TUTORIAL: How To Paint Streetscapes Like A Pro

Watercolor University Tutorial by William Bill Dunn - Doodlewash

This video tutorial is from our friends at Watercolor University, who offer the video course Watercolor Technique 101: the fastest way for beginners to learn watercolor in 6.5 hours, guaranteed. For a limited time, they’re giving Doodlewash followers the entire video course for free for 5 days. (and you can also see the full video of the tutorial below by clicking this link):

Learn more about Watercolor Technique 101

This tutorial on Watercolor University is one of many taught by award-winning artist William “Bill” Dunn. Here, Bill focuses on a lively restaurant scene from the north beach area of San Francisco, and shows how to capture the atmosphere without fussing over the details too much.

Watercolor University Tutorial by William Bill Dunn - Doodlewash

Materials Used In This Tutorial

  • Reference picture of Calzone’s Pizza Cucina in San Francisco, California (you can print out the above image)
  • 140lb cold press watercolor paper
  • ½” Artist’s or masking tape
  • Painting palette
  • Container for water
  • Paper towels or a rag
  • A tabletop easel or a box
  • A spray bottle with clean water

Watercolor Paints

  • Quinacridone Gold
  • Lemon Yellow
  • Brilliant Orange
  • Cadmium Red Purple
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Permanent Carmine
  • Cobalt Violet Light (a.k.a. “Lavender”)
  • Mineral Violet
  • Olive Green
  • Viridian
  • Cobalt Green
  • Leaf Green
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Cobalt Blue Hue
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Indigo
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Neutral Tint
  • Ivory Black

Gouache Paint

  • Permanent White


  • Neef Rigger Supreme Taklon Series: Long handle rigger brush (no. 6)
  • Neef Rigger Supreme Taklon Series: Long handle rigger brush (no. 8)
  • Neef Rigger Supreme Taklon Series: Long handle rigger brush (no. 10)
  • Neef Rigger Supreme Taklon Series: Long handle rigger brush (no. 12)
  • Escoda Perla Joseph Zbukvic Series: Round brush (no. 12)
  • Escoda Perla Joseph Zbukvic Series: Round brush (no. 20)
  • Winsor & Newton’s Series 7 Kolinsky Sable: Round brush (no. 1)

Step 1: A Lively Sketch

Step 1 - Watercolor University Tutorial by William Bill Dunn - Doodlewash

Start with a simple sketch after analyzing the photo and deciding on your composition. It’s always a good idea to plan ahead, especially if you change your composition into a night scene like Bill does!

Draw in the exterior canopies and rafters, five total, and pencil in a general infrastructure for the building. As you draw the people, make sure to capture a few key action gestures so they appear animated. This is important to add to the overall atmosphere of this scene.

Add the “Calzone’s” cursive lettering, then move to the rest of the drawing to complete a few details in the upper half of the architecture and in the foreground area.

Below is a close-up of Bill’s sketch:

Sketch Closeup - Watercolor University Tutorial by William Bill Dunn - Doodlewash

Step 2: A Restaurant’s First Layer

Step 2 - Watercolor University Tutorial by William Bill Dunn - Doodlewash

Before painting, Bill recommends spraying your paints with water to soften up the colors and make them easier to pick up and mix while painting.

With a small round brush (Bill uses a size 12 Escoda brush here), use Yellow Ochre, and paint a base layer in the restaurant’s interior while avoiding the people. Drop in some Brilliant Orange and Carmine red paint, using the wet-in-wet method to create these soft splashes of color. You can even add some Cobalt Blue to complement the reds and yellows, but take care not to overdo it. For the exterior sitting area, use Neutral Tint so the previous bright colors used will stand out in contrast.

Switch to a large round brush (size 20 Escoda brush), then mix Neutral Tint with some Cobalt Blue for the middle section of the painting. Be sure to paint around the “Calzone’s” sign! You can use your smallest brush to help.

Continue to use this dark blue mixture for the rest of the building and around the windows. As you finish up the primary layer for the building, use small brush strokes to begin filling in the windows. Finally, use a hint of Ultramarine to fill in the top area.

Step 3: Balancing Warm And Cool Colors

Step 3 - Watercolor University Tutorial by William Bill Dunn - Doodlewash

While the previous layers are drying, you can focus on painting the people. Switch to a small rigger brush (size 6 Neef), and use any combination of colors to paint clothes. Use diluted Burnt Sienna to paint some faces, and tighten the exterior details of the restaurant with cooler colors such as Cobalt Violet to bring out the warm interior even more.

