A lot of blog posts and videos focus on how to get started with urban sketching and I myself have a video on that very subject matter, which you can find here. However, not that many resources cover how you can improve your urban sketching.
In this post, I wanted to share some creative exercises for those of you who are looking for advanced tips on urban sketching and how to really push your skills forward.
If you want to get better at urban sketching, these tips are a fantastic place to start.
- List your favourite urban sketchers, analyse their styles and techniques.
- Try out the different styles and techniques you identified in step 1.
- Experiment with new materials.
- Sketch what scares you, set yourself challenges.
- Take more courses, from as many different places as possible.
For best results, read through this entire post and put the advice into action.
1. List some of your favourite urban sketchers
You have my permission to binge scroll Pinterest and Instagram!
Make some notes on their styles and technique. Record your findings and save the sketches that really inspire you. Maybe start a board of your favourite urban sketchers on Pinterest. Did you know you can save images in little folders on Instagram too? Failing that you can always take screenshots and make a file on your phone, computer or tablet.
I find having reference folders like this a really good way to get myself out of a creative slump and re-inspired.
Think about the urban sketchers you’ve selected.
- What do they do that makes them different?
- What materials are they using?
- What elements of their sketching style would you like to emulate (for practice purposes) or incorporate into your own sketching style?
My personal examples are:
Maru Godas uses very flat shapes and uses lots of layers, she uses fun whimsical colours. Her style is so simple yet just so so much fun to look at. Maru has an excellent course over on Domestika teaching the techniques with gouache that she uses in her sketchbook – you can find it here.
Felix Scheinberger’s style is so loose and effortless, scribbly pen lines, splashes of colour – he doesn’t seem too concerned with art rules or realism. He creates his own version of the world.
Lyndon Hayes uses two contrasting colours of ink to create line drawings of London – it’s a style I personally have not seen done before and (to me) is his trademark).
Feeding on from this exercise…
2. Choose an urban sketcher from the list and try to sketch like them
Choose another and do the same. You could choose one sketcher per week or even just try a bunch over a weekend. This is an exercise- learning by doing.
Absorb their style for a while and when you go back to your own sketching you may have picked up a few things from each sketcher which you may (even subconsciously) amalgamate into your own style.
My personal examples:
- I remember when I started to block in windows with a black brush pen and draw window frames over the top with a white gel pen – I definitely got this from someone else.
- I tend to do trees and foliage with a wet in wet style very similar to Alicia Aradilla.
- I have tried painting skies in constrained shape, which I tried out after seeing Danny Hawk’s work.
- I have tried out Ian Fennelly’s colour choices once or twice in some sketches and also incorporated markers in shades of grey but in an entirely different way to how he does it but I was still inspired by his process.
It’s fun to try out different techniques from different sources. As we know, it’s very important never to directly copy someone and pass it off as your own, but trying out styles and techniques, blending them together or turning them into something different is innovation and actually how a lot of creative works come into being.
Treat this as a creative exercise. Like playing songs by other people when you’re learning an instrument. It is supposed to be fun!
3. Try new materials
This is one of the easiest and most fun ways to push yourself in new creative directions (also it feeds that art supply shopping addiction you have – I see you! I am one of you too!)
I recently bought a set of gouache paints (this set on Amazon). I’m having a lot of fun with painting in a different way and the ability to paint light colours on dark colours is really helping me flex different skills.
Also, as some of you may have seen in this youtube video…I am learning oil painting too, which is blowing a whole other door wide open!
It’s also good to invest in your craft. Not tried 100% cotton watercolour paper yet? Do it!
Not made the move to artist-grade paints yet? Get a small set and see what happens. This Daniel Smith essentials set is a great place to start in my opinion.
Challenge yourself to sketch in a different medium for a week.
I love looking at sketches done solely in a black marker pen – like James Hobbs or Rolf Schroeter.
At the moment I’m trying to keep a whole sketchbook of just drawing with a pen, no watercolour at all. Just a pen. If you’re a member of my Patreon, you will have seen my first couple of sketches so far – I am releasing little videos about them as I go.
