Which are the best urban sketching courses for your money – online, in-person or even an entire holiday?!
I love taking courses. I love learning stuff. I love urban sketching. I’m always looking for a way to learn new techniques or just raise my skills in general so here is a round-up of the best urban sketching courses for your money (or in some case just your time). Both time and money are precious resources so I hope this post helps you to save some of both!
There are a number of ways to take a course these days, as such, I have broken the courses up into sections:
- Online courses
- In-Person courses
- Informal courses (Patreon)
- Free courses
You can definitely improve your urban sketching knowledge and skills by taking an online course. Online courses have skyrocketed in popularity over the past 10 years, the quality of training has improved overall and prices are becoming more affordable, especially with the availability of a monthly subscription model and a variety of courses to choose from.
I have taken quite a few online courses in many subjects, some of which were responsible for helping me transition from a career in human resources to a career in web design. It’s pretty insane what you can learn on the internet if you have the motivation to do the work.
The list of online courses below are specific to Urban Sketching, however many of these platforms offer courses in other areas or art too. Look out for more posts about my favourite illustration or watercolour courses.
- Sketchbook Skool – Urban Sketching
- Liz Steel – Sketching Now
- Will Kemp Art School
Sketchbook Skool was formed by Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene. They are both so super enthusiastic about encouraging everyone to draw. Danny’s back catalogue of books are single-handedly responsible for encouraging many people to pick up a pen and sketch their day to day lives!
I have taken 2 courses with Sketchbook Skool: “Urban Sketching” and “Watercolour Rules”. They have many other courses to choose from but these are the ones that seemed most applicable to me and I loved the teachers involved in both courses.
Each course was between US$99-149 so that’s one of the reasons I have not taken more. I would like to try “People Drawing People” but the cost is a little bit of a barrier to taking courses regularly with Sketchbook Skool (although I hasten to add, the price is not unreasonable)!
Perhaps at some stage, they will consider a monthly subscription model but I know this doesn’t work for every business so I don’t blame them for not doing so. The courses I have taken are absolutely worth the money though and you could not get this level of instruction from these instructors for a more affordable price.
Both courses feature approximately 5 or 6 different teachers. The courses are structured into weeks but you have access to the course all at once so you can work through at your own pace.
When the course was first released I think you could work along in realtime as well as interact in the Facebook group with people working along at the same pace and completing the “homework” together but now everything’s accessible at once, which probably works best for a lot of people trying to weave it into life!
Urban Sketching Course
In the Urban Sketching course, the instructors are Jason Das, Miguel Herranz, Lapin, Liz Steel and Nina Johansson. Each teacher does a sketchbook tour and then you follow them outside to sketch on location to show their techniques, they give homework and then there is a video of live call between them and Koosje which is usually about an hour long.
The course is organised in bitesize chunks so you can dip in and out easily enough. I think my favourite section was Miguel’s. He introduces his spiral drawing technique where he will focus on one detail in the middle of a scene and then start sketching outwards from that point until he reaches the edge of the page.
I think this is such a fantastic organic way to sketch. You can just let go and forget about composition, almost like you’re doodling. It’s a great technique to use if you are going straight into sketching with a pen too (no pencil sketch first).
In contrast, in another of Miguel’s demonstrations, he shows how to layout a sketchbook spread by drawing different sized boxes and filling them with certain elements of a scene. This can help break a scene up so you do not get overwhelmed with the whole thing, you can focus on what’s most interesting to you and make double-page spread by drawing several smaller elements.
In the video, Miguel is using an A5-sized sketchbook and a 0.8 fineliner pen. He is sketching on top of a light yellow watercolour wash he made ahead of time. I like this idea, it removes the whiteness of the page and gives a different tone to sketch on top of.
Miguel only draws the part of the scene which particularly interests him and then moves to a different part of his sketchbook spread to sketch something else, such as an ornate streetlamp. He then sections off that sketch by drawing a frame around it and starts drawing something else somewhere else on the page such as the people around him. I love this technique and want to try it out in future sketchbooks.
It’s great to have short lessons by a variety of different well-known, high-calibre instructors. It shows that there are many approaches to urban sketching and there’s no right or wrong way to sketch a scene.
