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Paul Rubens Watercolour Paints & Travel Sketchbook Review


We urban sketchers are always looking for the best tools to use on our sketching adventures. Whether you’re out to sketch for an hour here or there or take specific week-long sketching ventures, it’s important that you have a set of materials that work for you both in terms of practicality, affordability and usability.

Here is my review of a watercolour set and sketchbook that I’ve been checking out lately: 

  • Paul Rubens Watercolour Set of 24
  • Paul Rubens Watercolour Sketchbook

Let’s look at each item in more detail.

Paul Rubens Watercolour Set of 24

The Paints

These are ‘artist grade’ watercolour paints from China. Now, I have tested inexpensive watercolours labelled as ‘professional’ before, that certainly are not artist grade. However, I can confirm that this set from Paul Rubens is indeed lightfast and therefore I can back their claim of being ‘artist grade’. 

Listed below are the colours included in the set of 24. You will notice two things.

  1. Nearly every colour in the set is single pigment. The three exceptions to this are Paynes Grey (made from PB15, PB29 andPBK9); Yellow Green (made from PG36 and PY74); and Tree Green (PG36, PY12, PR101 and PW5)
  2. The ‘Lightfastness’ rating is high (i.e. good) – 8 on this scale means totally lightfast. The scale runs from 1. There are no colours under 6 in this set. Three colours have a rating of 6: Madder Red, Paynes Grey and Prussian Blue.
  • Permanent Lemon Yellow : PY3 – Lightfastness 7 – Half Transparent
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium: PY35 – Lightfastness 8 – Opaque
  • Indian Yellow: PY83 – Lightfastness 7 – Completely Transparent
  • Cadmium Red Light: PR108 – Lightfastness 8 – Half Opaque
  • Scalet: PR123 – Lightfastness 7 – Completely Transparent
  • Madder Red: PR177 – Lightfastness 6 – Half Opaque
  • Violet: PV19 – Lightfastness 7 – Completely Transparent
  • Permanent Violet: PV23 – Lightfastness 7 – Completely Transparent
  • Cobalt Blue: PB28 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
  • France Ultramarine: PB29 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
  • Sky Blue: PB36 – Lightfastness 8 – Opaque
  • Sea Blue: PB15.3 – Lightfastness 7 – Opaque
  • Prussian Blue: PB27 – Lightfastness 6 – Half Transparent
  • Paynes Grey: PB15, PB29, PBK9 – Lightfastness 6 – Completely Transparent
  • Yellow Green: PG36, PY74 – Lightfastness 8 – Half Transparent
  • Tree Green: PG36, PY12, PR101, PW5 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
  • Hooker’s Green Brillight: PG17 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
  • Pozzuoli Red Ochre: PR101 – Lightfastness 8 – Opaque
  • Burned Sienna: PB7 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
  • Emerald Green Deep: PG7 – Lightfastness 7 – Completely Transparent
  • Burned Brown: PBR7 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
  • Yellow Ochre: PY42 – Lightfastness 8 – Opaque
  • Umber: PBR7,PR101 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
  • Coal Black: PBK7 – Lightfastness 8 – Opaque

Interestingly, one reviewer who conducted a lightfastness test (by leaving a chart of swatched colours in direct sunlight for several months) found that Madder Red (lightfastness rating of 6) and Yellow Green (which actually has a lightfastness rating of 8) were the two that faded slightly. All the other paints held their colour perfectly.

Presentation

The Paul Rubens Watercolour Set of 24 certainly has the wow factor when it comes to presentation. It comes in a beautiful cardboard box that matches the colour of the watercolour tin. Now, baby pink is not really my jam but you can’t deny that it does catch the eye. It is certainly different. St Petersburg White Nights have some sets available in lilac but I have not seen pink on offer like this before.

Will it put some people off? Yes.
It puts me off, I’ll be honest.

But, now I know how good these paints are, I would think again, or at least overlook it. From the Paul Rubens website, it does look like they make the sets available in other colour tins, such as baby blue and navy blue, however, at the time of writing, I can’t see that they are available to buy (at least in the UK/US via Amazon).

Despite the colour, the tine comes in a box with a beautiful cloth wrapped around it. I couldn’t decide if this was just a presentational element or if the cloth is meant for wiping your brush on. It would seem like a shame to ruin it to be honest, but then I think what other purpose will it serve? So the jury is still out as to whether I will use it as a brush rag!

Conclusion

These paints have been available to purchase on Amazon since 2018. They are affordable (approximately US$40 / £40) and are comparable to watercolour paints that are 3 times the price from brands such as Schmincke and Sennelier.

They have had excellent reviews from other watercolour sketchers and crafters. I can firmly throw my hat in the ring and say these paints are vibrant, fun to use and affordable. For urban sketching, I would certainly be tempted to use the set of 12 but as someone who tends to use a limited number of colours, it has been really nice to have 24 colours at my fingertips to paint with. Not that I paint with my fingers…there’s definitely some brushes involved.

You can get the Paul Rubens watercolours in a set of 12, 24 or 48. There’s also a glitter/metallic set of paints (I haven’t tried them, they don’t appeal to me). As mentioned, I have seen photos of a baby blue tin and a dark blue tin but can only see the baby pink option available on Amazon (both UK and US). The colour doesn’t massively appeal to me but I shall overlook it! 

Amazon.com – https://amzn.to/3hEX5uk
Amazon.co.uk – https://amzn.to/3jWD6ua

Paul Rubens Watercolour Sketchbook

You can actually buy the Paul Rubens watercolour paint set and travel sketchbook in a bundle together on Amazon here.

The travel sketchbook I received is once more in pink but you can buy this sketchbook in black too. On the Paul Rubens website, it looks like it is available in baby blue as well but I can’t see that colour for sale on Amazon (at the time of writing).

I have the smallest size – 195mm x by 135mm. It’d just a tad smaller than A5. In the picture above it looks like portrait orientation but the one I have is landscape, with the elastic band secured on the shorter side. This actually suits me perfectly. I use both orientations but predominantly landscape. It’s only recently I have been trying portrait formats with the Hahnmenuhle Watercolour Sketchbook.

