In this post, I thought it would make sense not only to talk about what I think are the best books about urban sketching but to break them down into categories. Some books are a collection of multiple artists work, some are instructional and some are the collected work of just one artist.
My shelves are crammed with books on all kinds of subject matter but my favourites are undoubtedly those about the art and practice of urban sketching.
Books about how to learn urban sketching
Anyone who has browsed this blog will know I am a huge fan of Simone Ridyard’s work. Simone is a prominent urban sketcher, as well as an architect and senior lecturer at the Manchester School of Art. Simone was also instrumental in bringing the Urban Sketchers Symposium to Manchester in 2016.
Archisketcher is a must-buy for those of you who love Simone’s style but she also features the work of other sketchers, such as Nina Johanssen, Suhita Shirodker, Shari Blaukopf.
She also shows sketches of the same scene side by side to demonstrate how different sketchers interpret things so differently.
Simone covers topics such as composition, choosing an approach to your sketch, perspective, colour, viewpoints and further resources for you to check out. I think she basically covers everything you could possibly want to know about urban sketching architecture.
If sketching architecture is your jam, get this.
In case you’re interested, I have a couple of posts on sketching architecture:
I LOVE Lynne Chapman. She is an urban sketcher based in Sheffield, UK. She is also a children’s book illustrator and educator. She regularly visits schools, gives workshops and lectures as well as goes on sketchwalks.
Lynne’s life revolves around sketching and her energy is wonderful. Lynne has also been involved in a number of interesting projects an an ‘artist in residence’. Check out the film below about her experience as an artist in residence at the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives.
The thing I first knew Lynne for was her amazing sketches of commuters on the train. When I heard (a number of years ago) she had a book on this very subject I knew I absolutely had to check it out.
As well as her own sketches, Lynne includes people sketches from a number of other urban sketchers too.
Lynne breaks down how to draw certain features of the face such as eyes, ears and noses before moving on to clothing. She covers topics such as the fear of drawing strangers, how to capture musicians, people sleeping, zooming in to features and capturing people at a distance. There is so much covered within this book and I can’t think of anyone I would rather learn people sketching from.
Saying that, if you want to check out my (free) guide to people sketching, visit this post.
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We will work through 3 projects, step by step (pictured below), all of which are real-life examples of things I have sketched along my travels. I provide the photo references you can work from.
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Liz Steel is an urban sketcher based in Sydney, Australia. Formerly an architect, she knows a thing or two about sketching buildings. Despite Liz’s background she has an amazing loose style.
I was super excited to receive this book as a gift one year for Christmas. Liz keeps it real and to the point. The book is smaller than those mentioned so far but as the title suggests, it’s meant to encourage speed – a vital skill for urban sketchers to develop! There’s no waffle here, the book is to the point. So, again, if you are particularly interested in sketching architecture, this book lets you learn from a master.
Adebanji is another UK based urban sketcher (as well as the Vice President of the Royal Society of Oil Painters). I heard of him early on into my obsession with urban sketching. He is another artist who captured my imagination through his incredible sketches of commuters on London transport. I looked at his sketches and said, “I want to do that”!
So, to my joy, I discovered Adebanji has now (2020) released a book about his addiction to sketching!
His book is not solely about people sketching, he covers all avenues of sketching on location with gorgeous colour photographs and copies of his sketchbooks as examples. He teaches sketching techniques, composition, value and colour as well as giving step-by-step instructions on how he sketches in various locations such as pubs, at home and in parks.
For a more in-depth look at Adebanji and his work check out this documentary on Youtube:
I’m only just realising that my list so far is dominated by UK-based urban sketchers! This is entirely unintentional but pretty cool. Phil Dean (well known as Shoreditch Sketcher on Instagram) is one of my favourite urban sketchers. I took a short workshop with him a couple of years ago and I am happy to report he is a super nice guy as well.
Similarly to Adebanji, he has just released a book this year (2020) which has been very well received by the urban sketching community.
As his Instagram handle suggests Phil predominantly sketches around the Shoreditch area of London, although I believe he originates from Leeds and he also travels a fair bit too. I adore his sketches of London architecture and his signature wobbly lines.
Phil covers things such as how to loosen up when you’re sketching, composition, perspective, tone and contrast as well as some of his other tips & tricks. Phil’s sketches are shown throughout the book.
I first discovered Steven Reddy through the online learning platform, Craftsy. He has two classes on the platform that teaches his unique style.
Steven’s sketches are beautiful and curvy, I heard them referred to as “chubby” by Brenda Murray of Studio 56 which made me laugh because it’s a great way to describe the quality of his drawings.
Steven is a super interesting guy, he has travelled alot and he is an incredibly prolific sketcher. He has several illustrated travel memoir style self-published books predominantly available via his Etsy shop as well as this traditionally published instructional book.
