How to Improve your Urban Sketching Immediately


There are a lot of videos on Youtube about art, illustration, sketching, painting, watercolours, acrylics, portraiture, landscapes and on and on…

I have gathered some of the best videos on YouTube specifically about urban sketching to save you time and so you can get working on sharpening those skills and take your sketches to the next level! Most of these suggestions are free lessons so you can get working on them as soon as you want.

I have split the videos into categories to best help you: drawing, painting, perspective, loose sketching and people sketching.

Improve Your Drawing Skills

Alphonso Dunn is such a fantastic artist and educator.  He has so many free videos on Youtube that are really useful, whether you are a beginner or a more experienced sketcher.

In this video, Alphonso starts from the beginning with a focus on the basic skills required for urban sketching. 

He tackles the following issues:

  • drawing directly with pen or whether to prepare an underdrawing in pencil first
  • the advantages of drawing directly with pen or brush first
  • how moving your arm affects your drawing
  • picking an element in the sketch to draw focus to
  • how to explore contrast in your drawing.

Koosje Koene is one of the co-founders of Sketchbook Skool.  She has a regular Draw Tip Tuesday video.

In this video, Koosje teaches a way to capture a scene quickly.  She shows how she edits some details out of her scene if she thinks it will make her sketch too cluttered.

It’s nice to feel empowered and almost as though we are being given permission that we as the artist can choose to draw and not draw whatever we want!  This is a nice concise video which takes some of the fear away of drawing a complex scene and shows that really, anyone can draw! Just get to it!

Improve Your Painting Skills

James Gurney is the master.  He has insane skills. I could spend an entire day just watching his videos back to back and eating snacks (which is no good as when would I go out sketching)?!

While he never uses the urban sketching tag to describe himself or his videos his tutorials certainly apply.  I think he would view himself more as a plein-air painter, a more traditional way of describing on-location sketching. 

You can tell James is a well-educated and experienced painter. He knows how to describe what he is doing with colour theory, limited palettes, composition, tonal values etc.  His whole channel is recommended viewing, as his videos are entertaining as well as educational.

For the sake of this post and the most useful video for general painting foundations, check out the one below about starting big and ending small. 

James is using gouache (opaque watercolour paint) but the concepts are entirely applicable to watercolours too. Just remember when it comes to watercolour, you need to paint your light values first! You’ll have to watch the video to see the surprising end result!

This suggestion is a little different as it’s not freely available content on Youtube, however, Alicia Aradilla has had such an impact on my painting skills. Her videos push me to try different techniques to how I would usually draw.  I cannot recommend checking her out enough.

Alicia has plenty of sketchbook tours on Youtube but to access her tutorials you will need to become a Patron over on Patreon. At only US$10 a month this is a steal.

Her voiceovers are in Spanish but there are English subtitles and her tutorials are all around the 40-minute (plus) mark.  She shows every step, tells you every colour she is using, why she uses a credit card as a ruler and the magic a white Posca marker can add to the sketch! 

Oh, and you get that warm fuzzy feeling that you’re supporting a small independent artist you love. Win win.

https://youtu.be/Y2JDTN9k-I8

Perspective for Urban Sketching

Ian Fennelly has such a distinctive style in many ways.  One of his strengths is the way he can capture a scene using and emphasising perspectives.  He also demonstrates his trademark Tombow brush pen technique! I know I mention Ian a lot on this website.  I’m a big fan. But if you check out his artwork, I’m sure you’ll see why!

As well as being the master of floral shirts and hat choices, Lapin is also a master at perspective. From his fish-eye perspectives of vehicles from bending the tops of buildings to fit within his sketchbook page.

This video is a sample lesson from Sketchbook Skool.  This video lesson is a part of their Urban Sketching Course which I have taken.  You can read more about my thoughts on this course and lots of other paid urban sketching courses in my post here.

The video shows Lapin sketching a vintage coffee truck. You can see how confident he is about sketching immediately with pen, and getting the proportions correct. 

This could easily put you off trying, but please use it as inspiration to draw from unique perspectives. This concept will elevate your sketches straight away. They’re more fun and will really capture people’s attention.