This course is available from sketchbookskool.com for US$129
Watercolor Rules (And How To Break Them)
This was the second course I bought from Sketchbook Skool, mainly because Ian Fennelly was one of the teachers (this was before Ian had courses available here there and everywhere)!
Although this course features urban sketchers as instructors, it’s not a course strictly about urban sketching, more about how to use watercolor. I’m still going to mention it though as I really loved this course and I think it was so beneficial in teaching me more about how to work with the medium in the context of urban sketching.
I loved looking through Ian Sidaway’s sketchbooks at the start of the course. Ian features heavily in this course which makes sense as he is somewhat of an authority on watercolor techniques and has a few books available on the topic.
The other instructors are August Wren, Inma Serrano and Ian Fennelly. They are all a fantastic choice as they offer such a strong counterpoint to the use of traditional watercolor. They encompass the “how to break the rules” element of the course title.
Watercolor Rules (And How To Break Them) is available at sketchbookskool.com for US$149
Skillshare is an amazing online learning platform where you can learn all sorts of things. I have dipped in and out several times over the years. There is a free membership where you get access to a limited number of courses. A paid membership unlocks all courses. It’s about US$15 a month. However, you can get a FREE trial of the premium membership here.
The free trial will allow you to watch as much as you want and then if you don’t like it or simply don’t want to pay you can cancel. I just set up a calendar alert the day before a free trial of something so I can make a decision whether I want to carry on and pay or if I want to cancel.
Skillshare offer such a wealth of courses on such a range of topics (not just art) you will probably find you want to hang around for a month or two afterwards…or maybe longer! Some people are making careers as teachers on Skillshare too, so perhaps that’s something you want to consider for the future as well.
I counted 11 courses specifically focussed on urban sketching or travel sketching at this present moment but there are more being added all the time.
The two classes I highly recommend checking out immediately are by James Richards. There’s one on how to sketch a street scene in 5 steps and a second about how to add people into your sketch. They are straightforward to follow and so helpful.
You could pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to travel to join a workshop by James Richards, but for US$15 a month (or free if you take up the free 2-month trial you can get here) you can get the essence of what he would teach on location. Absolute bargain.
Other familiar urban sketching names teaching on the platform are Teoh from Parka Blogs and Sam Nielsson.
In reference to courses in general on Skillshare, the quality does vary a little but there are some definite gems. Individuals can sign up to become a teacher on Skillshare and upload their own video course, they earn money each time a student (you and me) takes their course.
I think Skillshare work very hard to manage the quality of courses and teachers on the platform. I really like the company and I think they make online education fun and super affordable. I have a list of about 50 other courses I want to watch!
Liz Steel offers her own online course platform which you can find at sketchingnow.com. Liz was an architect however she is now a full-time artist. From listening to a recent podcast interview with Liz, I found out that she doesn’t do any commercial work or sell her art, her main focus (and passion) is teaching. While she offers workshops at home in Australia and overseas on longer sketching holidays (see below) she reaches her largest audience via her online courses.
A course from Liz is definitely on my shopping list, in fact, I’m hovering over the buy button right now. I just cannot decide whether to start from the beginning with the Foundations course or jump into a more intermediate course.
Liz offers good descriptions as to who the courses are for. Her intermediate courses build on the concepts she teaches in the Foundations course, so it would make sense to start there. I’m not a beginner as such but I do fall into the category of self-taught artist and maybe I do need some lessons on fundamentals I may not be aware of.
I feel confident the quality of teaching is going to be excellent, I really want to try one of Liz’s courses out and let you know all know what I think. Once I do commit, I shall let you know how I get on in a follow-up blog post!
I am a big fan of the urban sketching classes available on Craftsy. I discovered them quite a few years ago and at that time you had to pay for each class so I ended up buying a couple, one by Marc Taro Holmes called Sketching People in Motion and another by Suhita Shirodkar called Figure Sketching Made Simple.
The production value and quality of teaching are very high on the Craftsy platform. They have some of the best and most well-known urban sketchers as instructors. In addition to the two I’ve mentioned, there are classes by Shari Blaukopf, Stephanie Bower, James Richards, Paul Heaston and more.
