7 Awesome Tips for Urban sketching & Why you Should!

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Last Updated on May 11, 2023 by Dee

Are you tired of sitting in front of your computer screen all day, dreaming of exploring the world around you? Well, it’s time to step out of your comfort zone and try urban sketching! This art form allows you to capture the beauty of the world around you, from bustling city streets to serene parks and everything in between. Not only is it a fun and creative hobby, but it also offers a unique perspective on our world.

In this blog post, I’ll share with you 7 awesome tips to help you get started with urban sketching and explain why you should give it a try.

So, grab your sketchbook and let’s get started!

urban sketching

7 Quick Urban Sketching Tips to Get you Started

Here are 7 excellent tips to get you started…

urban sketching example

1. Be Prepared

You want to be prepared with the right tools and materials when sketching urban. One time, I forgot my eraser at home and ended up having to smudge out some of my mistakes with my finger, which wasn’t ideal. That’s why it’s essential to make a checklist of all the supplies you need and pack them into a convenient carry case.

You don’t want to be lugging around a huge backpack full of art supplies, so it’s best to pack light and only bring the essentials. A couple of pencils in different hardnesses, a sharpener, and an eraser are a good place to start. If you plan to use watercolors or markers, be sure to pack some watercolor pens and a couple of brushes as well.

When it comes to choosing a carry case, consider your needs and preferences. A compact and durable case that’s easy to carry around is ideal. I’ve found that a small backpack or messenger bag with lots of compartments works well, as it allows me to keep my supplies organized and easily accessible. Don’t forget to bring some paper towels or a cloth as well, as they can come in handy for cleaning up spills and messes.
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2. Keep your Sketchbook Handy

It’s a good idea to get yourself a mixed-media or watercolor sketchbook that you can easily slip out of your bag when inspiration strikes! Here are some of my recommendations for travel sketchbooks.

When it comes to urban sketching, inspiration can strike at any moment, so it’s important to keep your sketchbook handy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that having a sketchbook that is compact and easy to carry can make a big difference in how often you use it. You don’t want to be lugging around a heavy or bulky sketchbook that’s a hassle to take out and use.

When choosing a sketchbook, consider the type of media you plan to use. A mixed-media or watercolor sketchbook is a good choice if you want to use watercolors or other wet media. These sketchbooks are designed to handle moisture and often have thicker, more absorbent paper than standard sketchbooks.

[Related article: 50 Things To Draw on Your Hand]

As for specific recommendations, it really depends on your personal preferences and budget. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some popular brands among urban sketchers include Moleskine, Stillman & Birn, and Strathmore. It’s worth experimenting with different brands and sizes to find the one that works best for you.

3. Find a Comfy Spot

urban sketching example

When it comes to urban sketching, finding a comfy spot to sit and draw is key. One time, I chose a spot by a busy street with lots of foot traffic, but the noise and commotion made it hard to concentrate on my sketch. I ended up moving to a quieter spot by a nearby park and felt much more at ease.

When choosing a spot, consider your surroundings and what you’re trying to capture in your sketch. If you’re drawing a busy city street, a spot on a bench or by a cafe with a good view could work well. If you’re drawing a landscape or natural scene, look for a spot with a good vantage point and minimal distractions.

It’s also important to consider your comfort level. Sitting on hard concrete or a lumpy grassy patch can quickly become uncomfortable, so consider bringing a small cushion or blanket to sit on. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a lightweight camping chair or stool can also be a good investment if you plan to do a lot of outdoor sketching.

Remember, the goal is to find a spot where you can comfortably sit and sketch for an extended period of time, so take your time and don’t be afraid to move around until you find the perfect spot.

4. Check the Weather Forecast

When you’re planning an urban sketching session, it’s important to check the weather forecast. One time, I went out to sketch on a beautiful sunny day, but before I knew it, it started pouring down rain and my sketchbook got soaked! I learned my lesson and now always check the forecast ahead of time.