Specifications of the Paper

From reading the product description on Amazon, it appears this paper is 100% cotton, which I find very surprising, mainly because of the price the sketchbook retails at. The paper is 140lb / 300gsm.

The paper is also labelled as hot press, although there is a very slight texture to it. I generally use cold press paper. It varies from brand to brand but a lot of the time it is the sweet spot between textured enough for watercolour to do its thing but not too much where it ends up tricky to sketch with my pen. It certainly wears down my fineliners if the texture is too rough.

The Paul Rubens website doesn’t go into much detail about the specs of this sketchbook but we can see the paper is listed as fine-grain cotton pulp.

I found the water sat on the surface of the paper rather than soaking in (especially if you use a bit more than you should – oops) so it did take quite some time to dry. I do have other 100% cotton papers. I do not use them much as I am more of a sketchbook-er but I crack them out for the odd commission. 

The paper in this sketchbook didn’t really seem to act like the 100% cotton paper I am (vaguely) used to. But if we take away that aspect, I was still happy with how this sketchbook behaved for my style of sketching and painting, and my expectations based on many other sketchbooks I have used.

Construction of the Paper

The pages of the sketchbook are perforated so you can tear them out easily. I suppose this makes it easy to tear out a page if you don’t like it. Although I advise against that. It’s a sketchbook after all and not everything you do in it will be perfect but it’s always an opportunity to learn. But you know – if you hate it that much – you can easily get rid of it. We’ve all been there many a time!

On a ‘glass half full’ side of things, it makes it easy for you to tear out if someone loves your sketch and wants to buy it. It does happen! Ok, not to me, but I have heard it happen to others.

The cover of the book is leather in appearance, there is a pocket at the back where you can keep tickets, stickers, flyers etc. There is a ribbon bookmark and as mentioned an elastic band to keep the sketchbook together. A tried and tested format that most travel watercolour sketchbooks now have.

Testing the Paper 

I tested the paper by firstly swatching the colours of the Paul Rubens watercolour set – a great way to beak a sketchbook in by the way.

>> If you want more tips on how to start a sketchbook, check out this post. <<

After this I did some wet on wet ‘noodling’ just to see what was what, get used to the paint a but, the paper a bit etc.

I then went on to paint a sunset scene directly in watercolour. I rarely do direct watercolour paintings and it’s not my strong suit either. However, after the usual panic that it looks like a 5-year-old did it (is this mean to 5-year-olds?), it actually started to shape up quite nicely. 

By the way, if you want to see the full Youtube video of this test, click on the image below:

Paul Rubens Watercolour Set

That’s not to say this paper is bad! It’s just better for watercolour sketching – and generally by that I mean ink and watercolour or line and wash. In fact, I was very satisfied with how this paper performed under the layers of water and paint I added.

My next and final test was something I am far more comfortable with – a sketch of an old door in ink and watercolour. I had a lot of fun sketching this, the paper was great, I love how smooth some of the wet in wet effects were and it was easy to draw on in my usual way. 

Overall I am very happy with this paper and the format of this sketchbook. I will certainly be using it for both urban sketching and sketching at home. I would definitely consider buying one, perhaps even a larger version. I think the sketchbook is a comparable price with a Moleskine Watercolour Album and of comparable quality.

As well as the sketchbook, Paul Rubens offer a paper block. This is where the paper comes in a pad but is glued on all sides except for an opening where you can slide in a palette knife or something similar to carefully separate the sheet from the pad. It’s useful so you do not have to stretch or tape down paper when you want to paint. This is also advertised as 100% cotton. Confusingly, the picture of it looks very similar to that of the watercolour sketchbook so do read carefully when you are ordering from Amazon.

I can’t comment on the block, just warning you it’s available and looks similar to the sketchbook at first glance.

I do want to link to the sketchbook here but I cannot seem to find it on Amazon.com, however, here it is on Amazon.co.uk

Overall Conclusion on Paul Rubens Products

I am really happy I had the opportunity to try these Paul Rubens watercolour paints and sketchbook out. They were sent to me for free for review purposes and to be honest and I had low expectations but since trying them out, followed by reading other people’s opinions on them, I really am very happy with them.

I think the watercolour paints are the real standout product. The quality of pigments, the lightfastness and the way they interact are all excellent – especially when taking the price into consideration.

The sketchbook is totally fine, it doesn’t blow me away but it is completely in line with other sketchbooks in a similar format and price point so I would be totally happy to use these sketchbooks on a regular basis, especially for urban sketching.

I think the matching pink watercolour set and sketchbook is a strong statement I am not ready to make yet but I appreciate the quality of presentation of both products nonetheless.

I hope this has been a useful review and helped with any ponderings you’ve had as to whether you should buy either of these products.

If you would like to stay in touch to hear about my latest videos, projects or special offers you should totally join my newsletter below! Just pop your email address in.

21 Ideas To Try In Your Watercolour Sketchbook Right Now


Do you sit down to sketch or paint sometimes and you just don’t know what to do or where to start? I do.

I have some time and I want to practice but then all inspiration disappears and I’m left twiddling my thumbs wasting precious painting time on trying to decide what to do.

That’s why I came up with this list of ideas. It has really helped me to focus my time and therefore I thought I would share it as it may help you too.

I hope this list inspires you on what to try out in your watercolour sketchbook.

If you would like some more information on watercolour sketchbooks, I have a brief round-up that you can check out here.

For those of you who want to glance over the list quickly or perhaps even print this section out, here is the condensed list below. For a more detailed explanation and my thoughts on each of these bullet points, keep reading the rest of the post.

