Imagine yourself sitting in the shade of a tree in the middle of a square. Can you hear the church bells? Bees buzzing? Birds chirping? People chatting and laughing in a cafe across the square? Can you smell the flowers? Can you feel the warm breeze on your skin? Now add a sketch pad, some pencils and paints to this picture, and you've got one of the best life experiences: sketching on location!
We can learn a lot by sketching on location: sketching requires exploring, looking attentively, noticing, taking in the details, the colors, the atmosphere. While I happily sketch from photo references in my home studio, I love location sketching because it is such an immersive, complex experience. It is my goal to inspire you all to go outside and sketch!
Urban sketchers notice the subtle things other people might miss: the interplay of light and shadow, the flecks of sunlight on the water, the different shades of greenery, and lots more. Of course, capturing this sensual experience on paper is no easy task. So it is also a test for your sketching skills.
WHAT SKILLS DO YOU NEED?
Looking carefully at the scene and identifying your focus: What do you want to portray? Simplifying the actual scene, leaving out the unimportant details.
Some knowledge of perspective (one- and two-point and atmospheric perspective). If you are just starting out, don’t panic! There are a few basic principles that are sufficient for most urban sketches.
Measuring and drawing proportions.
Making a thumbnail sketch. I can’t stress the importance of this enough! It’s a rough, quick sketch, like a plan.
Mastering light and shadows. Again, you do not need to copy them from the actual scene, but it is essential to be clear on where the light source is and what the shadow sides are.
Knowing when to stop: you can keep adding more and more details but be careful not to overdo it!
Of course, there are a lot of sub-skills that you can work on to create beautiful sketches. Beginning artists struggle with things experienced sketchers take for granted: even drawing straight lines can be challenging if you’ve never done it before. Or using a variety of different lines to give different textures to your greenery. You definitely need to work on your technique at home and do practice exercises, in the same way as musicians diligently do scales.
Here's a list of useful resources and Skillshare classes to help you work on particular skills:
(click on the arrow next to each item to expand the list)
Skillshare Class: Urban Sketching for beginners: One-Point Perspective
Skillshare Class: Urban Sketching for beginners: Two-Point Perspective
Greenery in Urban Sketching
Colors: basics, mixing
Proportions, shadows, and depth
Skillshare Class: Urban Sketching: Let’s Draw Some Homes
Skillshare Class: Urban Sketching: Watercolor Sketch in 3 Steps
Skillshare Class: Windows in Watercolor: Develop Drawing, Shadowing and Painting skills
Sketching with Alcohol-Based Markers
Skillshare Class: Markers 101: The Basics and Step-by-Step Sketching
Skillshare Class: Urban Sketching with Markers | Architecture
Skillshare Class: Drawing with Markers: Learn How to Sketch Expressive Fruits and Berries
Blog post: How to Blend Alcohol-Based Markers
WHAT TOOLS DO YOU NEED?
A curious pair of eyes:)
A hat to protect that creative head of yours, and a pair of sunglasses if you’ve got sensitive eyes.
A stool. Trust me, it can make a big difference!
Your sketching kit with the supplies that work best for you.
Some water: both to stay hydrated and for your paints.
A tripod/selfie stick to take photos and share this amazing experience with your friends.
I have a PRINTABLE CHECKLIST of supplies for sketching on location. You can download it, print it out, and always be prepared!
If you would like to peek into my location supplies, I have got two detailed posts with links to the paints, brushes, paper, and accessories that I use:
JOINING AN URBAN SKETCHING GROUP VS. SKETCHING ON YOUR OWN
It’s more fun! Meeting new people and starting friendships that last is definitely one of the main attractions. Urban sketching is a social movement, not just art!
Motivation: signing up for sketching events gets you out of the house! It helps you sketch regularly.
Help from more experienced sketchers. It is amazing how just a tiny tip can help improve your technique or make things easier for you!
HOW DO YOU FIND AN URBAN SKETCHING CLUB IN YOUR AREA?
The first place to look is the global urban sketching website. Type in your location and see if your city is in it! There are chapters in 336 cities in over 60 countries. I think the map looks really impressive!
Alternatively, you can search for urban sketching groups/communities on Facebook.
Thanks to both groups, I have had a busy summer sketching. However, this deserves a separate blog post. I will tell you about the sketching events I attended and show some of the sketches I have made so far. Stay tuned (and subscribe to my newsletter for blog updates!)
At the beginning of June, I created a PDF checklist of sketching topics for this summer. Summer is halfway through already and I think I’ve checked off about half of the boxes! How about you? Share in the comments or DM me on Instagram!
NEW SKILLSHARE CLASS: TURQUOISE HOUSE BY THE POOL
Here's a location sketch that I transformed into a gouache class on Skillshare. I made this sketch while on holiday in Italy in 2021.
In this class, I will take you through the step-by-step process of drawing this beautiful turquoise house by the pool. We will use one of the most amazing combinations of art materials: gouache and colored pencils. If you are a beginner, you will need at least some experience with gouache to make the most of this class. This class is also suitable for more experienced artists who want to learn new techniques.
In this class, you will learn:
What are the best materials to use;
How to mix gouache colors;
How to create a thumbnail sketch;
How to draw a house portrait;
How to paint with gouache;
How to use colored pencils to add details.
I would love for you to join my Skillshare class!
If you are not on Skillshare yet, use my referral link to get your first month free.