If there’s a chance of rain, it’s a good idea to bring an umbrella or some kind of waterproof covering for your sketchbook and supplies. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a plastic bag or waterproof pouch can work well in a pinch. It’s also important to dress appropriately for the weather, whether that means bringing a jacket or wearing sunscreen and a hat.

Keep in mind that the weather can also affect your subject matter. On a sunny day, you might want to focus on capturing the way the light plays off the buildings and streets. On a cloudy day, you might focus more on capturing the mood and atmosphere of the scene.

5. Observe

urban sketching example

Make sure to carefully observe what is actually around you – not what you think is there!

When it comes to urban sketching, observation is key. One time, I was sketching a scene from memory and when I looked back at my drawing, I realized that I had completely left out a building that was right in front of me! I learned that it’s important to observe carefully and draw what’s actually in front of you, not what you think is there.

When you’re sketching, take the time to really observe your surroundings. Pay attention to the details, from the texture of the buildings to the way the light hits the streets.

It’s also important to be aware of your biases and preconceptions. Sometimes, we can get so caught up in our own expectations of what a scene should look like that we miss the details that make it unique. Try to approach each sketch with an open mind and an eye for the unexpected.

6. Sketch Your Composition First

Loosely plot out where the subject matter will be positioned on your page.

When it comes to urban sketching, having a plan can really make a difference. One time, I started sketching a building without really thinking about the composition, and by the time I was finished, I realized that the proportions were all off and the drawing didn’t have a clear focus. It was a valuable lesson – now I always sketch out a quick plan before starting my drawing.

When planning your composition, think about the placement of the subject matter on the page. You might want to use the rule of thirds, a basic principle of design that involves dividing your page into thirds both horizontally and vertically, and placing your subject at the intersection points.

You can also think about the overall balance of your composition. Do you want to have a lot of empty space around your subject, or do you want to fill the page with details? Experiment with different arrangements and see what feels most visually pleasing.

Of course, your plan doesn’t have to be too detailed or rigid – the beauty of urban sketching is that it can be spontaneous and flexible. But taking a few minutes to think about your composition can help you create a more effective and aesthetically pleasing drawing.

Remember that urban sketching is often a swift-moving art style with a loose quality.

urban sketching example

When it comes to adding color to your urban sketches, less is often more. I remember sketching in a busy market and getting so caught up in adding color and details that I spent twice as long on the drawing as I intended. While the final result was nice, I realized that I had lost some of the spontaneity and energy that make urban sketching so special.

That’s why it’s important to remember not to over-color your sketches. Instead, try applying loose, light washes of watercolor to your artwork. Think about the areas where the light is hitting and where the shadows are, and use the watercolor to create a sense of depth and dimension.

It’s also important to remember that urban sketching is often about capturing the essence of a place or a moment, rather than creating a perfectly realistic representation.

So don’t worry too much about getting every detail exactly right – embrace the imperfections and quirks that make your sketch unique.

7. Don’t Over Color

When it comes to adding color to your urban sketches, it can be tempting to go all out and cover every inch of the page with bright, bold hues. But as tempting as it might be, it’s important to resist that urge and remember that less is often more.

One time, I was sketching a busy street scene and got carried away with adding color. I ended up with a hot mess of a drawing that was more distracting than pleasing to the eye. That experience taught me the importance of keeping things simple and focusing on the scene’s key elements.

When adding color to your sketches, think about the overall mood and atmosphere you want to convey. Are you going for a bright and cheery vibe, or something more subdued and moody?

Once you’ve identified that, choose a few key colors to work with and use them sparingly. A light wash of color can be just as effective as a heavy one and can help preserve the loose, spontaneous quality that makes urban sketching so appealing.

urban sketching example

But What is Urban Sketching Essentially?

Urban sketching is an art form that has been around for centuries. It’s a way of recording the moments and experiences of our daily lives through drawing. Whether you’re sitting in a cafe, waiting for a bus, or walking through a park, there’s always something to draw.

