How to Practice Urban Sketching at Home


Urban sketching at home is beneficial to practise your sketching skills, experiment with new techniques and give you something to focus on.  Especially important in these strange times we are finding ourselves currently (the Covid-19 pandemic, for those of you reading this in the future).

How can you practice urban sketching from home? You can practice urban sketching drawing the things you find around your house, the different rooms, the exterior of your house, your family members or pets.  You can also practice sketching from photos as well as from your imagination. Try mixing real-life objects you find in your home with fantastical items from your mind!

Most of us are stuck at home for the moment.  Some of us are still working, some of us are not.  We are becoming more reliant on the internet and staring at screens.  Working in your sketchbook to document your day, elements of your house or the movements of your pet are all fantastic ways to get away from the news media, screens and the internet in general (until it comes to sharing your sketches of course!)  

For those reading this, I’m sure this situation is feeling hugely restrictive in regards to your sketching practise. Most of us urban sketchers are travel enthusiasts too, we like to get out there in the world and sketch on location.  But never fear, there are alternatives available to you.

If you have not seen the #uskathome hashtag on Instagram go and check it out!  Urban Sketchers from all over the world are sharing sketches from the inside of their homes.

There are a few methods we can try while stuck inside the house to keep our sketching skills sharp:

  1. Sketch from life
  2. Sketch from photos
  3. Sketch from imagination

Sketching From Life

Obviously, the emphasis of urban sketching is to sketch things around us and record our world. Most of us naturally gravitate to leaving our homes in order to do this.  However, this time of lockdown offers a unique experience to focus on documenting one area (our homes) over a given time (21 days…or more). This really could make for an interesting artistic study.  We are living through an unprecedented time, I think this would make a great subject for an entire Covid-19 themed sketchbook!    

There are a number of exercises you can create for yourself to improve your sketching skills at home.

Sketch Your Art Supplies

I think a great way to start any sketchbook is to sketch the supplies you are using. It helps eliminate the fear of the first page of your sketchbook and is a useful record of the supplies you were using for your sketches at that moment in time. It’s interesting and useful when you look back at old sketchbooks to see what you were using.

For more ideas on how to start a sketchbook check out this post.

Sketching your art supplies

Sketch Each Room of Your House

Sketch a room a day, or every other day, or once a week if you have a small apartment!  You could sit with your back to one wall for one sketch and then sit with your back to a different wall of the same room to capture an entirely different viewpoint. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-FF-JzlgRR/

For more examples and inspiration on sketching interiors, check out my post here. I sketched the living room recently, here’s my sketch below:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CB_ZXIJnPhG/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Sketch What’s in the Kitchen Cupboard or Your Closet

https://www.instagram.com/p/B2Lo6bJiKnA/

Sketch Complex Objects in Detail

Whether a guitar, a motorbike in the garage, your car engine or the trampoline in the garden, whatever is around and looks a bit complicated.

Sketch the Garden

Focus on mixing different greens. Make notes of which colours you mixed to achieve which shades of green.

Urban sketching at home

Sketch Particular Plants

Annotate your sketch with the names of the plants (if you know them)!

https://www.instagram.com/p/CAVEgtYndJi/

Sketch Your Pet

Create a whole sketchbook spread of your pet as they move positions throughout the days or weeks.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CANga3MHtlv/

Set Up a Still Life

Make it interesting, put weird or random objects together and sketch them.

People Sketching

Practice people sketching by sketching your family members. Try quickfire sketches of people on the TV.

Practice sketching your hands and feet. Try painting the shapes first loosely with watercolour and draw the details with ink on top.

Sketch a Selfie

Set up a mirror (or take a selfie with your phone) and do a self-portrait, you could create a series over time.

