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:
- Sketch from life
- Sketch from photos
- Sketch from imagination
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We will work through 3 projects, step by step (pictured below), all of which are real-life examples of things I have sketched along my travels. I provide the photo references you can work from.
We will start by choosing a composition, laying in the initial pencil sketch, adding ink lines, layering watercolour and adding the final touches.
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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.
Art Supplies I love…
By the way – if you’re interested to know which supplies I use or recommend, as well as books, classes, courses and other resources, head over to my Recommended Stuff page to find out more.
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.
For more examples and inspiration on sketching interiors, check out my post here.
I sketched the living room recently, here’s my sketch below:
Sketch What’s in the Kitchen Cupboard or Your Closet
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.
Sketch Particular Plants
Annotate your sketch with the names of the plants (if you know them)!
Sketch Your Pet
Create a whole sketchbook spread of your pet as they move positions throughout the days or weeks.
Set Up a Still Life
Make it interesting – put weird or random objects together and sketch them. Steven B Reddy is a master at sketching a random bunch of items in a brilliant cartoon-y way.
Practice sketching people 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.
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…
Keep a journal and sketch things from your life each day (or at a consistent interval that seems realistic for your schedule)! There are a couple of books that will help and inspire you if you are keen to do this:
1. Draw Your World by Samantha Dion Baker
2. The Creative License by Danny Gregory
If you would like more information on the art supplies I use and recommend, head over to my Recommended Stuff page. In addition to art supplies I share my favourite books and courses too!
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 you purchased on a whim and have never actually used!
Try Different Techniques
If you would like a massive dose of weekly inspiration in regards to exploring different techniques, check out my Patreon. We tackle a different theme each month (perspective, white space, experimenting with line to name but a few) and I encourage you to stretch your sketching skills with different demos centred around the theme.
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.
Check out Patreon for an entire month worth of demos on designing sketchbook spreads!
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!
Some of my favourite online classes
- The Art of Sketching: Transform Your Doodles into Art – Mattias Adolfsson
- Expressive Architectural Sketching with Colored Markers – Albert Kiefer
- Sketchbooking For Beginners: Learn to Draw Your Surroundings – Maximilliano Vera Herrera
- Daily Sketching for Creative Inspiration – Sorie Kim
- Virtual World Sketching Tour- Ian Fennelly
Sketching From Photos
A good way to practice is to draw from photos. I have a Pinterest board called ‘Sketching Reference’. Any time I see an interesting building, scene or person, I pin it to this board to draw in future. You can check it out here, feel free to use any of the photos for your sketching practice too!
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 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 people’s faces.
If you would like to practice sketching people in motion, check out peoplesketching.com – a library of video clips designed for sketchers to practice from. The next best thing to sketching on location!
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.
- Create colour mixing charts from your paint set (see my post here on how to do this)
- Make colour swatches
- Practice sketches with a limited palette of 3 colours (a red, a yellow and a blue)
- 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
Check out my ebooks with hundreds of ink & watercolour travel sketches from all over the world. Get some inspiration for your next trip…
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:
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 it’s 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:
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.
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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