Ideas For Your Watercolour Sketchbook

  • Swatches of your watercolour set
  • Mixing chart with your watercolour set
  • Sketching things around the house
  • Exotic animals
  • Urban sketching in your local area
  • Portraits – the 100 Heads Challenge
  • Ink drawings with minimal use of watercolour
  • Famous landmarks
  • Use a limited palette
  • People sketching – #100peopleoneweek
  • Pubs
  • Draw This In Your Style Challenges
  • Sketch the same thing twice in different styles (or mediums)
  • Do something that scares you
  • Practice natural elements (Skies, water, mountains, beach etc)
  • Design a sketchbook spread
  • Just use one colour
  • Paint first, then draw on top
  • Use other mediums with your watercolours
  • Use only your least-used colours
  • Paint only with one very large brush

Swatches of your watercolour set

The first thing I like to do when i get a new watercolour set is to make swatches of each colour, write the name and pigment code. This is also a goo things to do when you start a new sketchbook, especially if it’s not one you have used before. It’s a good way to get to know the paper a little.

I tend to make these swatch charts in the back of the sketchbook but you can do it on the first page too. This is a useful exercise to help conquer the fear of the first blank page!

Mixing chart with your watercolour set

The next thing I do after making a swatches of each of the colours is to make a mixing chart. This is such a useful way to get to know your paints and how they mix with each other. I cannot think of another exercise that improved my ability with watercolour than this.

If you have a large set this is going to take quite some time but if you have a set of 12 colours or less then this is an excellent exercise to do and I highly recommend you make the time to do it.

If you want to read more about how to make a watercolour mixing chart, you can check out my post here.

Sketching things around the house

One of the most interesting and fun things i have been doing in my watercolour sketchbook, especially during lockdown, is to sketch things around the house. Whether it’s my actual art supplies, houseplants, the kitchen cupboard or the cat, it has certainly kept me occupied.

If you fancy having a go at sketching things around the house why don’t you my 7 Day Urban Sketching at Home Challenge? It’s totally free and you can join any time, click here to join now!

Exotic animals

Pick 5 of your favourites, perhaps have a theme? I painted 5 African animals I saw during a game drive, you can see them in my sketchbook tour video below.

Try some urban sketching in your local area

Check out this video of me sketching around the park where I live. I tried a few different scenes across a sketchbook spread and I even learned a little bit about the history of the are through doing it.

Try drawing portraits

Yep, full-on head and shoulder portraits. There’s even a challenge you can try this out with, it will save you some finding reference photos – search for the 100 heads challenge!

I’m not good at portraits but I tried a few and they’re actually pretty fun, here’s an attempted self portrait!

Ink drawings with minimal use of watercolour

Check out my video with John Harrison who is a master of leaving white space or for an alternative approach check out my video below of a full-on ink drawing of doors with bright pops of colour in the background.

Sketch some famous landmarks

I did a series of London landmarks which really helped me galvanise a certain style I seemed to be developing organically. Sketching a series of things really helps with this. It’s also great for a bit of armchair travel too, perhaps pick some landmarks from countries you’ve always wanted to visit.

Use a limited palette

Pick some version of the 3 primaries (or perhaps even three secondary colours if you’re feeling super brave) and paint with just those 3 colours. For instance, you may want to pick 3 cool primaries (red, yellow and blue) or 3 warm primaries.

You could do a colour mixing chart before you start to understand what colours you can achieve we these three paints. Then do a whole sketch with just these colours. If it were me, I would be tempted to do a whole series of sketches like this. It will really help you understand how to get the most our of your paints.

People sketching

People sketching is something I really want to do more of. Again there’s a yearly challenge of sketching 100 people in one week if you want to do it along with lots of other people, however, there’s no need to wait! Get out to your local cafe or park and get sketching your fellow humans!

Pubs

Sketchy Adventures Around The World

I’m British. I can’t get enough of pubs. Enough said. If you want to watch me sketch one, check out this video, or this one…if you want to see an entire page of pub sketches from me, check out my book!

Draw this in your style

Try a ‘Draw This In Your Style’ challenge. I recommend trying out the challenges set by @brejanz over on Instagram, I really enjoy the reference photos he posts (and also his fantastical interpretations of them). There are loads of other people who post challenges though, use the hashtag #drawthisinyourstyle or #dtiys etc to scour for inspiration.

Here is a sketch I did as part of a draw this in your style challenge:

The other great things is if you follow the hashtags you can see the multitude of different styles one subject can be portrayed in. It’s staggering. It’s like every single person’s style is unique to them, like a fingerprint.

Sketch the same thing twice… or even three times!

Try sketching the same subject twice (or even 3 times) but in a different style, like this video where I sketched 3 houses in 3 different ways or in this video where I did one tight sketch and one looser one.

Do something that scares you!

Paint in watercolour without adding ink lines first (or after) or sketch directly in watercolour with no lines at all!

Practice natural elements

Practice natural elements: paint skies, water, rocks or sandy beaches. These can be hard things to draw or paint so practice different ways of representing them.

Design a sketchbook spread

Design a sketchbook spread or layout, sketch one thing from multiple different angles (like a building or even something simple like a pepper) but try to make the layout look as interesting as possible.

Just use one colour

Sketch an entire scene in one colour, just use tonal variations (light middle and dark versions of the one colour. I’m pretty sure you will be amazed at how much you can achieve using just one colour.

There are a number of videos on Youtube about how to do this, below is one of my favourites from artist, Karen Rice.

Paint first

Use a paint first approach and put a wash of colour down first, then draw over the top and add more paint as you see fit. You can check out a couple of ways in which to do this:

1. in this video of me painting a house or

2. this one painting a feature of a Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza.

Use other mediums with your watercolour paints

Experiment with other mediums in conjunction with your watercolour paints: watercolour pencils or markers, gouache, colour pencils, water-soluble ink. See how they interact together and what effects you can make.

Use your least used colours/paints

 Look at your palette, which are you least used colours that you barely touch? Paint only using those colours. 

Just one large brush…

Try and paint entirely with one very large brush…just see how far you can get and how it affects your painting technique.

Final thoughts…

I really hope you have enjoyed looking through this list and all the ideas that are here. Many of them I have attempted in my own sketchbook and you can watch me doing so over on my Youtube channel here.

If you are looking for a collection of inspiring reference images to sketch from, look no further than my Pinterest board which you can find here.