Although the term “urban” is used to describe urban sketching, it can refer to any outdoor drawing. It’s all about capturing the people, places, and things around you in your sketchbook.

If you’re interested in learning how to start urban sketching, you only need a few pens and a sketchbook.

You don’t need to be a professional artist or have any special equipment. Just start with what you have and develop your own style over time. A fine line pen is a great place to start as it gives you much control and precision when drawing.

urban sketch of a car in london

Materials and Tools you Need to Get your Urban Sketching Practice Started.

Urban sketching, like all art-making, is such a personal journey, and you must find your own way to express how you see your environment. Many urban sketchers use brush pens and watercolour paper and create absolutely amazing pieces from street scenes to on location drawing.

It’s a good idea to try out different combinations of materials and have fun exploring the possibilities!

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Try to capture the essence of your location and help your viewer focus on the crucial bits of the composition!

a person sitting in the park urban sketching

What’s the difference between being an urban sketcher and an en Plein air painter?

Artists who paint en Plein air sit in front of a canvas and paint an outdoor subject.

En Plein air means ‘in the open air’ in French.

Historically artists, like Monet, would go outside their studios to watch and paint natural settings in real-time, giving birth to the term ‘en Plein air’.

Although landscape painting has existed for centuries, French Impressionists popularised it in the 19th century. They focused on conveying a sense of natural light in their paintings to reflect the passage of time.

While Plein air painting is a method of painting your subject, urban sketching is considered a movement of painting.

Gabriel Campanario, a Seattle writer and illustrator, started the urban sketching trend in 2007 by building an online storytelling forum that encouraged urban sketch artists to create drawings on location rather than from images.

“Urban Sketchers is an international nonprofit dedicated to fostering a global community of artists who practice on-location drawing… Our mission is to raise the artistic, storytelling, and educational value of on-location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location where they live and travel.”

(Taken from urbansketchers.org)

Both urban sketchers and en Plein air painters bring their materials with them when they go outside to paint in real-time.

They also both tend to produce smaller work since their canvases must be portable.

Both artists want to capture the reality or truth of how a place appears, which means they don’t add anything to the painting that would make the portrayal less accurate.

Despite their several similarities, it is argued that the most significant distinctions between Plein air and urban sketching are the length of time spent painting the scene, the materials utilized, and the subject’s location.

According to the Urban Sketchers’ mission statement, an urban sketcher’s work conveys a story about their sketched location. In a sense, being an Urban Sketcher is so much about recording your environment.

En Plein air painting, which usually employs either paint or pastels to depict an outdoor subject, is considered to take the longest because it focuses on capturing the details of a scene.

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Urban sketching, on the other hand, is sketching, which means it is less detail-oriented and has a faster, more casual approach. 

What is Travel Sketching?

Travel sketching is a term used to describe outdoor artwork made while traveling.  This word refers to art that is inspired by interesting scenery observed by the artist while on vacation.

Travel sketches, like urban sketches, may incorporate text or annotate their drawings to provide background information about the artist’s destination explorations.

urban sketching example

Travel sketching is different from en Plein air painting and Urban Sketching because you can draw a photo taken of the location – instead of being there! 

If you recall, the Urban Sketcher’s Manifesto stipulates that urban sketchers must draw on location from observation rather than from photos.

So basically, if you work directly from a photo, your art practice cannot be considered en Plein air painting or urban sketching.

However, if you sketch an artwork on-site on your travels, without using a photo, then your artwork is both an en  Plein air painting and a travel sketch.

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Where can you Urban Sketch?

Because urban sketching is a terrific way to meet new people, you’ll most likely find urban sketcher groups in your hometown or most large cities, and more are sprouting daily.

There are free sketching excursions, scheduled weekend courses, drawing conventions, and symposia where you can meet other urban sketchers!

You can also join an online group of urban sketchers. Sketchers worldwide share their work and this is a great resource for anyone to learn urban sketching techniques.

