The value of simple urban sketches

November 13, 2023 | 6 Comments

It can be easy to think (based on what we see on social media) that urban sketches ‘should’ always involve going on dedicated sketching outings and spending a considerable amount of time to achieve a finished sketch. But this is not the case – and in fact, I strongly believe that constantly doing quick simple sketches out on location is the best way to develop our skills and keep our visual brain active.

Last Friday I sat down to do my usual morning sketch (while sipping a takeaway coffee) and I decided to start with recording the shadow shapes of the scene before me with NeoColor II crayons. I liked this first pass so much that I decided that I wouldn’t add much more to the sketch – just a few shapes with a second colour and then added some loose lines to some of the edges.

This sketch was basically a large-scale thumbnail using two important skills – abstracting shapes and feeling edges. These form the basis of every sketch I do (These concepts are explained in detail inside my Foundations course).

I had a lot of fun doing it and certainly felt that my creative juices were flowing as a result. It only took me a few minutes to complete so as soon as I finished my coffee, I was ready to walk home and eager to start my workday. This is exactly what I want my everyday sketching to be!

Do you ever do quick simple sketches when you are out and about or do you only do urban sketching during dedicated outings?

Finally – thanks to everyone who left a comment/suggestion on Friday’s article. I’ll do a few options and share more in a few days’ time.


  • April Andrews says:

    Lately, I’ve been taking my small A6 sketchbook and a pen out with me while walking our dog. He gets to sniff, and I get to do a quick sketch. I may throw a crayon or two in my pocket next time and give this shapes and edges approach a try!

  • Bobbie says:

    I have a sketchbook with me in the car, and will intentionally go early when meeting someone so I can do a quick sketch. Recently I have been sketching cars. I am often just happy to be doing a quick 10 minute sketch without worrying about a complete sketch. It’s been very rewarding to see the progress.

  • Carrie Williams says:

    This is what I’m holding out hope for in my own sketching journey—getting the basics of volume and proportion and perspective and angles and shadows (phew) so that responsive sketching (while sipping coffee!) produces a recognizable and believable impression in all its abstraction. A lovely inspiration! Thank you, Liz.

  • Ginie Udy says:

    This was a lovely post to read last night after a day of two quick sketches that I was really happy with. One of my foot while I was waiting for my online exercise class to start and one of my iced long black coffee while waiting for my friend to place his order. And also thinking about finally getting some Neo Colour crayons!
    Thank you Liz for your ongoing inspiration on our sketching journey.

    I’m very busy making up seaglass pictures for Christmas presents so have paused my participation in the Buildings course. I will resume in the new year!

  • Elaine Mcgann says:

    Appreciate your ideas/suggestions every time. You inspire and affirm my journey. I do small sketches: one small seashell, one pin oak leaf, etc.

  • Jamie C says:

    Love the color combination with those neocolor!

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