The definitive guide to urban drawing

The definitive guide to urban drawing. The urban sketch is all the rage these days, and for a good cause. There are regional and international organizations, classes, websites, reports, magazines, and videos. Let’s find out what it’s really about, why it’s so popular, and how you can join the movement of easy landscape drawing.

What is urban design?

Urban Sketching revolves around three main points:

  1. It is done on the spot, or you want to look extravagant. It means that you take all your materials to the subject (like a beautiful cathedral) and draw it where rather than rest in your workshop. As the name implies, this type includes cities, towns, and villages rather than the countryside away from civilization. For this reason, subjects are usually streets, buildings, or other artificial landmarks, but they can also be objects, individuals or groups, animals, etc. One tip to keep in the brain is that “sketches” refer to the roughness of the work, not the medium. Many urban designers paint with watercolors or acrylics (oil tends to dry too slowly for this art form).


  1. It is intended as a visual journal, but with sketches instead of words (although you can also write accompanying notes entirely). Burn, as a sketch, anything you find interesting, inspiring, cute, or just plain noteworthy. Illustrations can be detailed and elaborate, but they are done relatively quickly, with spontaneous lines and natural colors. Check out my How to Learn How to draw article to improve your art for more tips on drawing instead of drawing. Topics are left as is, rather than being arranged ad hoc as you would in your home studio. While that doesn’t mean you can’t use some great songwriting tricks (see below). You should.


  1. It is a group activity. It is not a must but a focal point of the movement. You can find local groups of artists who meet on-site and hang out. You can join a sketch walk, where a group of artists moves from place to place during an afternoon, drawing what they find there. Often, there will be some more experienced designers to help newbies by sharing tips and tricks. Some people prefer to draw independently and then go online to share their work and communicate with others. Today, many urban designers use both approaches at different times.

What to draw in urban areas

As mentioned above, you can draw anything that you find interesting and worthy of your time. You can draw on the outside, such as a street view or a single building. But you can also sit in a cafe or on the train and draw what you see around you. Your subjects can be architecture, people, objects, animals or plants, or all of them together. It is entirely up to you for more specific advice on attracting strangers to wild pop from my article How to quickly attract people without them noticing. There are no rules because the goal of Urban Sketching is to record your experiences throughout the day, no matter how you live them.

Why are urban sketches so good?

It is no coincidence that Urban Sketching has become so popular over the last decade. The fast and freestyle of drawing have no formal rules, which takes a lot of pressure off. You don’t have to bother building an actual copy of what you see with perfect shading and perspective. Of course, walking, ready to draw, also means that you will see the world differently. You’ll start to notice details that you wouldn’t usually have and be amazed at how interesting everyday things can be if you open your eyes.

You will also notice that the quality of your work improves. When you draw on the spot, you see the subject in three dimensions rather than flat in a photograph. You can also move to get a better angle. You will use all your senses, not just your sight. You will hear the noises around you. You will smell everything in the air and everything that will flow in your line, making the finished piece even better.

Books on urban design

For more specific suggestions, why not pick one or two of these trendy and highly regarded books on the subject. The Urban Sketching Handbook: 101 Painting News was 1 of my favorite readings this year, so helpful!

How can you start drawing urban yourself?

Due to its emphasis on spontaneity, the urban design doesn’t take much to get started—no need to plan a fancy composition or create preparatory sketches. All you need are some supplies (see below), a couple of minutes, and an exciting topic that you stumbled upon, for example, on the way to work or waiting for your friends at the cafe. Now, I always recommend consulting other urban designers and getting some general tips and tricks on the subject, but it’s something you can do along the way rather than before you start.

I recently interviewed sketch artist Ch’ng Kiah Kieran, who has been drawing outdoors for decades and travels worldwide to give lectures and participate in sketch tours. The perfect illustration of how to do it best. Don’t neglect my number of design art publications, as I wrote them specifically with Urban Sketching in mind. A simple knowledge of perspective can go a long way if you plan to draw streets and buildings.


The materials you bring will depend on your media drawing preferences. The only guideline is that they need to be portable, so you’ll want to look for compact and relatively lightweight things. Ideally, you will always carry your sketchbook with you, so it’s best to spend a little more and get something sturdy. My pick of the brand is Moleskine because they come in so many different sizes, and the quality is fantastic.

What is a good position?

When drawing in urban settings, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you like peace when you work, it can be challenging to draw outdoors, especially in larger cities in the summer. First of all, know and accept that there will be people. Everywhere. Especially when you are shy by nature, it is best to choose a quiet place, a little away from the main pedestrian paths. I always work to meet with my spine upon the wall because there is nothing more distracted than someone looking over their shoulder while you work (and many people do).

Some popular styles and techniques to try

One prevalent technique right now and looks pretty is deliberately giving the lines a slightly wavy look. Instead of drawing as straight a line as possible, you can try drawing it as if you were freezing and shivered a little. It will add interest to your work, especially when you draw architecture made up of many straight lines, which can look a bit boring on the page. Another option is to draw slightly crooked lines. In this way, any building you draw will almost appear to be in motion. Remember, Urban Sketching does not require precision. It is all a matter of interest.

Also Read: Transform your drawing

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