How to … Urban Sketch


Lyme Regis – A seaside beach on the south coast of the United Kingdom

What it is
Urban Sketching is basically drawing or sketching or painting on location; without taking reference photographs.

The rules (Yes, I’m afraid there are rules) of Urban Sketching detailed on the Urban Sketchers website state that:

1) We draw on location, indoors or outdoors, capturing what we see from direct observation.

2) Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live, and where we travel.


What you need
The cool thing about urban sketching is that the materials are pretty much an open field; you can use whatever materials you want. Although, portability is an important factor.
At the bare minimum you would need a material to record with and a material to record on to.

So sketchbooks need to be small, or stored easily in a bag or pocket. But you could just as easily sketch on the page of a book you’re reading, or a piece of cardboard.

Olympics 2012

Watching the Para-Olympics 2012

Pens, pencils and paints

Can be stored in a pocket. And can be specialist drawing pens which are waterproof and fade proof, or they could just as easily be a biro or an old pencil.


Sometimes I carry round a inexpensive camping stool to sit on, or more often than not I like to find somewhere in the environment to perch or sit; so a wall or bench.


Being a bloke means I don’t have the luxury of choosing a fancy handbag to carry around for my art materials (Well, I realise that I could, but I would look rather odd)

I’ve used a variety of shoulder bags over the years, but prefer the shoulder Satchel designed by Ally Capellino for the Tate Art Gallery in the United Kingdom.

At 31cm wide and 29cm high and 8cm deep it is roomy enough to carry two or three A5 sized sketchbooks, paint palettes, brush pens and regular pens. A bottle of water and my wallet.

How to do it

Initially you’ll need courage to stand your ground and draw in public. But, to be honest, I’ve never really found it a problem. People tend to just ignore you. If they do approach you it’s usually with curiosity. And when they see what you’re doing they are fascinated and usually awestruck, amazed that you can capture the scene. People will stand and chat and then the view that your capturing becomes infused with their tales and your conversation.

As you draw alone it feels almost as if you are detached from reality – that you are an observer of the world. Capturing the moment in a book.


You don’t have to sketch on your own either. there are many local groups which meet up every month or so. Meet up to chat, compare styles and tips and equipment. But more importantly, to sketch and draw. In the Urban Sketchers Yorkshire Group we even share our sketchbooks at the end of a busy day of sketching and pour over each other’s different takes on the subject matter.


If you would like to read more

The official Urban Sketchers website is a wonderful place to start. You can see the wide variety of approaches by the different correspondents from all over the world.

The Urban Sketchers group also has a vibrant Facebook group where you can post your own images. There are other more local urban sketch groups too.

Tools – Waterbrushes are incredibly useful for the urban sketcher who wants to use water-based paints.

Materials - Brushes - waterbrush sm





Read – Urban Sketcher’s Singapore to see how one urban sketching group sees their city


Sketchcrawl at Leeds Armouries

On Saturday – After a little bit of a mix up with a train (I do so enjoy riding on trains, but they are so frightfully expensive!) I eventually arrived at the Leeds Royal Armouries museum.

After checking in with Lynne I headed off to the small arms cabinets where I quickly bagged myself a couple of snazzy-looking  weapons.

Revolver sm

As I’d walked through the museum it was clear that there was a western-themed day going ahead. I drew these two weapons on either side of a full page spread, indending on filling in a western scene inbetween at some point during the day … but I ended up leaving the centre of the page blank as I got distracted by the other cool exhibits.

Tomahawk sm

Now, I do tend to stick in my drawing rut (Don’t we all!) So, I decided to break out a bit. A decided that the sketchcrawl venue is not the place to labour on a single piece of drawing.

I tackled this grand elephant in it’s armour next; initially slopping down a Payne’s grey colour wash and then Noodler’s Ink-ing over the top. I tried to work quite quickly on this piece.

Elephant sm

For my next piece I used a finer point (0.05) than I usually do. I also tried to keep the pen moving at all times; trying to capture shapes with a mess of scribble, rather than my usual difinitive lines. Oh, and quite macr, instead of my usual obsession with smaller stuff.

War room sm

I drew this sarcophagus of Henry V next. Initially I tried to use just coloured pencils and then watered them down. But I felt that there wasn’t enough definition, so I used the fineliner pen again to add a handful of lines.

Agincourt sm

There was a video re-enactment of the events leading up to the defeat of the French at Agincourt above this sarcophagus and I was really enjoying listening/glancing at it. So I stuck around to add a few extra bits and bobs (None of which are period pieces to Agincourt, I hasten to add – please don’t write in!) The spurs and the swords are from a display case beside the sarcophagus from a hundred years earlier and the helmet. Oh, the helmet! I hunted round the museum for a helmet like the ones portrayed on the re-enactment video. I thought I’d found one and quickly sketched it in at the space at the top of my page. Then I glanced a bit closer at the label; only to discover it was an Italian helmet! Grrrr! Ah, well. Maybe there were a few holidaying Italian soldiers travelling back from England at the time. Or maybe bounty hunters, or mercenaries. Or maybe someone might have borrowed a helmet from an Italian cousin, or something :/ Anything is possible, you know!

We all had a great time; there being so many interesting things to draw. (I and I didn’t even draw a single morsel of food!)

Olympic Stadium – London 2012 Paralympics

Yesterday we were lucky enough to get to visit the Olympic Stadium for the 2012 London Paralympics.

Absolutely amazing!

The stadium is huge; it has a seating capacity of 80,000 and it was difficult to see many blocks of spaces.

