20 tips for urban artworks and cityscape illustrations

Illustrators reveal techniques for conceiving, composing, drawing, painting and/or texturing artworks featuring a hubbub of architecture and people.


For me, creating buildings or an urban environment for that matter is a game of grids. I like to get the most out of a minimal set of tools. When you narrow down buildings they're simply a repetition of windows, bricks, doors, etc.

Buildings are easy to recognise because of that, so this allows you to play. 

Aron Vellekoop Leon (NL)

Another way of building up an urban environment is by treating the piece as a mosaic of objects that fit perfectly into each other. This is a more organic kind of grid, based on angles and spacing.

You start with some basic elements and start stacking them onto each other. The best way of balancing this is by imagining the lines of objects to pass through into other elements and keep repeating those angles.

Aron Vellekoop Leon (NL)


The fun part of sticking to a grid is also that you can add a lot of context to the scenery. You can play with the meaning of elements and make them come across as total different things.

This is the power that illustrations have over photography. You have endless possibilities to play around with unrealistic proportions or combinations of weird objects.

Aron Vellekoop Leon (NL)

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You can have buildings morph into each other, play with proportions and radically fool around with buildings and angles. There’s a lot of wiggle room, because no matter what you do, a good display of basic buildings elements will always make it recognisable.

Just start with a set of windows and you’ll see what the endless possibilities are. Sometimes it’s nice to let go of the traditional skyline views. 

Aron Vellekoop Leon (NL)


I love architecture, so doing urban illustrations is always an opportunity for me to create buildings. It’s a lot of fun to spend a bit of time mixing architectural inspiration to draw a unique building that will only live in one picture.

Thomas Danthony (UK)


The shapes and style of the building can also help carrying the message or be a support for headlines.

Thomas Danthony (UK)

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Sometime you can make the buildings the main subject of the illustration and carry the narrative on their own without human figures. You can then play with lights, windows and perspective to make the buildings ‘talk’.

Thomas Danthony (UK)


This illustration follows a very clear and detailed brief from the client: "The cover story is on New York City's 'green roofs', which could mean alternative energy like solar or wind, but can also mean literal grass-covered roofs, which are environmentally beneficial. We'd like to focus on a view from above of the city with everything below the roofline having a grey/monotone cast, while the roofs are green, lush and have people enjoying themselves."

Giordano Poloni (IT)


I took inspiration from source material on the Internet for perspective and produced a couple of sketches. The first one had a quite simple semi-frontal perspective. For the second, I chose a dizzying and spectacular view from a terrace with a parapet that gave a huge sense of identification (shown here).

Thw client selected the second sketch, which was also my favourite.

Giordano Poloni (IT)

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I start with filling buildings with colour to find the right mood, I found that grey and green convey the right message about the contrast between a grey city (which represents a polluted city) and the green rooftop (which represent the ecologic and alternative energy).

Giordano Poloni (IT)


When I got a flat colour image, I started adding shadow to create more depth and atmosphere.

Giordano Poloni (IT)


The final step was to add light and make a colour correction to produce a bright and heartwarming illustration.

Giordano Poloni (IT)

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Here, the article I had to illustrate was about a NY taxi driver describing a selection of customers in an half-serious spirit – so I was asked to represent an imaginary NY street with a cab and some queuing customers.

Giordano Poloni (IT)


First of all, learn how draw perspective. It is quite difficult but once you got it you can have the mental agility to imagine new kind of perspective and it's very important to not create every time the same stuff and become boring.

After this I study every detail of a city landscape: roads, buildings, windows, parks, cars. Don't forget skies and clouds they are very important. Combine all these things to create something new in your artworks.

Giordano Poloni (IT)


I find that my best inspiration comes from superhero-comic covers, those perspective are terrific! They obviously have more freedom on these as their primary target is to create spectacular subject, but there are lots of images searching in the Internet where you can find inspiration.

Giordano Poloni (IT)

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This illustration, Detritus City, was commissioned to accompany an editorial/opinion piece on the theme of about eco-destruction and rising sea levels for Medium Matters.

Celyn Brazier (UK)


I like to doodle. I really let go in my sketchbook. I’ll probably do a bunch of weird and wonderful drawings before I start a picture like Detritus City. I was free-wheeling off a few themes. Lots of distorted, tumbling cityscapes seem to feature in my sketchbook at the time.

Celyn Brazier (UK)


This Nemo sketch was the inspiration for Detritus City. I built the whole idea around this bubble guy.

I usually start a picture with a character or an idea that already exists. I transformed that wistful impassive quality of this odd looking chap into the themes in Detritus City.

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I use pencils for most of my line-art and draw on layout paper. If I want a black line, I change the levels in Photoshop.

Celyn Brazier (UK)


I love that delicate line quality you get with a pencil. The advantage of pencils don’t leak in your pocket or bleed on the page. They work like a fine-line Rotring you can tilt. It sucks trying to keep that line flowing with a drafting pen. I use my favourite pencil the Kaweco Special 0.5.

Celyn Brazier (UK)


It is self evident that an engaging landscape or a cityscape always needs a figure or a focal point. For me I would struggle to resolve a picture without zeroing in on the human element, literal or figurative. This editorial piece here, Border of the Mind is about border control from a brief about the structures – physical and mental – that control people.

For me the urban environment is a backdrop to the psyche. I try to maximise the weirdness and futurism in my cityscapes. London, especially the East End, where I live, seems to fall beneath in a stretching shadow cast by every growing wall of expensive high-rises and faceless developments.

Celyn Brazier (UK)

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