To keep in touch with me and to be the first to hear all the exciting news about my courses, books, discounts, latest videos and posts, join my newsletter and pop your email in the box below.

Using A Lightbox For Watercolour Painting


A Lightbox is something I have considered purchasing in the past. Not really for anything directly to do with urban sketching of course but for some other illustration work I think it could have made life easier. Leaning on a window doing my best to trace an initial sketch is not ideal.

In the last 12 months, I have taken a few Domestika courses on watercolour painting and was interested to see some instructors using a lightbox to transfer a sketch onto their watercolour paper before painting.

It makes sense as this limits any sketching and erasing unnecessary pencil Iines that could potentially damage the surface of expensive watercolour paper. 

I had never come across this before or given it that much thought.

I realised replicating a line drawing quickly without any fuss could be quite useful in my general art habits, especially for practice but also for experimentation purposes (which we know I’m all about).

What is a lightbox?

A lightbox provides an evenly lit surface backlit by LEDs to allow artists to transfer or trace an image from one piece of paper on the bottom to another piece of paper on top of it.

Artists from across the centuries have used equipment to allow them to transfer an image on to another surface. But in the 21st century, as with most things, it is just quicker, cheaper and more efficient…

What are lightboxes used for?

Lightboxes have a wide-ranging application for many art and design professionals, such as:

  • Animators
  • Lettering artists
  • Tattoo artists
  • Illustrators
  • Graphic designers

(This list is not exhaustive).

A lightbox allows an artist or designer to redraw an image multiple times, adjusting or refining it in some way each time. For example, an animator can trace the character they are drawing but then move a part of the body in a different way.

A lettering artist can refine the shape of their letters or exaggerate parts just to see how it looks. Or they can use a grid underneath their paper to ensure all their letters and words are aligned and spaced correctly.

Tattoo artists can make sure they have perfect lines on their final illustration, ready to be applied permanently to their human canvas.

In this post, I am focusing on watercolour sketching/painting as that’s what my purpose is for using the lightbox and I think my audience, i.e. those of you reading this, would be most interested in this application too.

Why is a lightbox useful for ink and/or watercolour sketching?

– you could replicate a drawing onto different types of watercolour paper and then paint the same thing on each as a test to see what the paper is like

– you could paint the same sketch in various different ways to try different techniques, different colour palettes, different brands of paint etc

– you could compose an image by tracing 2 (or more) different elements on to one page

A lightbox could be useful to an aspiring or established watercolourist for the pure reason it removes the time and issues of trying to replicate your own line drawing leaving you to purely focus on the practice of watercolour painting.

Elice Lightbox

So onto the lightbox itself.

There are many lightboxes on the market and many round-ups of which are recommended. If your requirements are hobbyist, such as mine, then don’t worry too much about all of the technical specifications. As long as it works, it will probably do what you need! But if you like getting into the technical weeds, be my guest!

I’m not really one for doing big product roundups so I will just talk to you about the lightbox I have and what I have found it super useful for.

The lightbox I have is made by a company called Elice. You can find them on Amazon here – FYI this is an affiliate link.

I have the A3 version and it costs about £30/US$50 which I think is an absolute bargain.

Full disclosure – Elice sent me this lightbox to try out, completely unsolicited and they did not pay me for a favourable review at all – so these words are entirely my own opinion. But, in short, I would not have been sorry if I had paid for this item.

I really love the simplistic and sleek design. The lightbox is slim and lightweight.

It has a USB-C input on the side which means you can power your lightbox from your laptop or from the mains or, as I do, from an external battery pack. 

A seemingly hardy USB cable is provided with the lightbox.

Plug the lightbox in, press the power button and you’re up and running. It’s as simple as that.

Press the power button again to increase the brightness. It has 3 levels. Then press once more and it’s off. It really doesn’t get much simpler.

The lightbox feels sturdy yet lightweight and is comfortable to draw on. I could not detect any flickering of the light, which I have read can happen with some lightboxes.

I traced a sketch I did of the Natural History Museum in London on to watercolour paper and could see through both sheets perfectly.

I genuinely can’t think of any negatives, apart from the fact I can’t take it back to South Africa with me when I leave but luckily my Dad loves to draw and paint and he is excited by the possibilities of this lightbox, so it will be a nice gift for him instead. 

Now I have used a lightbox and have had a taste of the ways in which I could use it, I may consider buying one when I’m back in South Africa.

Final Thoughts

I am in no way saying you should run out and get a lightbox. It is certainly not an essential item to watercolour painting. However, if you have one or have been thinking about getting one then I hope this short article has helped shed some light on how and why you may use a lightbox for watercolour painting (or any medium for that matter).

Again, the one I am using is the Elice A3 Lightbox which you can find on Amazon here.

If you would like to see me experimenting with this lightbox, check out my Youtube video here:

5 Essential Craftsy Courses for Urban Sketching


If you have read a lot of my posts or have watched quite a few of my videos over on Youtube then you have probably heard me express my love for Craftsy.

I am so glad they are back!

To celebrate, I want to tell you about the best (in my humble opinion) urban sketching courses available on Craftsy:

  1. Travel Sketching in Mixed Media by Marc Taro Holmes
  2. Sketching the City in Pen, Ink & Watercolor by Shari Blaukopf
  3. Essential Techniques for Sketching the Energy of Places by James Richards
  4. Figure Sketching Made Simple by Suhita Shirodkar
  5. Sketching Interiors by Steven Reddy

I believe if you dug in and took each of these courses, applying each of the lessons, your urban sketching would reach a whole new level. I have taken these courses over the years but now I am writing this, I am keen to take them all again and in shorter succession, really putting all the lessons into practice. 

Craftsy is where you can get your urban sketching training going and all for a small monthly subscription which allows you to stream any and all of the courses in their catalogue (across all the different craft categories too)!

But first…did you know I have my own online course??

Sketchy Adventures in Ink & Watercolour

Sketchy Adventures in Ink and Watercolour

Of course, do go and check out my own online course too! The course is based on years of sketching on location along with everything I have learned from a huge variety of sources over the years. You can check out my step by step process on how to achieve a quirky ink and watercolour sketching style.  

