How to Make a Quick Urban Sketch

sketching May 30, 2021
Learn to create an urban sketch in 30 minutes

I've been really missing traveling but a quick urban sketch is the next best thing right? Today I'll show you how to create a sketch of an urban scene - pick a place you visited and loved, or somewhere you really want to go. The choice is yours but the more detailed the reference photo you pick is, the better. I promise you will have SO MUCH FUN you won't be able to stop sketching. And if you need more convincing, check out 5 Reasons to Start Sketching.




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Step 1: Find a reference


A while back Laura and I went to Spain and Portugal, and I just fell in love with this little town along the coastline; getting lost in its streets and just everything about it. So I'm grabbing this photo of Peñíscola from my collection, and I really want to embrace imperfections with this sketch so as to not take away from some key features and little details like the bunting going across between the buildings.

If I were to make it too perfect, it would become a bit overwhelming and that is NOT a word I would want you to associate with urban sketching. At all.

I'm going to be using The Pigeon Letters Monoline pens because I want to be able to paint with watercolor on top of them and you guys, these do not bleed!


Step 2: Shapes


The first thing that I want to point out is that you will see a vanishing point. Mine was pretty easy to find because of the way the buildings are positioned, but the general idea is to follow the lines (you can even draw them on top of your reference - just make sure the one you're using is a copy and not the original, you wouldn't want to mess that up!) until you can no longer see where the road is leading. Hence the name, vanishing point. Duh.

Here it also happens to be my horizon level, which will make a difference as far as the direction of my drawing goes. SO I will not be drawing from the ground up, but rather from the side of the buildings down and in.

Next, start finding shapes. Is there a cylinder hiding in the bar stool? Which way is it facing? How about that door? Your geometry teacher would be so proud of you right now, but this will also help you sketch more effectively and capture all the details you're after while maintaining the accuracy of real life objects.



Step 3: Start putting down the lines


Once you've got all your shapes figured out you can start putting some basic lines down. Try to avoid going into too much detail at this stage and pay attention to how you like your sketch lines. Bold and straight? Thin and wobbly?  A mix of both? You're such a rebel.


Step 4: Add in depth


Hatching is a great way to start adding in some depth to your sketch. The closer the lines are to one another, the deeper the shadow will be. Play around with this technique to add more interest and bring some elements to life.

As you're creating all this extra depth though, you MIGHT wanna wait until you're done with most of your base sketch. Otherwise, it can make it too concentrated - so just something to think about as you're working through your shadows.



Step 5: Keep going

Carry on adding details and tiny points of interest. You can see below that I've started sketching in some balconies at the back and they make a big difference to the overall look. Make sure you don't overdo it though, avoid adding TOO much detail in the background. Tip: flick your pen instead of setting it down if you want the details to be less defined.


Step 6: You're done!

Here's my result from this quick little crash course in urban sketching. Depending on the look you're after, you can keep going with the shadows or maybe throw in some watercolor to mix things up. Just go with whatever style and look you're after, it'll look awesome either way.


Save for later so you will always remember these tips on urban sketching.