strokes are instantly recognizable. I know it’s a Blaukopf without even seeing a signature.


  25. Ren says:

    Just exactly what I wanted and needed! Thank you so much!


  26. Deane says:

    Thank you for this tutorial! I’m curious…how do you scan your work from your sketchbook? Your photos look so good.


    • HI Deane. I scan my work on an Epson Perfection Scanner and then do a few adjustments in Photoshop, mostly to add the contrast back in and to whiten the whites. I try to match the art as best I can, and the scan is usually a bit flat. Of course in this series the first four images are iPhone photos and the final sketch image is from a scan.


  27. ChesapkLady says:

    Thanks so much for this Shari! VERY helpful.


  28. Connie Renaud says:

    Thank you so much for the detailed information. Just what I need!


  29. timdada says:

    That was very cool! Tim



  30. chrissaterrell says:

    That was so helpful! I eas able to see how you preserve the whites ! Please do that more often 🙂


  31. gutsybass6 says:

    I love this…u are amazing..keep it up


  32. joantav says:

    Shari, thanks for showing your steps! I loved seeing how that very grey sky was toned down after you added the tree color. This is lovely!


  33. April says:

    Appreciate the step by step tutoring, as I tend to add way too much detail into my sketches. This is helpful.


  34. […] via A step-by-step street scene […]


  35. Gina Bisaillon says:

    Wow, that was really helpful – thanks!


  36. Michael says:

    Thanks for sharing your technique, Shari. Its always helpful to see how someone develops their sketches. Occasionally do you use ink instead of pencil? Or would you use ink for fine details in the final stages?


    • HI Michael, Thanks so much for writing. I often use ink instead of pencil, but I am much more comfortable with a pencil in my hand than a pen. I don’t often use ink for final details because I find that they black ink just sits on top of the watercolour. Instead I prefer to mix the darkest colour I can with watercolour. If I combine Alizarin Crimson and Phthalo Green that makes a black that is dark enough and yet seems to be more harmonious with the rest of the sketch. I learned that combo from taking an oil painting class, but it works well with watercolour too. I use a finer brush too when I add in those very dark details. I hope that helps. Shari


  37. kaiinakoipond says:

    I like it best in the stage before last when everything is blocked in but there are holes. It makes it feel like it has area behind it and that the grey day goes on forever.


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