Go back to the small round brush, mixing Mineral Violet and Indigo for a very dark blue, and touch it into the darkest areas within the restaurant. Use a paper towel or rag to lift any excess liquid. For the right side of the restaurant’s exterior, mix Cadmium Red with Mineral Violet to weigh down and change up the colors within the zone. Remember to paint around the car as well!

With Cerulean Blue, add some cooler details to the warm interior. Bill uses the wet-in-wet technique again so it doesn’t take over the warm colors. Also, make sure to use darker colors between the figures inside to help separate and define them from the rest of the background.

Step 4: Windows And Awnings

Step 4 - Watercolor University Tutorial by William Bill Dunn - Doodlewash

For the bright awnings, use a more saturated Brilliant Orange, being careful to avoid the black stripes along the bottom edge of each awning. Don’t feel as if you have to paint realistically either; Bill goes for a more impressionistic look as his style.

Bring the same orange into the interior to tie the exterior in with the overall location. Then, switch back to the largest round brush (size 20 Escoda), and use Neutral Tint to clean up the area around the windows. You can also use this paint to darken the windowsills and have them “pop” out. Once it’s dry, remember to tone down the white surrounding the windows.

With a size 12 round brush, use Ivory Black, and add touches of architectural details to the building. Next, mix purple with Cerulean blue and fill in the white space among the windows.

Switch to your smallest round brush (Bill uses a size 1 Winsor Newton Series 7), then use the same black paint to paint around the letters on the awnings’ edges. You can use a size 6 rigger brush to paint stripes on the edges without words.

Step 5: Urban Elements

Step 5 - Watercolor University Tutorial by William Bill Dunn - Doodlewash

Continue using black to fix up the details around the windows, and to add some shapes near the top of the building such as an air conditioner.

Switch to a size 10 rigger brush, and use the same black to add more details to the sidewalk, making vertical strokes that resemble tiles.

Next, dilute the black to get gray, then paint an impression of the car to the right. While you’re waiting for this layer to dry, paint the street itself using Ivory Black again. For texture, you can add some purple to the street. Use a blue mixture (Ultramarine and Cerulean Blue) to add more lights to the street and to liven it up. Glaze over the car with the same blue mixture, then use Neutral Tint as a more transparent black to paint its glass panes. When the car’s body is completely dry, you can use Brilliant Orange for the highlights on the car.

For more definition, fill in the angled sections between the awnings with black. Fill in the leftmost side of the exterior area as well. Go back to the size 8 brush, and add black street poles on the right side of the painting to enhance the foreground.

Step 6: Signs, Lights, And Finishing Touches

Step 6 - Watercolor University Tutorial by William Bill Dunn - Doodlewash

Next is to nail the neon lights. To get a very bright “neon” effect, use the strongest and brightest saturation of color possible. This means mixing a little Permanent White gouache paint with Brilliant Orange for the “pizza cucina” lettering. Use your smallest round brush for these details, and use this same mixture to add the neon lines around this middle section, imitating the decorative pattern on the right side.

Since Bill has already planned his composition to be a night scene, he dilutes a blue and purple mixture, and gives a light wash of this over some of the lighting in the overall painting to cast a shadowed feeling despite the festive atmosphere. He also uses the Ivory Black to paint the ground in the restaurant’s interior to tie the painting together, and to get the right contrast for this particular scene.

For the restaurant’s name, use pure white gouache paint to help it stand out against the orange elements (even though this is different from the reference photo).

Include some white highlights to the street poles, the car’s body, and to paint tiny light bulbs inside the restaurant. Add any finishing touches as necessary, but remember that each touch is to keep the focus around the liveliest area!

When you’re done, switch to a size 1 rigger brush, and sign your name with pride. Hope you enjoyed following along in this tutorial!

Want to view this tutorial as a video? Check out the full watercolor technique video here.

Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in Tutorials
  1. Sandra Strait 5 years ago

    Thank you for the fabulous tutorial!

  2. Pamela Smith 5 years ago

    Great tutorial thank you Charlie..

  3. Snehlata Maheshwari 5 years ago

    Brelient idea charlie i also find difficulty in this. I now enjoying. thanks so much.

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