If you want to know more about which urban sketching courses I recommend, check out my post here.

Loose Sketching

If you’re anything like me, you look at impossibly loose sketches that blow you away and think “how can I do that”? In scouring the internet a few years back, I really could not find much information about how to improve this aspect of my painting, much less any videos.

This is why I put a post together with everything I’ve learned about how to sketch loosely here.

Liron Yaconsky’s video is an excellent place to start. He offers 3 very practical tips to achieve a loose watercolour style in his video below such as use a small piece of paper and a big brush! Check out the video below for his other tips. I am certainly going to apply his advice in my next sketches.

Anne Laure (from Following the White Rabbit) shows how she does a loose sketch on location in front of Notre Dame in Paris. 

She demonstrates how you can simplify a complicated and highly decorative building quickly. She also mentions making calligraphic marks which is something Marc Taro Holmes teaches too. 

This video made me want to try out the Sailor Fude fountain pen.  They are available intermittently on Amazon but if you’re in the UK, you can get one at Cult Pens. I would recommend trying one out!  They certainly help loosen up as you cannot quite guarantee what sort of line you may get. You can achieve thin fine lines, very thick lines, and also colour in solid patches of black easily. This can help with enhancing contrast in your sketch.

People Sketching

In this video, Patrick Ley-Greaves demonstrates his approach to drawing people.  He starts with a contour drawing in pen first. He then moves inside the outline to start adding details.  Patrick draws six figures from reference photos to demonstrate the technique and then adds watercolour.

This video has helped me with my confidence to practice sketching figures.  This is exactly the information I was looking for. Many videos deal with painting portraits or formal figure sketching and life drawing but it’s great to see some more practical videos dealing with the types of figures you would want to include in urban sketching.

Teoh Yi Chie tackles sketching figures in a far quicker way and specifically in the context of urban sketching. He shows how you would convey a crowd of people in a scene you would be likely to sketch when you’re out and about. 

I shied away from putting people in my scenes until very recently. I realised even a very swift suggestion of people in sketches definitely make them more lively and creates a bit of an atmosphere.

Bonus: Exercises to Try

Marc Taro Holmes is an insanely amazing urban sketcher from Canada.  I bought one of his courses on Craftsy (now known as Bluprint) and I swear it improved my sketching instantly.  He teaches concepts and techniques I just had not come across or thought about before.

In the video below, he shares an exercise called ‘The Broken Silhouette’. He taught this exercise in person at a workshop in Chicago.  He also very generously offers the hand out for free here too. 

https://youtu.be/05cqwuyLyr8

In the video below Teoh Yi Chie explains how to sketch over the top of watercolour splashes.  Teoh was inspired by his friend and amazing urban sketcher, Tia Boon Sim.  She prepares sketchbook pages with splashes of watercolour before she goes out sketching.  She then draws on top of the splashes. Teoh shows some examples of Tia’s work before trying the technique himself.

I actually had a go at this technique myself and was super happy with how it came out. It really pushed me to sketch in a different way and I came out with a sketch in a totally different style than my usual.

Sketching on top of a pre-painted random watercolour background

Firstly, I painted some random colours on my sketchbook page and let this dry. I quite liked the shape I had made so decided to outline it in fineliner. I then found one of my photographs from Iran and thought this mosque would be fun to sketch over the top. I used some Tombow markers for the greys (one light and one dark) and a Derwent Inktense watercolour pencil for the blues. I really like the effect of this sketch and think I’m going to try some more in this style.

If you want more tips on how to loosen up your sketching style, check out my tips here.

Conclusion

I hope this post has helped inspire you to experiment and check out different techniques suggested by other sketchers. Playing around with different styles is fun but helps you to push your own self-imposed creative boundaries. The only way to break through is to do something you would not usually do and surrender to whatever the outcome may be. It may blow your mind and change your sketching style for the better. You may blend some of these techniques and magically come up with your own unique style. Or you may just have a lot of fun making a mess. All of these things are ok…and encouraged!

If you want to talk urban sketching you can get in touch by emailing me at hello@urbansketchingworld.com or come say hi over on Instagram (@urbansketchingworld)

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