Learn to Urban Sketch: Part 1 - What is Urban Sketching?

Leanne, MHPL's resident artist shares with you her tips and techniques for getting started with Urban Sketching in a five-part blog series.
Posted on 24 June 2020 by Leanne.

While we are all isolated during the pandemic, it’s important to stay connected with other people. Starting a new creative hobby, and connecting with others online, is a great way to look after your mental health during this turbulent time. 

I have been creating Urban Sketches for years and would like to share this fun hobby with the community. It’s low cost, fun, and is a great way of passing the time. You can do this in your house, or venture outside safely in a socially distant way.

This is the first part of a blog series I will be writing on the subject! You will find out what Urban Sketching is, what supplies you need, and many tips and tricks to get started. I hope you enjoy this. Please share any art you make with us!

Please don’t worry about how “good” you are as an artist. There’s countless different ways to sketch, multiple styles, and lots of practice! It has taken me years of dedicated time focused on art to get to the level where I am today. The only way to get better at any kind of art is to put yourself out there and… just do it! See below for one of my recent sketches! 

What Is Urban Sketching?

Urban Sketching is a form of artistic reportage. It’s the act of drawing or painting on location in the cities, towns, or villages that you live in and travel to. You are capturing a moment in time in a unique, artistic way.

What is Urban Sketchers?

It’s a global community of artists who draw on location. While artists have been drawing on location for centuries, the online movement that we know today was started in 2007. Gabriel Campanario, a journalist and illustrator living in Seattle, started Urban Sketchers as a group on the image sharing website called Flickr.

As more artists began to submit and share their sketches online, Campanario started a group to promote drawing real life, as it happens in front of the artist.

The Urban Sketchers blog was created a year later.

The Urban Sketching Manifesto

Here is the official Urban Sketchers manifesto:

  1. We draw on location, indoors and out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
  2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
  3. Our drawings are a record of time and place.
  4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
  5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.
  6. We support each other and draw together.
  7. We share our drawings online.
  8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

Why do I enjoy Urban Sketching?

In addition to sketching, I make very detailed acrylic paintings and drawings. These can take a long time to complete. Forcing myself to do a quick drawing, on location, makes me loosen up my artwork. It’s also very satisfying to fill up an entire sketchbook with quick pieces of art.

The biggest positive is that I’m drawing things that I normally wouldn’t paint. I’m always improving and expanding my art skills this way.

I’m not an expert and I still make a lot of mistakes. But, the most important thing is to keep practicing, every day that you can.

What supplies do I need?

You can basically use anything you’d like when you’re sketching! You probably have some stuff lying around at home, like a ballpoint pen and some blank pieces of paper.

These are some of the most popular art supplies used in the sketching world:


Any kind of pencil will work. A lot of artist prefer to use softer pencils, so 2B-6B.

Here are some beautiful sketches that other artists have made just using a pencil.


Any kind of pens will work! If you’re also using watercolor or marker in your sketches, you want to make sure that you’re using a pen with permanent ink. If you don’t, the lines will “bleed” everywhere when you add water. My favorite pen is the Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen.

You can use any kind of pen to draw, even ballpoint pens!

Here are some beautiful drawings that were made using only a pen.

Pencil Crayons

Prismacolor is a great brand to use, but any pencil crayon works great. Watercolor pencil crayons are also very fun to play with.

Here are some beautiful sketches that were done using pencil crayons.


This is another fun medium that sketchers love to use. Simple crayola markers can work, but you’ll also get some really beautiful results with permanent ink markers. Some popular brands are Copic, Prismacolor, and Sharpie.

Again, here are some beautiful sketches that were created using markers. They can be a quick way to add color and make your art look illustrative.


Watercolor paints are one of the most popular mediums used in Urban Sketching. They are economical, versatile, and can be used in a variety of ways. The paints are often used to color in pen drawings, or on their own.

Koi is a good entry level brand. I use Winsor & Newton watercolors with my own work. You can find both of these brands through Michaels or other art supply retailers.

Here are a few examples of sketches made with watercolors.


Now that we’ve talked about things you can make your sketches with, we need to talk about one of the most important parts: the sketchbook.

There’s a few things you need to consider when you are picking out your book.

  • Size - smaller books mean you can make more sketches quickly. Larger means that you can capture more of the scene.
  • Paper - this depends on the art supplies you are using. For example, if you’re making sketches with watercolor, you should get a book that has watercolor paper in it.
  • Binding - spiral bound sketchbooks let you completely flip the page. Hardbound sketchbooks are more durable, but less flexible. There’s endless possibilities!

Here are some other examples of unique sketchbooks. You can make your own, find some with colored paper, and get creative.

If you want to get art supplies, but don’t know where to find them during the pandemic, here are some options:

Michaels, in Medicine Hat, is offering curbside pickup. You can place an order and pay online, then go pick it up from outside the store.

You can also find some decent art supplies at Wal-Mart, Superstore, and other larger retail stores.

Amazon is also a good place to order supplies from. Right now, shipping non-essential items is very delayed right now, so you may not get your items for a month or two.

There are also some art supply stores in the province that will ship to Medicine Hat. They may charge a higher shipping rate than other online retailers, so keep that in mind.  I have ordered through Delta Art & Drafting Supply and gotten my items within the week. If you search “Art supply stores Alberta” you will be able to find a good list of retailers and reviews.

Three Quick Steps To Start Sketching

There are three quick steps you need to take to get started with sketching!

Step 1: Choose Your Supplies

Grab art supplies that you have around your house, or try something new! 

Step 2: Find A Location

Try somewhere close to home when you’re first starting out. You probably have a favorite park or building close to where you live. Try drawing that! You can also draw things around your own home, your view across the street, etc.

Step 3: DRAW!

Before you start, remind yourself that this is just sketching. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It won’t be perfect. Focus on the process and enjoying the moment and try not to worry about the details.

Putting It Together

I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction into the world of urban sketching! In my next posts, I will go into some basic art tips and tricks that will help you as you make your art.

You don’t need to wait for these posts to give sketching a try. I encourage you to grab a few art supplies, some paper, and “just do it.” 

There’s plenty of inspiration online. To see all of the different varieties of sketching styles, you can check out Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and the Urban Sketchers Blog.

We’d love to see what art you come up with, so please share them with us on our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at leannee@shortgrass.ca.

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