It’s so interesting to see how you draw and interpret things differently because of the restrictions (or freedoms) of a new medium.
4. Push your limits with different subject matters
- What do you never sketch?
- What scares you?
- Do you never sketch people? Set yourself a challenge to sketch nothing but people for a week. There’s a challenge on this every March I think….one week, 100 people by Marc Taro Holmes and Liz Steel. I have the best of intentions to join every single year and I never manage to!
- Does sketching cars terrify you? Then you guessed it. Sketch 10 pages of cars!
The only way to improve is to push yourself way out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to say but if you actually do this you really can push through any kind of comfortable plateau you may have reached and move forward.
A fun thing to do is make a whole series of sketches on the same subject matter. I really love these examples from Santi Salles.
5. Take some courses!
I just launched my course Sketch Your Adventures, enrollment is now closed but having some structured projects to tackle along with new techniques to try can really push your sketching so much further, also you can get feedback with me along the way!
There are so many wonderful places to take shorter classes from a wide range of teachers. James Richards and Teoh Yi Chie are notable urban sketchers teaching over on Skillshare.
Skillshare is like the Netflix of creative skills – pay a small monthly fee and then watch and absorb as much content as you like, and on anything, not just urban sketching.
Check out this link for a free trial. I pay for the annual membership – the price is just unbeatable for the amount of inspiration and knowledge I get on such a variety of subjects.
Or there’s Domestika which I just cannot get enough of, they have the most amazing people teaching over there and the courses are so excellently structured and produced. You pay per class but they always have amazing sales on so you can generally buy a class for a steal. I have not yet been disappointed by any of the courses I have bought.
You’ll find some of my favourite urban sketchers teaching there: Lapin, Alicia Aradilla, Felix Scheinburger to name but a few. These are some of my current favourite classes:
- Watercolor Travel Journal – Alicia Aradilla
- Pictorial Sketchbook with Gouache – Maru Godas
- Artistic Watercolour Sketching: Dare to Sketch – Felix Scheinburger
- Urban Sketching: Express Your World in a New Perspective – Lapin
And finally, good old Craftsy, it’s still the same content as it has been for years but the platform is in revival mode and the courses they do have from some of the top names in urban sketching are much longer and in-depth than other platforms.
Again you can sign up for a monthly fee and stream as much content as you want. They have courses on all manner of creative topics, not just sketching and painting. You will find teachers such as Shari Blaukopf, Stephanie Bower, Steven B Reddy, Marc Taro Holmes and more – some really excellent instructors. Again – here is a list of some of my favourite courses:
- The Essentials of Sketching Architecture – Stephanie Bower
- Sketching the City in Pen, Ink & Watercolor – Shari Blaukopf
- Essential Techniques for Sketching the Energy of Places – James Richards
- Travel Sketching in Mixed Media – Marc Taro Holmes
Take as many classes as you can, learn from everyone, do the exercises and experiment. Your sketchbook is a playground. Forget about anyone seeing it. Just go wild, let go and have fun. Once you really embrace this you will lose your inhibitions and the pressure you put on yourself.
When I am feeling too uptight and precious about my sketching I go and absorb myself in the sketching of Felix Scheinburger, Inma Serrano, Maru Godas, Santi Salles, Paul Wang – these particular sketchers really inspire me to play and let loose.
I have different sets of sketchers for different purposes but these are the ones that always get me to play and take the pressure off.
I hope this post has been useful, there are so many more here on urbansketchingworld.com to explore so take a look at the suggestions below or browse the categories at your leisure, then come and join me over on the Youtube channel!
If you’d like to see some of the travel sketches I have done in the past few years, I have a book!
📙 SKETCHY ADVENTURES AROUND THE WORLD
😍 INSTANT DOWNLOAD 60 page PDF with over 130 original watercolour & ink illustrations, 3 years of travels, 15 countries over 4 continents