My friend Cris asked for a painting of New York City to put in her office. Her office is decorated in a largely black and white color scheme, so I tried to paint this in black and white. I decided to punch it up a bit with some yellow, as a tribute to the taxi’s in NYC.

My first attempt wasn’t what I had in mind. The composition is close to what I want, but the painting itself is not.

Night of the walking dead, in a river of urine.

I started with a hazy, foggy sky, and a light value of the same color for the Empire State Bldg. That’s pretty much the only part I like.

As I painted the initial wash, I thought to myself, no wonder watercolorist enjoy painting city scapes so much… these are gorgeous, and pretty simple!

As I moved from the horizon to the foreground, I deepened the values, and added more details. By the time I got to the foreground I had crammed so many bits and bobs that I definitely had a “Junk Drawer” painting.

And that was BEFORE I painted the cars and people.

With all that detail, I added more noise and basically just destroyed any sense of cohesion that might have been there at first.

As I painted the cars, I tried to get the yellow cab color to mix and bleed on its own – that worked a little too well. I accidentally dropped a huge drop into the wet road, and I couldn’t pull it cleanly.

That caused me to consider painting over the whole road with yellow – SMH. What am I thinking?!

So, this was a failure. I posted it on Reddit and asked for feedback, and I got some really good suggestions:

  1. Use Yellow and Purple for grey/black instead of UM Blue and Raw Umber. This will help get that yellow into the skyline.
  2. Work on the lines – they aren’t straight enough, but they look like I’m trying to make them straight, and as a result they look sloppy, not stylized.
  3. Define a focal point. Add the most details there, and fewer details everywhere else.
  4. The smoke reads as just an unfinished diagonal line, it adds atmosphere, but doesn’t contribute as much as it distracts.
  5. Try to paint this in a way I’ve never painted before.

So, I tried again…


The second attempt was better in some regards, and worse in others.

I like the road. I like the reflections. I like the lines in the crosswalk. I don’t like most of the masked areas. I don’t like the yellow on the right. I don’t like the figures. I don’t like the yellow signs. I don’t like the cars. I don’t like the figures.

On my next attempt, I’m going to try something I have never done before, I’m going to paint it with masking tape on the edges to define the lines well. I’ll also drop the yellow, maybe just one cab… I will sketch it roughly the same, and definitely reduce the amount of details pretty much everywhere.

I dislike both of these, I’m curious to see how it goes when I try again later tonight or tomorrow.


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