I take you through 3 unique projects (see the images below) from photos I took along my travels. These reference photos are available for you to download within the course. I work step by step in real-time to show you exactly how I achieve my results.

Each project becomes progressively more complex, building on the skills we learned in the previous project. We still keep it simple enough that I am confident you will get value from this course no matter what stage you are at in your sketching journey.

Sketchy Adventures in Ink and Watercolour

Why Did Craftsy Become BluPrint? And Then Craftsy Again??

There was a bit of a weird moment (several years) when the Craftsy brand was no longer and the platform was rebranded as ‘Bluprint’. Gone was the comforting pink crafty style that appealed so strongly to its predominantly female audience interested in sewing to a harsh blue and black corporate image with the aim of becoming more neutral.

From brief research it seems Craftsy was bought by NBC Universal in 2017. They in turn renamed Craftsy to Bluprint and added more content in a variety of other craft categories. 

I received an email at some point in 2020 saying that Bluprint was closing its doors altogether. I was disappointed to hear this as I thought the platform had some absolutely excellent courses (still Craftsy original courses, nothing new that interested me).

I have no idea what happened in the Bluprint years. Again, due to some surface research, it appears that Bluprint tried to force people into a monthly subscription model, which personally I love but apparently many customers hated. Craftsy customers preferred to pay a one-off charge for the courses they wanted to watch.

Many people dropped away from the service and the subscription model did not take off at all. I guess that’s why they had the issues they did. 

Anyway, a week or two after this news I got another email announcing, due to popular demand, they were going to bring the Craftsy brand back! This was most exciting yet quite confusing news. 

I have since learned the Craftsy brand was bought by a company called TN Marketing in Minneapolis, USA who have significant experience in offering niche video-on-demand services. 

They immediately reverted to the Craftsy name and previous branding – trying to rebuild and repair the strong reputation Craftsy used to have with its users.

I was sent a cracking offer to sign up for 12 months to stream as many of their courses as I wanted so of course I joined right back up and now I have access to some of my most loved courses on urban sketching once more.

The great thing is that, even though there doesn’t seem to be any new urban sketching courses, it has been so long since I watched any of them that it’s like they’re brand new again!

Why Choose Craftsy?

I have no idea what the vision is for craftsy but I really hope they start re-investing in the platform again and create new courses in the urban sketching area.

Perhaps they will be more focussed on some of their other categories like baking and sewing which the success fo the platform was built on. 

If you are a mutli-disciplinary creative then Craftsy is an absolute no-brainer. I have enjoyed watching a few of the jewellery-making classes. If I had more time I would LOVE to learn a new craft from this platform but I am pretty obsessed with urban sketching (in case you didn’t know)!

If you are so inclined you can watch videos on all manner of things: drawing, painting, sewing, quilting, baking, cooking, jewellery making, gardening, the list goes on….and on.

I hear that TN Marketing, who now own the Craftsy brand, are planning to invest in bringing new classes to the platform, let’s hope this includes urban sketching. They are planning to film new courses later in 2021 when it safe for people to gather, i.e. when the Covid situation is in hand.

My Five Favourite Craftsy Urban Sketching Courses

In this post I want to tell you about 5 of my absolute favourite urban sketching courses on Craftsy from some of the giants within the field!

#1 Travel Sketching in Mixed Media – Marc Taro Holmes

Marc Taro Holmes is undoubtedly one of the big names in urban sketching and his teaching skills are second to none. Marc has been a professional artist, predominantly working in the games and animation industry for over 20 years.

Marc has been an active member of the Urban Sketchers organisation as a correspondent and volunteer art instructor for many years, as well as serving as a board member from 2009-2016.

Needless to say, this guy knows what he is talking about! Not only is he an accomplished watercolour artist, he is also a studio oil painter. 

Marc’s Craftsy course complements his instructional book The Urban Sketcher beautifully, so if you are a fan of this book then you will love his course where you can watch him demonstrate some of the techniques he talks about in the book.

Marc starts with basics of sketching with pen, followed by ‘tinting’ the sketch with watercolour and then advancing to techinques such as sketching directly in watercolour.

Marc runs an annual 30×30 direct watercolour sketching challenge and has a book on the same subject matter if it’s something you are interested in learning more about.

This is a fantastic course, especially if you consider yourself an advanced beginner. It’s fast-paced but of course you can watch it at your own pace and practice the techniques as and when you can. 

There is no donut watching this course will open your mind to new sketching and watercolour skills. Marc will give you the confidence to try them out for yourself.

Check out the course here.

Want to see more from Marc? You can also check out his awesome people sketching course on Craftsy – Sketching People in Motion.

#2 Sketching the City in Pen, Ink & Watercolor by Shari Blaukopf

Shari Blaukopf is another awesome sketcher from Canada, same as Marc. Her background is in graphic design and teaching. In 2011 Shari started a daily(!) sketching habit of recording the city of Montreal and everyday happenings. She also contributes to the Urban Sketchers blog and has been an integral member of the urban sketching scene, hosting in person workshops all around the world.

I think I actually discovered Shari and her work because of the Craftsy platform, perhaps in conjunction with the awesome compendium called ‘The Art of Urban Sketching’ which really is an essential book for any urban sketcher’s bookshelf.

I find the way Shari captures light and shadow in her artwork particularly captivating. Whilst she doesn’t dwell on that too much in this course, she does have some short courses available to purchase via her own website.

This particular course by Shari really speaks to me as a sketcher. My process is very similar and it was almost a validation to see that I was on the right tracks when I first saw this. Shari helped me to push things further. 

One of my main takeaways from Shari is to ensure I vary my washes by adding slight hints of different colours as I work my way across the facade of a building which has the potential to be a bit of a dull beige colour otherwise. Not so if you follow Shari’s painting of Union Station in Denver, Colorado in this course, you will see what I mean.

This course is jammed full of gold, I really recommend it and I have watched parts of it several times.

Check out the course here.

If you want more from Shari she also has an amazing course on Sketching Landscapes in Pen, Ink & Watercolour. Re-watching this course is at the top of my to-do list.

