Urban Sketchers Johannesburg

What is Urban Sketching?

Urban sketching is a dynamic, expressive, and community-driven form of art that captures the essence of city life through on-location drawing.

It’s more than just a hobby; it’s a global movement that encourages artists of all levels to observe and depict the world around them in real-time.

Urban sketching as a formal movement was created by Gabriel Campanario, a Seattle-based journalist and illustrator.

In 2007, Gabi founded Urban Sketchers (USk), a global community dedicated to on-location drawing. He started a Flickr group to share sketches and connect with other like-minded artists around the world. This initiative quickly grew into a larger movement, encouraging people to document their cities and everyday lives through art.

Urban Sketchers promotes a manifesto that includes principles such as drawing on location, telling the story of your surroundings, and sharing your work online. This has helped to create a supportive and vibrant global community of urban sketchers who inspire and learn from each other.

The Essence of Urban Sketching

At its core, urban sketching involves going out into the city (or any location) and drawing what you see. This could be anything from bustling markets and serene parks to towering skyscrapers and quiet alleyways. The goal is to capture the moment and the spirit of the place, often with a quick and loose style that reflects the vibrancy and immediacy of urban environments.

I think the word “urban” can confuse matters sometimes – you can still urban sketch if you don’t live in a city! I have mainly lived in rural or suburban settings and still consider what I do as urban sketching. The essence is sketching what you see on location, whether it’s a farmhouse or a city hall – it doesn’t matter.

Tools of the Trade

Urban sketchers typically work with portable and easy-to-use materials. Common tools include:

These tools allow artists to capture scenes as they unfold, making urban sketching a perfect practice for those who love spontaneity and improvisation.

The Global Community

The urban sketching movement has grown significantly since its inception. 

Urban sketchers often gather for sketchcrawls, where groups meet to draw together at various locations. These events are not only opportunities to create art but also to connect with like-minded individuals, share techniques, and get inspired by different perspectives.

Joining Urban Sketchers Johannesburg changed the game for me. I always considered myself a solo sketcher/traveller – a bit of a lone wolf to be honest – but joining the group here has created another level of enjoyment to urban sketching. Now, in my mind, the only thing better than urban sketching is urban sketching with other people. I never thought I’d say that! So please do see if you have an urban sketchers group near you – you’ll be surprised – they’re EVERYWHERE!!

Urban Sketchers Symposium

The Urban Sketchers Symposium is an annual event organised by the non-profit international Urban Sketchers organisation. The symposium serves as a gathering for sketchers of all levels to learn, share, and celebrate the art of urban sketching. Here are some key aspects of the symposium:

1. Workshops and Demos: The symposium features workshops and demonstrations led by experienced urban sketchers. These sessions cover various techniques, styles, and mediums, providing participants with hands-on learning opportunities.

2. Sketchwalks: Participants engage in group sketching sessions, known as sketchwalks, where they explore different parts of the host city, capturing its essence through sketches. This encourages community building and allows attendees to practice sketching in diverse urban environments.

3. Lectures and Panels: The event includes lectures and panel discussions on topics related to urban sketching, such as the impact of sketching on urban planning, the role of sketching in storytelling, and tips for improving sketching skills.

4. Exhibitions and Portfolio Sharing: Attendees have the opportunity to exhibit their work and share portfolios with peers and mentors, fostering an environment of feedback and inspiration.

5. Networking and Community Building: The symposium is a platform for sketchers from around the world to connect, exchange ideas, and form lasting friendships. It helps strengthen the global urban sketching community.

6. Cultural Exchange: As the symposium is hosted in different cities each year, it provides participants with the chance to experience and sketch diverse urban landscapes and cultures.

The Urban Sketchers Symposium is an important event for anyone passionate about urban sketching, offering education, inspiration, and a sense of community. If you would like to hear about my experience at the 2023 USK Symposium in New Zealand you can check out this video:

If you want to find out more about the next symposium you can check the official website here.

Benefits of Urban Sketching

Urban sketching offers numerous benefits for artists:

  1. Improved Observation Skills: Sketching on location forces you to pay attention to details you might otherwise overlook.
  2. Increased Creativity: The unpredictable nature of urban environments can spark new ideas and creative approaches.
  3. Personal Growth: Regular practice builds confidence and hones technical skills.
  4. Mindfulness and Relaxation: Focusing on drawing can be a meditative practice, helping to reduce stress and increase mindfulness.
  5. Connection with the Environment: It fosters a deeper appreciation for and connection with your surroundings.

Getting Started with Urban Sketching

If you’re interested in starting your urban sketching journey, here are a few tips:

1. Start Simple: Begin with a basic sketchbook and pen. As you get more comfortable, you can expand your toolkit.

2. Observe First: Take a few minutes to observe your surroundings before you start drawing. Note interesting details and compositions.

3. Embrace Imperfection: Urban sketching is about capturing the moment, not creating a perfect drawing. Embrace the imperfections—they add character and authenticity to your work.

4. Join a Community: Look for local urban sketching groups or join online communities to share your work and get feedback.

5. Practice Regularly: The more you sketch, the better you’ll get. Make it a habit to carry your sketchbook and draw whenever you can. It is as simple as that. There are a lot of distractions out there – you can binge-watch all the Youtube videos you can find but, while you may become very knowledgeable, you will only ever start improving by getting out there and doing it and putting the hours in.


Urban sketching is a vibrant and inclusive art form that transforms the way we see and interact with our urban environments. Whether you’re an experienced artist or a beginner, urban sketching offers a fulfilling and enriching way to explore your creativity and connect with your surroundings. So grab your sketchbook, head out into the world, and start capturing the world one drawing at a time.