Have you ever heard the phrase “can’t see the forest for the trees”? As unlikely as it may sound, this phrase provides some serious wisdom for how to draw a city skyline.
Illustrations via CakeSpy
A city skyline might seem like incredibly dense and complex subject matter for a drawing. But when you stop looking at it as a big, hulking, unobtainable thing and focus on individual lines and shapes, you’ll find that a skyline is actually just a tightly packed scene composed of a series of decidedly simple forms.
Learn three easy ways to draw a your favorite city’s skyline
Method 1: Simple skyline
This method is the simplest way to make a city skyline visual. You can take or leave steps as you see fit, so the skyline has your desired level of detail.
Create a horizon line.
Up from the horizon line, draw what looks like an uneven row of connected rectangles; suddenly, you might find yourself understanding Death Cab for Cutie’s song line, “the skyline looked like crooked teeth.”
Have you stopped singing? Good. Go ahead and add a second row of irregular rectangular shapes behind the first.
Begin to add details, such as tiered tops on the buildings; make some rectangular, and others with diamond shapes. Don’t make any two quite the same, as buildings in a city skyline are often eclectic.
From here, you can build upon this concept, layering more rows of buildings to make the city skyline as dense as you’d like.
Method 2: Layered skyline
This skyline is in a single row, and a little bit more segmented than the previous method.
Create a horizon line.
Draw a bunch of vertical rectangles of different widths and shapes. You can align them so that some rectangles appear to be in front of others for added city-style density.
Refine the shapes so that some have rectangle tops, some have a second rectangle on top, some have diagonal tops, etc. Make each one a little different — like snowflakes, no two skyscrapers are exactly the same.
Draw in additional detailing on each building, such as little squares or dashes to resemble windows.
Method 3: Silhouette skyline
The city comes alive at night — this is an easy way to let your drawings reflect the kinetic energy of an urban setting in the evening. This mode of drawing a city skyline is especially well suited to mixed media, as it looks especially striking with a colorful sunset in the background.
Follow Steps 1 through 3 in the tutorial for Method 2, creating a row of skyscraper shapes.
Block outlines for the windows, but darken the rest of the building shape (with hatching, crosshatching, or stippling) with ink, so that the “windows” are left white (to represent light shining from inside) while the buildings have the appearance of being dark.
From there, you can add clouds or even employ color to add a pretty sunset.
Of course, these are just the building blocks for a city skyline. Try using these techniques while referencing a photo (or a real view) of your favorite city. Once you have the basics in place, you can add extra detail and perspective to make the drawing more realistic, if you like.