#3 Essential Techniques for Sketching the Energy of Places by James Richards

Ahhh, James Richards. Hailing from an urban design and architectural illustration background I just love how he interprets entire scenes and makes seemingly complicated items simple yet stylish. I especially love the way he captures simple human figures in his townscapes.

He teaches all of this and more in his class on Craftsy, which you can check out here.

More recently Jim seems to have jumped ship over to Skillshare to provide classes. I believe he now has 3 classes which are also well worth checking out if you happen to have a Skillshare membership. If you don’t, grab a free trial here and binge-watch them all for free! You will definitely learn a lot, I promise.

#4 Figure Sketching Made Simple by Suhita Shirodkar

Suhita Shirodkar is another active and prominent member of the Urban Sketchers organisation. Hailing from California, Suhita has travelled the world teaching workshops as part of the Urban Sketchers Symposium. She is also a freelance illustrator working on both editorial and commercial projects.

She has an incredibly distinctive style of sketching figures, using calligraphic marks with either a brush pen or a fude nib fountain pen (the one’s that look like they have a nib bent to 90-degree angle). To do this, Suhita favours the Pentel Pocket brush pen and a Sailor De Mannen fude fountain pen both of which are relatively inexpensive tools.

People sketching is certainly an area I really want to improve in and Suhita’s ability to sketch quick expressive figures is something I aspire to. Therefore, it was a no-brainer to take this course.

This course will help you to let go and loosen up, giving you the confidence to capture people in a more gestural way rather than getting hung up on the details. She teaches how to capture the energy of people in situ rather than realistic portrayals. 

This makes sense, if you are trying to sketch people on location, it is likely they will move around or get up and leave at a moment’s notice. Learning to capture the essence quickly is a super useful skill to have for any urban sketcher.

Check out the course here.

#5 Sketching Interiors by Steven Reddy

I love, love, love Stephen Reddy’s work and his style of illustration. He has such an interesting process. He lays in the rough composition with pencil, then inks the sketch putting in all details. He explains thoroughly where he puts certain lines and why. Once this is done he goes in with some ink washes to indicate tone. This is the stage where the real magic happens. And then finally, he either leaves the sketch in monochrome or goes over it with a wash of watercolour. The results are just so fun to look at as he is not intimidated by cluttered interior scenes.

I cannot recommend this course enough, especially if you are keen to sketch interiors such as cafes, pubs, restaurants or any other inside space that holds interest for you.

Stephen is an excellent teacher, he explains every decision he makes and his process in detail but at a good pace too. Obviously you can stop, rewind, fast forward and watch the video lessons at your own pace.

Check out the course here.

If you want more from Stephen, he has another excellent course on Craftsy called Dynamic Detail in Pen, Ink and Watercolour. If you prefer book learning or you love Steven’s style and just want his work in paper format, he has an array of travel memoirs available via Amazon for US folks and his Etsy store. For those outside the US it may be a bit more expensive in terms of shipping but well worth it. His instructional book which sits alongside Steven’s Craftsy courses is called Everyday Sketching and Drawing and you can find it on Amazon here

Final Thoughts

I really cannot say enough great things about Craftsy and I am so happy the brand has been brought back to life by TN Marketing. Their choice of instructors combined with their super high quality production values really set them apart as my learning platform of choice when it comes to urban sketching.

Don’t forget to sign up to the Urban Sketching World newsletter for all things sketchy straight to your inbox. I do not send a lot of emails – once or twice a month at most. I do my best to send emails that hold real value and special discounts too 🙂

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6 Incredible Urban Sketchers to Follow in 2021


The title of this post does not mean these sketchers have only just emerged. Some of them have been around for many years doing their thing but there are a few on this list I bet you haven’t heard of.

I’m loving each and every one of their styles so much right now that I had to share them with you.

I really do hope you will find a hidden gem on this list that excites you as much as I.

Urban Sketchers to Follow in 2021:

  1. Lyndon Hayes
  2. Maru Godas
  3. Phil Dean – Shoreditch Sketcher
  4. Alienbinbin
  5. Santi Salles
  6. Zheleznaya Nadya – @z_h_a_r_t

Lyndon Hayes

I have been following most of these sketchers for a few years with the exception of Lyndon Hayes, he is a new name to me and when I saw his work I could feel the interest, excitement and inspiration bubble up in me…and when this happens, I know I have struck gold.

Lyndon is an urban sketcher and illustrator based in London, UK. He has a mixture of styles but his bright colourful fineline urban sketches of London featured on his Instagram profile are what really grabbed my attention. I believe Lyndon uses Posca pens to achieve those vibrant colours.

If you want to try this approach for yourself, Lyndon advises using a light colour for backgrounds and a darker colour for the foreground.

Maru Godas

The work of Spanish illustrator and urban sketcher Maru Godas is magical, there is no other word to describe her. She has been an urban sketcher for a number of years and has taught workshops at Urban Sketchers Symposiums in the past. She has illustrated books and her work is used in magazines.

For some reason, Maru’s work passed me by until embarrassingly recently! However, I now can’t wait for one of her “reels” to pop up in my Instagram feed, they are awesome.

Imagine my absolute delight when she released a course on Domestika! Of course, I bought it immediately. I really want to expand my skills with gouache and Maru’s style is so playful and whimsical. I can’t imagine painting in this style so of course, I want to push my boundaries and learn how she does it!

Phil Dean a.k.a Shoreditch Sketcher

Now I am sure a lot of you will know who Phil Dean is, especially as he released a book on the art of Urban Drawing somewhere around August 2020. I have followed Phil’s work for a number of years and had the pleasure of meeting him as I attended one of his workshops somewhere around 2017 (I think).

Phil’s style speaks to my soul, its bold and graphic but full of wonderfully wobbly lines. He captures everyday places with such detail yet not in any kind of laboured way.

Phil is the perfect example of using squiggles to indicate complicated architectural details. When you are looking from far, it looks incredibly detailed – but zoom way in and notice how he is achieving this trick of the eye!