Steven has a distinctive style which involves drawing objects or a scene with contour lines in ink, followed by doing a grey scale rendering with an ink wash and finally using watercolour on top. The results are brilliant.
What I love about Steven’s work is that he just draws anything and everything, he really inspires you to draw the seemingly mundane and encourages setting up still lifes with random objects in order to practice. All of his illustrations are done from life and he talks you through how to tackle sketching out on location once you have been through the tutorials on how to draw.
This is a big book, it has many pages, however as well as it being an instructional book it is an absolutely beautiful collections of Steven’s illustrations and I would buy it almost just for that! If you are no so interested in the instructional side and prefer just to have a book of his illustrations check out:
- Now Where Was I? A Sketchbook Memoir
- About a Year: The Sketchbooks of Steven Reddy
- This Is Then, That Was Now: a Sketchbook Memoir
Felix Scheinburger is an urban sketcher and professor of illustration based in Berlin, Germany. If you have come across Felix before you will know his work is both incredible and whacky (for lack of a better term). I think he veers towards a surrealist interpretation of the world he sees around him and I find it absolutely captivating. I’m a big fan as some of you may know.
In this book, Felix focusse predominantly on drawing with pen and ink. If you are more interested in colour and specifically watercolour, he has another very highly regarded book you chould check out: Urban Watercolor Sketching.
Felix is fantastic at inspiring people to just pick up a pen and get sketching, there is no right or wrong way, just get out there. He has some exercises in the book on how to do this and of course the pages are packed with examples of his own work which I absolutely adore.
If you are a fan of Felix and his style, or if you feel intimidated that sketches need to look perfect and realistic then this is absolutely the book foryou. It will definitely inspire you to get started.
James Hobbs was an urban sketcher I discovered via one of Danny Gregory’s books I believe (see the section below). His style both fascinated me and inspired me to get started sketching. I was therefore super keen to get this book which came in 2014 I believe. There may now be a newer edition of the same book.
James tends to use a fairly thick black marker in a small sketchbook to sketch the scenes around him. Another UK-based artist, his renditions of famous London scenes in his distinctive thick black pen are fantastic.
His book features his own work as well as many other urban sketchers work. He has profiles on various artists throughout and covers a multitude topics including some that are not too often covered such as how to make your own sketchbook, working digitally, sketching at night time.
This is a great book covering all aspects of sketching your world.
Marc Taro Holmes is a well known figure in the urban sketching scene. He has taught workshops at many of the urban sketching symposiums. Based in Montreal, Canada he has spent 25 years working as a professional artist on video games and for animation studios. He is an exceptional watercolour painter as well as an oil painter (which I believe has become his main focus now).
Marc has a class on Craftsy, which was the first course I ever bought from there. I would say his level of instruction is far more useful to someone at an intermediate level already.
The book starts with the fundamentals of drawing but I could see a complete beginner be a little overwhelmed as Marc is definitely more of a realistic/accurate sketcher. For someone completely new to sketching I would recommend Dare to Sketch (Felix Scheiberger) and Sketch Your World (James Hobbs) just to get the motivation levels up to start sketching and then for further refinement of your skills I would move to this book.
Most of the demonstrations to start with focus on pencil drawing, progressively moving to ink and then watercolour. This is a reasonably dense book and very focused on instruction rather than a bit of instruction as well as a gallery like some of the other books above.
Although he explains things simply and clearly, I think his approach lends itself to people who have a degree of experience. This is definitely more of an advanced book.
Books curating the artwork of multiple urban sketchers
This is an amazing book showcasing the work of urban sketchers all over the world! Of course, it is a bit heavy on the US and Europe, followed by Asia and then barley anything work from Africa but this is not the fault of the book, just a reflection fo the demographics of urban sketching I think!
For an overview of urban sketching styles from all over the world from the man who invented the term ‘Urban Sketching’ and who started the original urban sketchers blog, followed by the non-profit organisation urbansketchers.org, then look no further. This is the book.
I think this was the very first book I got my hands on after the sketching bug struck me and my first introduction to Danny Gregory. Although this book is more of a curation of other people’s work rather than his own, it did lead me on to eventually discover Danny’s other books containing only his work in, as well as learning about his story and what brought him to sketching his everyday life. It’s a bit of a tragic tale I’m afraid but if you want to learn more then check out his book, Everyday Matters.
An Illustrated Journey collects together sketches and sketchbook spreads drawn along the travels of some of Danny’s favourtie sketchbook artists. It is a beautiful inspirational book and certainly was one of the catalysts for my personal journey into the world of travel sketching.