Mexican waves washed round in one direction and the roar of the crowd cheering on the wheelchair track events washed round in the opposite direction as the crowds cheered the competitors racing past.

There were huge roars from the crowds of people whenever Team GB did … anything!

In fact the spectators cheered for all the competitors.

But the elation of seeing Hannah Cockroft take the gold medal in the women’s 100m race! Fantastic stuff! The crowd went wild.

I spent a lot of my time there drawing the stadium from our seats. Well, there’s not going to be many times when I can draw whilst inside an Olympic Stadium!

Every Day in May

I’m trying to keep up to the Every Day in May project/game over on flickr. Each day there is a different drawing/painting/sketching subject to produce.

Now, me being me I truly want to upload the images in the correct order.

So, above we have the image for the first of May; a landscape.

The view from a pigsty we once stayed in. No, really! It was an actual pigsty!. Admittedly it was a rather bespoke pigsty from the eighteenth century which had been built at the whim of a particular yorkshire landowner; this pigsty had roman columns and a stunning view. Now it has been turned into a rather quaint guesthouse. (I shall endeavour to draw a view of the actual pigsty itself at some point) I don’t tend to work from photographs but …. there’s been so much rain in the cold and rugged north of England that I’ve had to succumb.

The image for the second of May should be something connected with a New Year’s resolution. I haven’t managed to get this completed yet! I knew what I wanted to do and also how I wanted to do it, but it has proved to be a slightly longer job than I anticipated. I’ve already completed the other images, so effectively I am up to date … apart from the picture from the 2nd.

The Imperial War Museum – North

Way back into last month (Well, a couple of weekends ago) the Sketchcrawl North group visited The Imperial War Museum in Salford, Manchester.

And what a curious building it is! Designed by Daniel Libeskind to resemble three shards of a shattered world; here you can see the Earth Shard, lying down, and the Air Shard, pointing up into!

I started with a quick sketch outside to get my bearings, but the rain (ah, the rain!) started to patter down, so I made my way inside.

Oh, boy! Did I love this car! Sometimes as a sketchcrawler I spend more time crawling than sketching, but as soon as I saw this little Trabant I couldn’t set up my stool quick enough. Partly out of excitement at drawing this quirky little vehicle (and hey! I do like quirky), but my speed was mostly due to the hourly sound and light shows that the museum puts on. At which time the museum is plunged into darkness.

So I hunkered down in front of a display case and drew this gun and a mine as I waited for the lights to come back up. An old chap admired my Trabant drawing and excitedly told me about it’s history and the fact that it is made out of paper; which I thought at the time sounded to be a bit far-fetched!

 Well, at a War Museum you just HAVE to draw a tank or a military vehicle of some kind, don’t you? I really wanted to draw a tank and this was the only one on show inside the museum.

During the finally sound and light show blackout I worked in front of another display cabinet to capture this battered Radio Receiver. I liked all the knobs and dials on this device.

Then it was off to the cafe for a late-ish lunch with the rest of the group.

This was the first Sketchcrawl where I’ve had to leave early and I sure missed the end-of-the-day passing round of sketchbooks. But, I think, on the flipside knowing that I only had a short amount of time helped to focus my mind and I felt I got in a good amount of drawing in the time that I was there.

Definitely worth a re-visit.

Sunday morning service

Converted from an old chapel this building is now used for another kind of worship.

My initial drawing of this public house was interrupted…

… it was early one Sunday morning. I was positioned in the sheltered car park opposite the grand facade. The bells for church had only just finished peeling, in fact, when I heard several drunken ‘blokes’ staggering down the street … coming in my direction.

Two passed by, and as they passed turned back to another fellow to shout ‘Hey, Andy, he’s drawing you!’

A few second passed when ‘Andy’ came into view… stopped right in front of me, about two feet away… and dropped his trousers and pants!

And stood there swaying … in the breeze.

He stood there for a few moments, then pulled his clothes back up and staggered off!

(Of course I would have drawn Andy and his ‘tackle’ … but I didn’t have a small enough pen!)

The Telamon

Last year I was frustrated to discover that the power plant I sketched was blocking the view of a wrecked ship.

I was Soooooooo excited about coming back to Lanzarote to draw this wrecked ship!
I walked the 4km from the hotel to the wreck site, to gear myself up.
All the time I drew people were drawing up in their cars to take photographs.
I was frustrated after ten minutes drawing when I realised that in my eagerness to start drawing I’d held my sketchbook at a funny angle, so that sea looks as if it’s listing. But it adds to odd angle of the ship.
Later in the week we were having tapas in a little restaurant and the owner told us that in the summer kids climb up the rope ladder at the side, so that they can climb up on deck and jump into the sea.

Waiting to board our plane to Lanzarote

Waiting at Manchester Airport to board our flight to Lanzarote. I was looking forward to returning; now that I know that there is a shipwreck just out of town from where we were staying – the wreck of the ‘Telamon’, just outside Costa Teguise.

The Chantry Chapel, Wakefield

Another sketch that I started … and then suddenly realised that there was a huge amount of detailed carving in the stonework. Honestly! You’d think that I’d notice these things before sitting down to draw! To be honest I love a challenge. This sketch reminded me in part of Notre Dame Cathedral that I sketched back in May, another tricky, detailed subject.

I may have to hunt out some more ecclesiastical subjects before long.

The Hepworth Gallery – Gallery 6

Felt as if I ought to make an effort to do some drawing inside, although it was beautifully snny outside!

Made my way all the way through the gallery to the final space, Gally 6, and perched myself in the furthest corner; a quick drawing of the interior, with shadow people again – like I did for Hipperholme Golf Club.