If you’d like to read more about simplifying complicated architectural details, check out these posts:

Phil tends to sketch in a Moleskine with a fineliner on location and (I believe) adds colour later with markers. Perhaps that’s why I find Phil’s work refreshing, because of his use of markers? I think I have only ever done one or two sketches with markers but I would love to try some more.  

AlienBinBin

Do not ask me what his real name is, I have no idea. There is literally zero information about this wonderfully talented human online that I can find besides his(?) captivating Instagram feed. Ok, well I haven’t tried all that hard.  I know he is a part of the Urban Sketchers in Guangzhou, China.

I say “his” as I think I saw him in a photo on his feed…so massive apologies if I have this wrong. 

Alienbinbin’s style is reminiscent of a graphic novel style of illustration. He uses heavy blacks liberally along with super bold colour. I love his work on toned sketchbook paper.

I think he uses Posca markers for the bright flashes of colour. As well as his strong bold use of colour, I love how he plays with perspective, bending, inflating and reducing proportions at well.

He is an extremely talented illustrator and I would love to know more about him!

Santi Salles

Sanit is an urban sketcher, graphic designer and illustration from Spain. He has a super bold, colourful and whimsical style. He is very involved with the Urban Sketchers movement and has a few books available as well as a Youtube channel.

You certainly feel his graphic design skills feed through to his sketching, and more specifically is sketchbook spread design. I particularly love his sketchbook spreads that feature a collection of things. He is sp playful when it comes to how he presents his work, from a graphic novel style layout, to pages that have equal parts sketching, equal parts handwriting and even diagrams. 

His style feels naive yet exciting. He uses a mixed media approach of layering colour pencils over watercolour, which you can see in action in his Pretzels video below:

https://youtu.be/1tzja26tGmA

He also uses gouache from time to time. I love how he adds his colour palette off to the side of the sketch and then is wonderful handwriting too. You can check out his process of sketching a Corona bottle in the video below:

https://youtu.be/7XzVzPMv-aM

Zheleznaya Nadya – @z_h_a_r_t

Zheleznaya is a mind-blowing artist from Belarus. I have been following her on Instagram for a few years now but I somehow always forget about her when recommending urban sketchers to check out.

Her marker sketches of very mundane scenes are incredible. From checking out her Instagram, I can see she predominantly uses Copic markers, although I think she has Touch markers too.

Interestingly, she tends to stick to a limited palette of colours. From a convenience point of view, this does make sense, as lugging around loads of markers when urban sketching seems like a lot of work.

Her limited palette makes her work look more cohesive though. Its quite a moody, sombre palette of greys and blues, perhaps reflecting the city scenes around her.

Zheleznaya has a captivating talent for sketching the most ordinary, boring, or just plain ugly things and making them incredibly beautiful and interesting. She is a real talent. Unfortunately, I don’t know too much else about her.

If you, as I do occasionally, slip into the negative mindset that “there’s nothing to draw” around you then check out her work because she will turn your worldview on its head!

Zheleznaya does have an online course however it is in Russian and there doesn’t appear to be an option for subtitles. If you speak Russian or fancy checking it out anyway, you can find it here.

Final Thoughts

I hope you have found some inspiration on this list. If you prefer to hear/watch me talk about these sketchers, check out my youtube video below:

[insert link]

If you’d like to keep in touch and hear more from me, join my newsletter below. You’ll even receive 7 days worth of Urban Sketching at Home prompts (one each day) to get fired up and make sketching a consistent habit as well as helping you find inspiration wherever you look!

10 Tips for Urban Sketching Buildings


One of my favourite subject matters, when I’m urban sketching, is architecture. I was spoiled roaming around London looking for my next target, there are just so many fabulous buildings and too little time! Now, I’m in Johannesburg where there isn’t too much in the way of old architecture, I understand how much I took for granted!

Before getting into urban sketching, I never even thought about buildings or architectural styles. Since discovering urban sketching in 2012, I notice the things around me that inhabit my world so much more. By sketching the details of a building we can appreciate every nook and cranny. I know so much more about what I am looking at now.

There are never any shortcuts with learning to sketch but there is definitely some advice I can give in relation to improving your sketches of buildings. These are the things I have learned through trial and error over the years. I hope these tips can help you get your sketching to where you want it to be a bit faster!

10 Tips for Sketching Better Buildings

I will explore these tips in more depth below but as an overview, the tips are as follows:

  1. Start with big shapes, map out the tallest point.
  2. Measuring elements against the first biggest shape you drew.
  3. Don’t worry about straight lines, in fact, I actively discourage them!
  4. Basic understanding of perspective – don’t worry, no rulers involved.
  5. Capturing texture
  6. Light and shadow – high contrast scenes or photos are your friends.
  7. Simplifying ornamentation or complicated bits.
  8. Play with perspective and scale.
  9. Creating a sense of depth.
  10. Find the character of the building.

The sketch above of a building in Lambeth, London, was a real turning point for me in my architecture sketching – something clicked. Let’s explore what that may have been in more detail within the points below.


Want to see more of my sketches?

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#1 Big Shapes

I know this one may seem obvious but it is easy to read it and go “yeh, yeh” and not actually do it. If you’re like me and a little impatient or a little short on attention sometimes then you just want to get into the meat of the sketch straight away.

Take a step back though and just rough in the first biggest, tallest shape. At the very least just to make sure your sketch will fit on the page.

If you scroll up and take a look at that sketch I just showed you, do you see how the left side of the sketch is cropped off a bit? Do you know why?

Because I ran out of room.

If I had taken a bit of time and mapped out the general shape of the building, this would not have happened. So, take it from someone who has made nearly all of the mistakes – map your sketch out.

#2 Proportions

Once you have the biggest shape in, you can then reference it to sketch your next largest shape, and then the next one and so on and so forth.

You will find buildings have a lot of nice reference points you can use to make sure your drawing is in proportion with itself.

Looks for the natural dividing lines – the building may easily split into 3 main sections when you look at it, or perhaps only 2 section, or maybe 4 sections. Features such as windows or ornamentation can help you to see where to divide the building.