Around the time Craftsy switched to Bluprint they started to offer a monthly subscription service. I think its a bit of a bargain at US$7.99 per month or US$79.99 for the entire year. You can watch an unlimited amount of classes.
If you are interested in one or more different types of crafts (for example I love silversmithing and jewellery making) then this subscription is a steal! They have classes in quilting, sewing, crochet, photography, cooking, painting, gardening, woodwork, baking…the list goes on! If you prefer you can buy a course for a one-off fee too, generally around US$40.
My favourite classes from the platform are by Marc Taro Holmes. I took Sketching People in Motion (on my never-ending quest to improve my people sketching) and Travel Sketching in Mixed Media.
Craftsy bring instructors into their own studios to record the courses. The quality of teaching is therefore professional and consistent as the company has more control over the courses offered on their platform.
Will Kemp Art School
Will offers a range of courses for different mediums and skill levels on his website. I first came across Will when I was a member of a learning platform called Lynda.com (does anyone remember them)?! I think they’re owned by LinkedIn now.
I used to love Lynda.com so much and its where I actually learned most of the things I know about web design, photoshop and other Adobe applications. To my amazement and excitement, just after I started to get involved in Urban Sketching, a course popped up on the platform about this very subject and it was taught by Will.
Will offers free videos on all areas of his teachings, he has a couple to do with urban sketching that you can check out below (or on his website or Youtube channel).
I think this is a great way to get a sneak preview of the way he teaches and the gauge the level of content. I can tell you already that WIll’s videos have a high production value and his teaching is at a great pace. I certainly learned a few things to help improve my sketches.
Will’s urban sketching course is 3.5 hours of tuition and available for £49.
I have not yet attended trips with any of the companies below, however, I had a one booked for August 2020 with TravelArtist to spend a week in Germany with Ian Fennelly, alas, the pandemic happened and all travel is on hold indefinitely. I do hope to attend when possible though and I shall report back with my thoughts!
In the meantime, here are a few companies who are well regarded in urban sketching circles and offer such sketching holidays alongside some of the biggest names in the field!
French Fusion Travel
French Fusion Travel is run by an Australian lady called Kate. She organises and leads trips alongside an amazing selection of artists. Instructors involved in the urban sketching world include Ian Fennelly, Stephanie Bower, Shari Blaukopf and Pat Southern.
I have not attended one of these trips as yet but I really want to. One day I shall have to treat myself. They are a tad on the pricey side but I have no doubt from what I have read and seen that you get what you pay for here.
If money was no object, there is a run of three consecutive trips in 2021I would join in a heartbeat: Romania with Ian Fennelly, then Croatia with Stephanie Bower and ending in Greece with Shari Blaukopf. WOW, just wow. All three would total €9750 (approx US$10,500)! But what an experience it would be.
A company based in Germany, started by 3 friends, Artistravel run art-related tours all over Europe. I came across them when I discovered that Ian Fennelly was running a sketching tour in Germany and it was a course that I could actually afford. This led me to look through some of their other trips and I found a course in Germany with another of my favourite urban sketchers, Danny Hawk.
The course with Ian in Germany should have been taking place in August 2020 but unfortunately, a worldwide pandemic threw a spanner in the works. However, I’m sure it will be rescheduled and when I finally get to attend, I shall report back!
This company are certainly at the more affordable end of sketching holidays so keep an eye on their website or social media channels.
Studio 56 Boutique
Studio 56 is another company I have only just become aware of. The company is run by Brenda Murray, former Communications Director on the board of Urban Sketchers for 4 years. Clearly, she is well placed to run a company offering urban sketching tours across the world. Past trips have included New Orleans and Santa Domingo with Ian Fennelly (he pops up all over the place doesn’t he?!), Seville with Stephanie Bower and Vienna with Oliver Hoeller.
Studio 56 has a few online courses at a good price point available too. There are only 3 at the moment but I think they will carry on adding to the selection. There’s one with my main man Ian Fennelly from when he was on that trip in New Orleans called ‘Layers of Looking’. The video course is split into 6 short sections with Ian stepping you through his process and costs US$39.99.
