photoshop creative

Draw skylines with the Pen Tool

Posted in:
Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
January 10, 2018

Create your own glowing city in Photoshop using very simple tools

1. Colour palette

Pick a vibrant colour palette. This image uses shocking pink (#fc3f9e), navy (#190974), electric blue (#42ceff) and lavender (#9c6fff). From this main palette of colours, we can also establish our highlights and darker tones used for shading.

2. Working the sky

The secret to getting neon colours really explode off the page is to use navy as a background, rather than black. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to draw the sky and fill it with the Gradient Tool (G), using navy for the top and lavender for the bottom colour.

3. Creating the water

The water needs to glow under the three anchor buildings to help draw attention to them. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to draw the area of water and fill it with the Gradient Tool (G) using the four main colours from the colour palette.

4. Blocking out

Quickly block out where you want your three anchor buildings to be and then map out the heights of your other buildings. Bear in mind that traditionally in urban design, the height of the buildings between these anchor buildings will form a gradual slope to balance out the skyline.

5. Draw the waterfront

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, so let’s start the illustration of the buildings with a simple one! Create the waterfront with the Rectangle Tool (U) (or Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) if you prefer) and use the navy colour for the fill.

6. Foreground building

Create the building with the Pen Tool (P) and use a navy colour for the fill. Bearing in mind the pink light source, add stripes with the Rectangle Tool (U) and use a gradient for the fill.

7. Fill in the windows

Create the windows with the Rectangle Tool (U) and use the electric blue colour and the lavender colour for fills. Lower the Opacity setting of some of the windows and overlap them to give the windows a reflective feel.

8. First warehouse

Create the warehouse in the foreground with the Pen Tool (P). Change the fill option to Gradient and change the colours. Play with the Gradient Editor until you get the effect you want. Using the Pen Tool (P) again but changing the fill to solid, add the roof and highlights.

9. Put in windows

Use the Rectangle Tool (U) to create solid blocks of fill for the windows. Use the electric blue colour to show fluorescent lighting and use darker navy colours for unlit rooms. A scattergun approach is best and the windows do not need to be evenly spaced out.

10. The second warehouse

Make a copy of all the layers for the first warehouse and move them across to form the second warehouse. You must select the layer and the tool used to create the shape (for example the Pen Tool) in order to be able to adjust the colours.

11. Foreground buildings

Use the techniques previously described to fill in the rest of the foreground with buildings. As you create the new foreground buildings, bear in mind that the lighting changes and therefore the colours you use for each building will have to change to accommodate.

12. Mid-rise buildings

Use the Pen Tool (P) and Rectangle Tool (U) to create the mid-rise buildings in the midground. Keep these buildings fairly blocky and nondescript, with not too much detail as this will help to draw the eye towards the anchor buildings.

13. Glass buildings

Use the Pen Tool (P) to create the shape of the building, selecting navy and pink for the Gradient fill. Overlay this block with electric blue strips created using the Rectangle Tool (U). Set the blending mode of these layers to Soft Light to create an iridescent effect.

14. High-rise buildings

Use the Rectangle Tool (U) and Pen Tool (P) to create the high-rise buildings. Once you’ve drawn one window with the Rectangle Tool (U), make copies of it and form a grid. Change the colour of the windows to create a random pattern.

15. Ferris wheel

Use the Ellipse Tool (U), the Pen Tool (P) and the Line Tool (U) to create the structure and carriages. To help you with the placement, create a radial grid by drawing a line in the middle of the circle and rotating it (Edit>Transform>Rotate).

16. Large chamfered building

Use the Pen Tool (P) to create the building. For the chamfered parapet, hold down the left mouse button to create curves. Add navy stripes to the building using the Rectangle Tool (U). We’ll be making copies of this building, so wait until the next step before adding the windows.

17. Chamfered building copies

Make a copy of all the layers used to create the chamfered building and move them across. Select Edit>Free Transform and make the building smaller. Since this building is behind the Ferris wheel, make sure to keep lit windows to a minimum so that they do not compete with it.

18. Skyscraper

Use a combination of the Pen Tool (P) and Rectangle Tool (U) to create the elements of the skyscraper. Unfortunately there is no shortcut for this – you’ll just need time and patience! For the windows, draw long thin rectangles and then skew them (Edit>Transform>Skew) in order to create a subtle perspective.

19. Icon building

Use the Pen Tool (P) to create the curved sections of the building. For the windows, create a grid using the Rectangle Tool (U). With all the window layers selected, go to Edit>Transform>Distort to distort the angle of the windows to create perspective. Follow step 13 for the reflective glass sections.

20. Background building

Create the background buildings using the same techniques as step 14. However, since the buildings are far away, keep the contrast low and hazy. Push these buildings even further back by lowering the Opacity of the layer.

21. Building silhouettes

Use the Pen Tool (P) to create building silhouettes. Use the darkest navy in your palette for this and then lower the Opacity of the layer to push the silhouettes far back into the distance.

22. Create reflections

Make a copy of all the layers with building elements and merge them together. Reflect this layer vertically (Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical) and lower the Opacity setting. Apply a Gaussian Blur (Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur) to help defocus the reflection.

23. Clouds

Use a soft brush (B) set to a low Opacity level to paint in the clouds. Use a dark navy colour if you want a moody, atmospheric sky, or alternatively you could try using a pale lavender for a dreamlike quality.

24. Zoom out

Zoom out using Cmd/Ctrl+0 so the entire image fits onto your screen and check that you are happy with the overall composition of the image. The image should look balanced and the elements should be evenly distributed.

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