Daily Archives: January 24, 2011

Sketching on the town! (tips / tutorial / process)

My last post was on Saturday’s fantastic Sheffield Sketchcrawl (organizer Lynne Chapman has photos and peoples’ sketches from the day up here and here!). One thing that caught my attention was that several of the people there said they loved the group because they were nervous to sketch in public on their own.

So this post is for anyone who might feel likewise, and hasn’t gotten out there to sketch in the wild! A few tips and thoughts, as well as a bit of my own sketching process.

Groups and meetups:

  • A group can give you confidence to start out – soon you’ll be sketching everywhere! It also gives you handy people to draw…they can hardly complain when they’re drawing you too! Look for local groups on forums like Sketchcrawl, conceptart.org or Urban Sketchers, or simply ask a few friends along.


  • Sketchbooks – keep a few different sizes, to fit any bag. Avoid fancy ones if you’ll feel like you have to use them for something great. Pop a few pieces of scrap paper in every bag so you’re never caught without!
  • Media of choice – try something permanent and clean.
  • Permanent: being unable to erase will help you accept “mistakes” and be confident with your lines – both things needed to sketch quickly
  • Clean: so nothing (like the prospect of charcoal smudges on your work shirt!) will prevent you from sketching!
  • My top pick is the humble ballpoint pen – they give a lovely texture and there’s always one around!
  • Other media– there are so many options, so experiment a bit! Water-filled brushpens are great for portable watercolours.


  • Well, anywhere! Preferably somewhere you can sit and get comfy. Parks, busses, malls…a coffee shop or library is a great place to start as you won’t feel conspicuous.


  • Start with static things if you want – buildings, objects, interiors – and people sitting still for a while (eg. reading or working on a laptop) at a bit of a distance!
  • When you feel brave enough to tackle people close by, and don’t want to be noticed, try not looking directly – look at something just past them , or catch details in a sweeping gaze. And if you get caught, a smile goes a long way!

Moving targets

  • Don’t feel you need to reach a certain level of “finishedness”. If you get their pose, and they move, well, you’ve had some gesture practice! Likewise if they move an arm, just draw over the previous position, or leave it less finished.

Sample process/building up evenly:

  • You don’t know how long a person will be there, so develop your drawing in different levels all over to increase your understanding of pose, movement, lighting, etc, however long you have!
  • 1. Gesture drawing/rough shapes – Think quick! This is all about the movement and weight. I I find a rough skeletal structure works best for me. This is also the stage to fix incorrect proportions, before they’re set in by further drawing.

  • 2. Sketching in some detail – avoid the temptation to go into fine rendering here. Work in a bit of detail – shapes, items of clothing, windows, etc – all over.

  • 3. Main shadows – Rough in large areas of shadow. Try squinting, so you can focus more on light and less on lines and details.

  • 4. Detail/rendering – Now you’ve got a solid rough sketch. If your subject is still there, go ahead and indulge in that rendering! (Although I may have overdone it a bit here…)

Of course, not everyone builds up an image in the same way! It’s not my intent to be overly prescriptive. This is simply a sample – but it’s an approach that builds a range of skills, so if you usually hone straight in to the detail, give it a try!

Happy sketching! ^_^