Food Journalling

Keep a food journal and sketch your meals…and snacks…and hot beverages (or glasses of wine). Liz Steel sketches her cup of tea (occasionally coffee) every day, she does have fancy teacups though…

https://www.instagram.com/p/B98_ZvnFzNw/

Daily Journal

Keep an overall journal and sketch things from each day

Try Different Mediums

If you usually use watercolour, try gouache, acrylics or pastels.  Use what you have to hand. I’m sure you have a drawer or cupboard filled with art supplies your purchased on a whim and have never actually used!

Try Different Techniques

Try sketching just in pen or pencil, no colour. Try painting shapes with watercolour first and then draw on top.

Create a sketch using hatching and cross-hatching like Paul Heaston or Tommy Kane.

Design a Sketchbook Spread

Try sketching a specific item from many different angles and create a whole sketchbook spread of that one item.

Lettering

Add some words to some of your sketches to create an art journal. Practice some decorative hand lettering styles to really spice things up. I have this book and it really helped me appreciate that there are so many lettering styles to play with!

Sketching From Photos

A good way to practice is to draw from photos.  I have a secret Pinterest board set up called ‘To Draw’.  Any time I see an interesting building, scene or person, I pin it to this board to draw in future. 

I find sketching from photos helps me to practice and build my confidence but also allows me to experiment with different techniques from the comfort of home. While it’s not possible to go out and sketch from life at the moment, I would really encourage you to practice by sketching from photos.

I recommend finding reference photos on Pinterest, or stock photography sites such as unsplash.com, pixelbay or pexels. 

If you want to practice drawing faces, there’s a great app called Sktchy you can download which has lots of reference photos of peoples faces.

Either save or print out work by some of your favourite urban sketchers and try to imitate their style in one of your own sketches.  This is an amazing hands-on approach to figuring out techniques. Obviously do not copy anything and pass it off as your own, but using other accomplished sketchers work to practice different styles and techniques is definitely recommended.

Google maps and street view allow you to travel through the streets of anywhere in the world and find buildings or scenes to draw. There’s a Facebook group dedicated to virtual sketchcrawls. This is a particularly great resource for those who are disabled or housebound to still participate in urban sketching.

Currently, I’m drawing and painting famous London landmarks from photos as I enjoy drawing old highly-decorative buildings. I’m filming myself sketching, and then making timelapse videos of the process. I intend to make a series.  You can see the videos I have made so far on my YouTube channel here.

Try some figure drawing!  There are a few youtube channels that offer videos with varying lengths of poses and various different models to draw. Just type ‘life drawing’ into YouTube and you will see a number of options.

Bonus Activities:

  1. Create colour mixing charts from your paint set (see my post here on how to do this)
  2. Make colour swatches
  3. Practice sketches with a limited palette of 3 colours (a red, a yellow and a blue)
  4. Try to make as many shades of grey as you can from the paints you have…can you get to 50?!  That’s a joke. But if you get there, post it on Instagram and tag me! @urbansketchingworld

Sketching from Imagination

Finally, take your sketching skills to the max and draw from your imagination.

You could take an everyday object and add some fantastical elements, like Tommy Kane in this sketch:

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-MbMl_nXrm/

Tommy Kane regularly sketches “normal” items and then puts a surreal twist on them as a joke or for satirical purposes.  

I have one of Tommy’s books ‘All My Photographs Are Made With Pens‘ and its one I regularly flip through time and time again as I just find it so inspiring.  It’s such a gorgeous book and makes an excellent coffee table book too.

Or go completely wild like Nina Johansson in this sketch:

https://www.instagram.com/p/B3xRIXpArae/

Nina draws amazing urban sketches but she also regularly draws completely fantastical illustrations too.  She manages to blend the two approaches to her art while keeping true to her style.

Sketchbook Skool used to have a course about drawing from the imagination that featured lessons from Tommy and Nina amongst other artists but unfortunately it seems to have disappeared.  I think they cycle their courses round from time to time.

Those are my top tips and exercises for practising urban sketching at home. I hope you will try some of these and if you would like to share them on Instagram please be sure to tag @urbansketchingworld so I can see!

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