Urban Sketching for Beginners

Urban sketching is a hot practice, and for good reason: Cities provide endless subjects. As I write this, I’m still acclimating to the Midwest after a weekend trip to Manhattan, which was a feast for the eyes. Actually, it’s a feast for all of one’s senses.Sketching your surroundings can be such a fantastic way to create a visual diary of your daily experiences and I’m always a for a sketch of a bike.

Tips for Urban Sketching

  • Start by mapping the limits of your composition. Think about the outlines of the buildings–the silhouettes they would make. Decide what you want to draw and block in big shapes.
  • When sketching buildings I often work from the larger abstract shapes to the smaller detailed shapes, for this demo, the method is the same.
  • I also wanted to illustrate how important the shapes around the main subject can be, so in this example, I’ve left the drawing of the main focus of the bike until last and drawn everything around it first.

  • Divide the composition with big shapes and lines. Think about it like a jigsaw; each piece must fit together with another piece to make up the image. Keep your eye on what you’re drawing, occasionally letting it flit back to your sketchbook.
  • Add in interesting details: windows, figures, signage, etc. The big shapes of the buildings set the scale for the drawing; use them to help you keep the details in proportion. Be selective–you don’t have to include everything you see.
  • Framing the composition
  • Giving the viewer a sense of place

  • Revealing the lighting – by showing the shadow angle, adding a strong dark at the top of the frame to balance with the dark shadow at the bottom of the frame.
  • Adding textural marks – in contrast to the smooth lines on the bike.
  • Splitting the composition into thirds
  • The edges have also been arranged to avoid a tangent of the diagonal line hitting the corner of the frame. Always check your corners.

Also Try:
A visual diary: Make written notes on things you notice. Include details around the edge of the page.

A splash of color: Add a touch of watercolor, pencil, crayon, or felt tip for a bit of extra color and tone.

Contour drawing: Improve your observation by drawing without looking at your paper; work the opposite way around, starting from details in the center and spiraling outward.