Why Should You Become an Urban Sketcher?

Here are just a few reasons why you should consider becoming an urban sketcher:

  1. It offers a new perspective: Urban sketching can help you see the world around you differently.
  2. It’s a great way to document your life: Your sketchbook can become a visual diary of your experiences and adventures.
  3. It can improve your drawing skills: The more you practice urban sketching, the better you’ll become at drawing.
  4. It’s a form of mindfulness: Urban sketching requires you to be fully present in the moment, which can be a form of meditation or mindfulness.
  5. It connects you to a community: Urban sketching has a large and welcoming community of artists worldwide.

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Give it a shot. You may create a sense of vibrancy and truth that can’t be reproduced in any other way!

Frequently Asked Questions About Urban Sketching:

Q: What is the meaning of urban sketching?

A: Urban sketching is the art of drawing on location in the city or urban environment.

Q: How do I start urban sketching?

A: To start urban sketching, all you need is a sketchbook, a pen or pencil, and a willingness to observe and draw the world around you.

Q: Is urban sketching hard?

A: Urban sketching can be challenging, but it’s also a lot of fun and a great way to improve your drawing skills.

Q: How long does an urban sketch take?

A: The length of time it takes to complete an urban sketch can vary depending on the subject matter and your personal style.

Q: How do you start street sketching?

A: To start street sketching, find a busy street corner or public space and start observing and drawing the people and objects around you.

Q: What is considered urban sketching?

A: Urban sketching involves drawing on location in the city or urban environment, often capturing everyday scenes and people.

Q: What is outdoor sketching called?

A: Outdoor sketching is also known as plein air sketching or painting.

Q: What are the 4 main types of sketching?

A: The four main types of sketching are gesture sketching, contour sketching, value sketching, and proportion sketching.

Q: What do Urban Sketchers do?

A: Urban Sketchers is a global community of artists who share their love of drawing on location in the city or urban environment.

Q: How do I join Urban Sketchers?

A: To join Urban Sketchers, simply visit their website and sign up for a free account.

Q: Who is the best urban sketcher? A: There are many talented urban sketchers around the world, and it’s difficult to say who is the “best.” However, some well-known urban sketchers include Liz Steel, Marc Taro Holmes, and Gabriel Campanario.

Q: What is perspective for Urban Sketchers?

A: Perspective is an important concept for urban sketchers, as it helps to create depth and realism in their drawings.

Q: What do I need for urban sketching?

A: To start urban sketching, all you need is a sketchbook, a pen or pencil, and a willingness to observe and draw the world around you.

Q: What is the difference between plein air and urban sketching?

A: While both plein-air and urban sketching involve drawing on location, plein-air sketching typically focuses on natural landscapes, while urban sketching focuses on the urban environment.

Q: How to do urban sketching for beginners?

A: To start urban sketching for beginners, try finding a busy street corner or public space and start observing and drawing the people and objects around you.

Q: What pen to use for urban sketching?

A: Fine line pens such as Micron or Pitt pens are often used for urban sketching due to their versatility and precision.

Q: How do you start an urban sketch?

A: To start an urban sketch, find an interesting location or subject, and start sketching using your chosen medium.

Q: What do you use for urban sketching?

A: Urban sketching can be done with a variety of mediums, including pens, pencils, watercolors, and markers. It’s all about finding what works best for you.

urban sketching


Urban sketching is an incredible way to hone your drawing skills while also documenting the world around you. Like any skill, the more you practice, the better you’ll become.

With the 7 top tips provided in this article, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an urban sketching pro in no time! There’s no shortage of everyday subjects to draw from park benches to old buildings. A drawing a day is a terrific way to fill your sketchbook and help your drawing skills improve – practice makes perfect!

So, grab your favorite sketchbook and a few pens, and start exploring your environment through your own unique perspective. Before you know it, you’ll have a beautiful art journal filled with your urban sketches, showcasing your journey as an artist.

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