Urban Sketching Examples: Loose Sketching


What is loose sketching?

As I have covered in a previous post about how to sketch loosely, sketching loosely is about having confidence with your drawing, representing the subject matter in fewer lines and not stressing about tiny details. The idea is to capture the essence or spirit of your subject matter. 

While some loose sketches can look messy and disorganised, when done well, loose sketches are my favourite types of artwork to devour with my eyes!

How to sketch loosely?

For more in-depth information on how to sketch loosely, please do take a look at my post on that exact subject here.

For a very quick summary, you can try the following exercises and techniques to help loosen up your sketches:

  • Continuous line drawing exercises 
  • Loose pen lines with minimal splashes of watercolour
  • Use a larger paintbrush so you can’t fuss over details
  • Splash random watercolour on your paper as a background, once dry draw on top of it
  • Use wet-in-wet techniques, let the watercolour do its thing!

After experimenting with sketching loosely myself, I have some personal tips and tricks to help you sketch loosely as well:

  • Do not get too detailed
  • Use a cheap piece of paper so you don’t get the fear of messing up your nice watercolour sketchbook (if your mind works that way – mine does)
  • Set a time and draw quickly – give yourself 15 minutes. If this seems too quick then do 30 mins, next time 25 mins, next time 20 mins etc.
  • Go straight to sketching with a pen, or for those of you who use watercolour, sketch directly in watercolour – there’s no easier way to loosen up! I have a video on Youtube demonstrating this.
  • For those using a pen, once you have completed your lines, use a brush pen in a dark grey shade to pick out the shadows
  • Working wet in wet with watercolours really lends a loose quality to a sketch (see the video I mentioned above)
  • Try sketching with something you’re not used to using. I find sketching with a fountain pen psychologically loosens me up but I know others that find the opposite. Experiment with your materials.
  • Try to not lift the pencil/pen/brush from the paper while sketching (continuous line drawing)
  • Focus on the right things: proportions, the shape of what your sketching, perspective
  • Do not focus on whether your lines are straight or accurate, the overall shape of what you are drawing is more important than linework.
  • Expanding upon the advice of “don’t be accurate” – learn to suggest things, such as the less important objects, maybe people, cars or other street furniture that are there only to add to the atmosphere rather than as the main focus of the sketch.

I hope these tips are helpful to you in your own experimentations with sketching loosely.

Urban Sketching Examples of Loose Sketching

What I really want to show you today in this post is some examples of a loose style of urban sketching. I think showing examples really helps you to understand what we are discussing as well as inspire you to try your own loose sketch.

You may prefer tight lines and details in your sketches but I do encourage you to take some time to at least try out loosening up…you may just find it unlocks some further creativity within you. If anything though, it will certainly help you to sketch more quickly, which is a valuable skill to have when you are trying to capture an ever-changing scene.

Phil Dean a.k.a Shoreditch Sketcher

While Phil’s sketches may look anything but loose on the surface, if you look a bit harder you will see every line of Phil’s is wobbly, something he whole-heartedly embraces! Removing the worry of drawing perfectly straight lines helps Phil to loosen up and capture the scene in front of him as quickly as possible.

Phil just released a book, published in collaboration with London’s famous Tate Museum, called ‘Urban Drawing’.  It’s filled with exercises about how to capture architecture on location. As usual, you can find it on Amazon, I highly recommend you check out. 

Liz Steel

What I love about Liz is that she sketches just to sketch. She does not sketch with a vague idea they may one be turned into prints, she does not sit down to make art that could hang on the wall, she sketches just to capture the everyday. I feel this must be quite freeing, letting go of expectations and just sketching. 

Liz loves to sketch fast and loose and you can see this in evidence on her Instagram feed.

Liz has an extensive online course offering called ‘Sketching Now’ She has several in-depth courses on different aspects of sketching. She focuses on ink and watercolour as the mediums and generally urban sketching and architecture as the subject matter. Teaching sketching makes up the largest part of Liz’s work so her courses are top-notch and certainly worth considering if you are serious about improving your skills.

Paul Wang

Paul is an urban sketcher in Singapore. He teaches workshops all over the world and is very well-known in the urban sketching scene.

Paul’s work is loose and bold and messy (in a good way). When we spoke about loose sketching showing confidence, I think you can see what I mean when you look at Paul’s work. I see no hesitation here.

Paul really encourages a sense of play. As he states on his website, his sketches are “bursting with dramatic colours, just like a stage set”.

Suhita Shirodkar

Suhita is one of my favourite urban sketchers for the way she captures people, usually in motion. In fact, she has a Craftsy class about this very subject, Figure Sketching Made Simple.

I know one of Suhita’s secret weapons to achieve loose gestural figures is her Sailor Fude de Mannen fountain pen. The bent nib allows her to get a variable line thickness. She is also a fan of the Pentel Pocket brush pen.

Rolf Schröter

I am in love with Rolf’s work. It is so loose but so fiercely expressive., I can feel the energy from his chaos of lines.

Rolf’s work makes me want to hit the streets with a sketchbook and thick black pen! If you want to see more of Rolf’s work he actually has a book available. It’s not available on Amazon but you can order it directly here.

James Hobbs

While I was writing about Rolf and his thick black pen, James Hobbs sprung into my mind! How could I forget James?

His work just has such an effortless feel to it. While it may look simple, do not let his bold lines deceive you. To convey the energy and feel of a place using nothing but a sketchbook and black marker pen is genius. 

Final Thoughts

I really hope you have enjoyed reading this post and your eyes have feasted on the amazing examples of loose sketching from some of my favourite urban sketchers above. I know I feel super inspired to go and sketch now!

You may or may not know I have my own book out now that covers the last 3 years of my travels across 15 countries and 4 different continents. The ebook is in PDF format with 60 pages and over 130 original ink and watercolour illustrations. 

Sketchy Adventures Around the World ebook

I hope you will consider taking a look – if you like my work (which you can find on Instagram here) then I think you will love the book and the little notes I have made next to the sketches.

You can buy the book here.

PS. if you want to know how I made this book, so you can do the same with your sketches, then check out my post here.

Aaaaand if you want to hear more from me, like my NEW online course – Sketchy Adventures in Ink & Watercolour – or my super super exciting workshop I have coming up in Morocco in 2022, then join my newsletter below!

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