Along the same lines of the book above, this time Danny Gregory curates the pages of his favourite artists from their everyday sketchbooks. This is an intimate look into the pages of sketchers we know and admire as well as an introduction to some we may not have heard of. Both of Danny’s books have introduced me to many wonderful artists to follow and gain inspiration from.
I have put this book in this section with books that are a curation of other artists work weather than the instructional section as I feel it suggests aspects to think about when engaging in this style of sketching but it primarily feels like more a collection of examples from other artists work. I am super interested in reportage and documentary drawing so for me this book was an essential purchase. However, if you not really that interested in this subject matter then check out one of the other numerous books in this series on different sub-topics of urban sketching.
Books of artwork by individual urban sketchers
The Best Coast: A Road Trip Atlas: Illustrated Adventures along the West Coast’s Historic Highways – Chandler O’Leary
I think I came across Chandler’s work via Pinterest. I then clicked through to her website and then discovered she has a book. I find her illustration style in the same vein as artists like Steven Redddy, Paul Heaston, Tommy Kane and Lapin. There’s this fun curvy cartoon-y vibe with bright colours.
One of my own happiest travel memories is hiring a car and driving Route 66 in the US. So, the fact the subject matter of Chandler’s book is a road trip along the historic highways of the west coast of the US grabbed my attention immediately. This is a fantastic book of illustrations but also super informative travel book for anyone who wants to road trip west coast USA!
Roisin Cure is another prominent urban sketcher who regularly provides workshops in her native Ireland but also in other locations around the world too. Her illustrations are with bold ink and vibrant watercolour that really resonates with me.
This is a big book covering the gorgeous city of Galway. There’s a lot of text alongside the illustrationcs covering things like the food served in the places she sketches in, the people she meets while sketching, the music, places to visit and many other stories. This is a great book if you (a) love Roisin’s illustration style and (b) love Ireland or want to know more about the specific place of Galway.
I absolutely love Inma Serrano’s illustration style. I think I first came across her either vie one of Danny Gregory’s books or Sketchbook Skool (somehow it always traces back to Mr. Gregory)!
Her style is a million miles away from my own, I don’t think I could even begin to try and sketch as Inma does. It’s bold, dramatic, vibrant, immediate…I just can’t turn away. So of course as soon as I discovered her book I had to have it. Even though the text is in Spanish, the artwork does not need any translation.
I learned of Tommy Kane through Danny Gregory and Sketchbook Skool. Tommy was an instructor for one of the courses and I believe Danny and Tommy are great friends.
Once introduced to Tommy’s work I was an instant fan. I love how he draws from life but incorporates fantastical elements too. I could just look through his sketchbooks endlessly, they’re so imaginative yet Tommy draws with the most basic of implements, mainly just a pen.
“All My Photographs Are Made With Pens” is a collection of Tommy’s sketchbooks organised thematically. It’s a beautiful book and one I am sure you will return to time and again.
Rolf makes me want to throw all my art supplies away and just wander the streets with a sketchbook and black pen. How can he produce such magic simply from one black pen! He is a genius. I am absolutely in love with his loose line and the way he overlaps elements. You feel like you are there with him, looking through his eyes.
This book is a tiny bit trickier to get hold of simply for the fact it’s not available via Amazon, however, you can purchase it here. You may just have to be a little more patient to receive it depending on where you live in the world.
Some of my favourite online classes
- Architectural Sketching with Watercolor and Ink – Alex Hillkurtz
- Expressive Architectural Sketching with Colored Markers – Albert Kiefer
- Acrylic Painting Step by Step: Create Incredible Landscapes – Maru Godas
- Urban Sketching: Express Your World in a New Perspective – Lapin
David Gentleman is a British illustrator who has lived in London his entire life. He is well known for having designed stamps and coins as well as the platform-lenght mural at Charing Cross tube station. He is a bit of a legend.
In this book David presents his sketches and watercolour illustrations of one year spent looking closely at the iconic capital city. The book is broken down into months and includes all kinds of notes from David about materials as well as how he captures the movement and vibrancy of the city as an artist. This is an incredible book by a much beloved figure.
The french urban sketcher Lapin is probably no stranger to you. With his floral shirts, fancy hats and illustrations on old accounting books, he must be one of the most ‘iconic’ urban sketchers around.
Int his book Lapin captures various angles and stories of the beautiful city of Paris in his fun and whimsical style. If you are a fan of Lapin then this book is a no-brainer.
Can I mention myself?!
Eek…is this awkward? I don’t know. Anyway, I’m not saying this is a “best” book in any way but here we are talking about books on urban sketching and here we are in the section regarding books by individual urban sketchers…so I thought I would just let you guys know, I have my books too!
Please, by all means, check it out!
Check out my ebooks with hundreds of ink & watercolour travel sketches from all over the world. Get some inspiration for your next trip…
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