As I have mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Ian’s style and find it fascinating to see how he sketches and watch things come together. As such, I have recently purchased the course above. It’s quite a short course and the production value is not great but you get the idea and it’s significantly cheaper watching this video course than attending the course in person!
If you are a fan of Ian’s art style and want to learn how he does what he does then I would certainly recommend this course, however, if you are looking for a general all-round course teaching urban sketching, I would not start here. It is, of course, extremely specific to Ian’s way of creating art.
Liz Steel offers sketching tours in Italy alongside tour director Mike Botton over at https://palladianodyssey.com/
There are three different trips on offer, all of which are consecutive. The first in the North of Italy, Veneto and then 2 sections in Umbria. Each section is €1950 (approx US$2100) and includes accommodation (sharing a room with one other sketcher), local cuisine and wine along with specialist tour guides in certain locations.
I believe these courses sell out pretty fast so if you are interested I would recommend joining their newsletter and keeping an eye on social media so you’re first to know when the dates are confirmed for next year.
Informal Courses & Lessons
I wasn’t sure how to categorise these as they are not courses as such but they are still super valuable video lesson. I have learned a lot of techniques from the videos of the sketchers below so they’re absolutely worth mentioning here.
I absolutely love Alicia’s watercolour sketching style so when I discovered she had a Patreon account in which she releases monthly tutorials on how her painting process I could not resist but sign up. Her process is so different from how I sketch that I feel like her videos out of anything I have mentioned so far had the most amount of impact on me trying out a different way of painting, with pleasing results! Her videos have given me the confidence to try a watercolour first approach.
Alicia does a basic but solid pencil sketch, ensuring proportions and perspective are correct and then goes straight into painting. She finishes by emphasising certain areas with black lines from her fountain pen, and then white highlights with a white Posca paint pen. The results are always stunning. I would highly recommend becoming a Patron, even for a month or two, just to see behind the curtain and understand how Alicia creates her beautiful work.
Free Courses & Lessons
Alonso is such a fantastic educator and you can access his lessons absolutely free on his Youtube channel. Alonso did a 6-part series specifically on urban sketching and its really fantastic. I highly recommend you check it out immediately!
Danny has 2 or 3 videos on his Youtube channel demonstrating how he paints trees and in another a full scene. I love his sketching style so much that even just seeing a couple of videos of his process proved invaluable.
Teoh Yi Chie
Teoh has SO many videos on his Youtube channel about urban sketching from reviews and sketchbook tours through to tutorials. He has a great simple style and knows alot about watercolour paint and how it interacts. I’m sure you have already come across his channel but if not, there’s some binge-watching ahead of you!
Start with the free stuff! Ok, fine, you’ve probably done that already. My first recommendation is to go check out Alicia Aradilla on Patreon. If you love her style (perhaps it’s not for everyone?) then checking out her sketching process really introduces a different way of working (for me at least). US$10 a month gives you access to everything straight away and one or two additional videos a month. If you so wish, you could watch everything she has straight away in month one and then cancel but where’s the heart in that?! (Although, if you’re broke, I get it).
I think my next port of call would be Skillshare or Bluprint because you can get a free trial at first, or pay such a low monthly amount and watch as many courses as you want. If you were so inclined you could definitely cram in a lot within a month.
Go with Skillshare for more of beginner level or shorter bitesize courses on a massive range of topics. You could learn about freelance writing, followed by Photoshop, followed by growing your Instagram following through to some botanical illustration in gouache. There really is so much content to dive into. If you are intermediate level and want something a bit more advanced or in-depth, definitely check out Bluprint.
If you have a particular favourite artist and want to learn their specific style or how they approach their art then you can go for a course by someone like Ian Fennelly. However, Liz Steel’s work is less stylised and she is a full-time educator teaching universal concepts rather than her specific style. As a beginner or for self-taught artists, Liz advises starting with her Foundations course.
The next step is to go on holiday! Get taught in person by your favourite urban sketcher, with a backdrop of an exotic location, with a bunch of other sketchers who share the same interest as you…sounds pretty good to me!
Get in touch…
If you have any suggestions on other urban sketch courses I should mention here, get in touch with me! I love hearing from other people who are interested in urban sketching. You can email me – email@example.com (I always reply!) or find me on Instagram @urbansketchingworld