Urban Sketching has been growing massively in popularity over the last few years, although the concept itself is ancient. My understanding of it is that Urban Sketching is simply sketching what you see, outdoors or en pleinair. Before the cameras and the smart phone, travel sketches were the only way to bring back a visual memory of a place. It doesn’t have to be urban architecture, so the name is perhaps a bit misleading. Interiors of cafes, people on trains, landscape, and seascapes… anything goes! I think ideally most of the actual sketching should be done on location rather than from a reference photo for it to be really ‘Urban Sketching’. However, it is perfectly acceptable to start a sketch then finish it at home if time is short or perhaps the weather is a bit too inclement!
The medias which Urban Sketchers use can be as diverse as their subjects. Ink and watercolour are popular choices, but also I’ve seen incredible works done with watercolour pencils, pastels, pencil, and even using wine! Another reason I am falling in love with Urban Sketching is because it is so liberating to draw quickly and without worrying about it being ‘perfect’. A sketch is your impression and memory of a particular event or place. Memories are definitely not photo perfect, so why should your sketch have to be? A great piece of advice that I read on the subject of ‘imperfection’ is that your sketchbook should be important, but never so precious that you’re afraid to make a mistake. Fill the pages, then look back and see how you’ve improved with each effort.
Urban Sketching also has blossomed online via Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram. There are so many fantastic free resources with advice on what basic kit is needed, reviews of the different types of sketchbooks available, and tips on how to get started. I can literally spend hours watching YouTube tutorials on quick perspective, simplifying architecture, and gesture drawings of people. In addition, I’ve come to appreciate the versatility of the pen and ink sketch. Some artists prefer to use fountain pens, others can produce masterpieces with simply a ball point pen. Rendering texture in black and white is so much fun! I love it when a scribble suddenly takes on meaning as a recognisable form.
Unsure of where to sketch or needing inspiration? Below are a few suggestions of great situations to pull out your sketching kit. Find a friend, grab a pen and paper, and dress warmly! Soon travel delays, waiting for friends, or weekend citybreaks will be opportunities to capture the world. I am so excited to continue my Urban Sketching journey!
1. Take your sketchbook with you on weekend breaks
A few weekends ago, I went to visit an old uni friend who now lives in Hereford. It is a beautiful town with a lovely cathedral and breathtaking countryside. My friend doesn’t paint or draw, but with a little encouragement, he had fun and did some watercolours and sketches as well. It’s always better if you can get your companion on board with sketching… otherwise they’ll just be rather bored!
2. Grab some friends and go for an urban sketching day trip!
I met up with two of my dear friends to go sketching in Winchester. Alas, neither the trains nor the weather cooperated! So we made the best of it and I got to try sketching some interiors. Cafes and trains are great places to sketch… lots of people reading or on their phones so less likely to notice a cheeky urban sketcher.
3. Kill time whilst waiting for public transport
Travelling is quite a good time to pull out your sketchbook. Lots of waiting around and sketching is a great way to pass the time. I started this sketch whilst we waited at Bergerac train station and then snapped a photo and finished off later at home.
4. Airports are great places to sketch
Airports are wonderful for sketching. There are so many people sitting around, sleeping, playing on their phones… perfect to practice some figure drawing or candid portraits. Or if you don’t fancy that, you can even draw your coffee!
5. Don’t even leave the house!
If you’re worried about painting in public or it’s just too cold outside, you don’t even need to leave your house. I decided to do a few sketches of just everyday objects in my room. Sketch everything, anywhere. It’s amazing how seemlingly boring objects become interesting painting subjects with just a few brush strokes. Add your own notes to the sketches so you remember what you liked and what you want to do differently next time.