Don’t forget – these sections may run vertically or horizontally – or both. In the sketch below you can see three main horizontal areas, one a the top, one in the middle and one at the bottom. As well as these, there are 3 main vertical sections too – a wide middle area and two narrower sections, one each side.

Buildings have many ‘landmarks’ so make sure you utilise them as much as possible to help you place all the architectural features in roughly the right place.

#3 Straight Lines

When you are drawing buildings, you would be forgiven for thinking drawing straight lines are a requisite to a successful drawing. Because that is definitely NOT true.

In fact, I think some of my best sketches (and some of my favourite sketches by others) are actually the ‘wonkiest’ ones.

Why is that?

I personally think it’s because it gives the building and perhaps the overall sketch more character. It makes the sketch more dynamic and gives it a bit of movement.

I also think “embracing wonkiness” (which I think Liz Steel says but I feel like I say it without realising this is her way of putting it) shows confidence in your sketching.

#4 Basic Perspective

Perspective…ugh. As soon as I have to learn something technical I can feel my creative juices seeping away. However, a basic grasp of perspective is necessary and not so evil and can actually be quite helpful.

You just need to know where the horizon line is. Now sketch it in faintly. Then you just need to find out where the vanishing points are. Is there one vanishing point? Or two vanishing points? Mark them on your horizion line. Now you know that all your parallel lines need to run in the direction of those vanishing points.

You can totally eyeball this and you do not need to get a ruler out. But just knowing vaguely where those things are will help you sketch a more convincing building or scene.

If you want a really great class on the perspective I highly recommend Stephanie Bower’s course on Craftsy. Stephanie Bower is a well known urban sketcher, architectural illustrator and master of perspective.

#5 Texture

This point feeds into my advice to not worry about straight lines. Instead of drawing a straight flat line, look at the texture of the building. It may be brick or rough stone, in which case indicate this with the quality of the line you draw.

If anything this really helps take the pressure of trying to draw straight perfect lines.

In the sketch below I tried my hardest to pay attention to capturing texture as this cottage has different materials all over the place. Focussing on details such as texture will really take your sketch to the next level.

#6 Light & Shadow

Capturing light and shadow in your sketch is essential in making a 3D object convincing when drawn on a 2D surface.

Light and shadow also convey an atmosphere and mood that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get across.

It’s far easier to convey light and shadow when you are sketching a high contrast scene. What I mean by “high contrast” is when there is a huge difference between the darkest darks and the lightest lights. Its never useful to sketch on location at midday because the sun is right above you and therefore does not cast lovely strong shadows.

If you are sketching from photo reference, find a photo that has strong light and shadows. This is the most useful starting point.

If the scene in front of you (either in real life or in a photo) is not high contrast then you can, to some extent, invent the light and shade.

Decide on where your light source is coming from, you may even want to draw an arrow so it reminds you. You can then keep one side of your scene very light where the sun is and the opposing side where the light doesn’t reach you can emphasise the shadows.

#7 Simplify

This is invaluable. Learn how to simplify seemingly complicated architectural elements. This skill will save you a lot of time and a lot of your sanity.

Always sketch what you see in terms of basic shapes. Indicating tricky statues or scrollwork with simple squiggles works every single time.

If you want more detailed advice on sketching complicated architecture you can read my post here or, if you prefer, I have a Youtube video on the same subject which you can check out below.

#8 Play with Perspective & Scale

Unless you want to achieve a realistic architectural rendering of a building then we have our own permission to play and experiment with the building we are sketching.

You can play with perspective, for example, exaggerating it until you are almost creating a caricature of the building. Lapin does this to great effect in his work, bending the tops of buildings to make them fit his page.

#9 Create Depth & Emphasis

Similarly to what I mentioned in the section about light and shadow, creating a sense of depth is vital in order to bring the building you’re sketching to life.

As well as using light and shadow you can use line weight to to create depth, as well as emphasis. It’s visually appealing to create emphasis in certain parts of your sketch to help the draw the eye.

Add more details, use thicker lines and stronger tones or colours for items or features that are in the foreground. Add less details, use thinner lines and fainter tones for anything in the background. This will give your sketch a real sense of depth as well as indicating to the viewer which parts of the sketch are the most important.

It’s not the best example but in the sketch above notice how I have indicated the shapes of the tall buildings in the background and have not included any detail at all. This really pushes the opera house to the forefront of the sketch while still including some of the scene around it.

#10 Character of the Building

Take a step back, literally or figuratively, and just look at the building you’re sketching.

What has drew your attention to this particular building (or set of buildings)?

What are the distinguishing features and characteristics?

If you didn’t have time to draw all of it, which bits would be the ones you would want to capture?

What story are you trying to tell?

This all may seem fairly tricky to discern at first but once you get used to asking yourself these questions, you may find your sketching improves. If you can cut right to the heart of the building or scene and convey that in your sketch, you will nail the sketch every time.

This leads me on seamlessly to my bonus tip…

#11 BONUS Tip: You Don’t Have to Sketch it All

You may not have time to sketch the entire Houses of Parliament…or let’s face it, you may just not want to. And that’s ok. Because actually, you don’t have to.

In fact, not ‘finishing’ or drawing something in its entirety can be a very pleasing design choice…one I like to experiment with from time to time.

Final Thoughts…

I hope you have found this post super helpful and that examples from my own sketching have helped demonstrate some of my tips. I am still learning (and hope I never stop) however, I think this list should help you bypass some of the years I spent in trial and error figuring these things out.

Would you like to learn to sketch this building???

Would you like to sketch this building step by step in realtime with me??

Well, join my newsletter below to be the first to hear when I release my new online course: Sketchy Adventures in Ink & Watercolour.

I take you 3 travel sketching projects from start to finish so you can see my exact process. But you don’t have to do what I’m doing, I also show you how you can experiment and feel confident to do so.

I am SO excited about this course and I KNOW you will LOVE it. Pop your email address in the box below and you will be the first to know when it’s released…you may even get a discount too! 😉