What Equipment Do You Need For Urban Sketching?

What Equipment Do You Need For Urban Sketching?
What Equipment Do You Need For Urban Sketching?

Urban sketching is a fun, spontaneous, and exciting way to broaden your horizons and gain inspiration. Do you love architecture? Do cityscapes interest you? Do you like to create art quickly and embrace the happy accidents that add a unique look to a piece?

If so, then you'll love urban sketching. Rather than sit at home, in a classroom, or in your studio, urban sketching allows you to get out in the world and see it, while still being able to create artwork.

What equipment do you need for urban sketching? That is entirely up to you. You can go with a pad of paper and a pen or pencil, or you can put together a more complete set of art supplies. It really does depend on what you want to create when you are sketching. One thing to keep in mind is that urban sketching is meant to be light and spontaneous. You aren't sitting at a drafting table, so don't be worried about having some lines be less than straight. 

Where To Go Urban Sketching

Where should you go urban sketching? How about, anywhere you want to? While there are obviously going to be points of interest with more unique buildings and settings, one of the great things about urban sketching is that you can do it anywhere you want to. Take some time and look around the city you live in. Look for interesting landmarks. Take a look at how these landmarks look at different times of the day. You can often get the most dramatic images by sketching during sunset. Unfortunately, sunsets are brief, which can be problematic. One way to overcome this is to set up your sketch ahead of time. You can go to the place you are going to sketch early in the day, sketch out a layout, then wait for ideal lighting conditions to finish your sketch.

Don't restrict yourself only to rooftops either. Maybe mix in some street scenes. You can even add in some rough figures walking down the street to add some movement to your picture. It's also a good idea to bring your supplies with you whenever you go on any kind of trip. This will give you the chance to sketch something new.

What Equipment Is Best For Urban Sketching?

Some supplies that are a necessity are a pad of paper, make sure that you get paper appropriate to the medium you are going to work with. A drawing instrument such as a pen, pencil, charcoal, etc. If you are using paints or inks then having paper towels, a water supply, a mixing tray, and possibly water pens as well can be very helpful in your artistic endeavors.

Urban Sketching Bag

Having a well-organized urban sketching bag is essential to being able to make the most of your time. Remember, you aren't sitting in a room somewhere looking at a reference photo. If you are looking for a good quality sketching bag you can find one at amazon.

You are in an environment where conditions could suddenly change at any moment. That means you need to be able to work quickly. Having your supplies set up in an orderly fashion will help with that.

Not to mention the fact that transporting art supplies is a lot easier when you have an urban sketching bag to store them in.

Portable Stool

Having a portable stool for urban sketching can mean the difference between being comfortable so that you can let your artistic juices flow, or being uncomfortable, which will distract you.

When you are planning on being able to move around, which is at the heart of urban sketching, you need a lightweight stool that is easy to transport. Getting one made from sturdy plastic, which is light is a good idea. You should also look for a seat that folds for easy transport. You can find examples of good quality portable stools at amazon.


What kind of pencils should you use for urban sketching? It's best to have a variety of pencils with you so that you can get the effects you are looking for. Using softer pencils for dark areas, and harder pencils for fine details is the best approach.

You also need to have a pencil sharpener, since the last thing you want is to break a pencil while you are sketching and not have a way to sharpen it. While artists generally avoid mechanical pencils, when it comes to urban sketching, they really aren't that bad.

Urban sketching involves drawing buildings, which means lots of fine lines, something that mechanical pencils excel at. As an added bonus mechanical pencils don't need sharpening, eliminating your need to carry a sharpener with you. To find the latest sets of drawing pencils visit amazon.

Graphite Sticks

Why would you need graphite sticks if you already have pencils? Graphite sticks offer a different texture than pencils do, allowing you to achieve different effects. The most significant benefit of using graphite sticks for urban sketching is speed. Graphite sticks will enable you to put down large, dark areas quickly, which is definitely beneficial when time is of the essence.

Charcoal Pencils

Charcoal pencils should also be an addition to your urban sketch kit if they are something you are comfortable with and enjoy using. While charcoal is messy, it can be used to create some dynamic images of buildings and urban landscapes. Remember, as an artist, you don't have to create a photo-realistic interpretation of your subject. You have an artistic license, which is a fancy way of saying you can do what you want to do. Make bold strokes and create an abstract piece if that is what you feel like doing. Just make sure that if you are using charcoal that you carry a can of workable fixative with you.

Ink And Wash

Ink and wash is a technique that allows you the ability to create a spontaneous look of watercolor while enjoying the permanence of ink. Watercolors will bleed when you add water to them or put layers of paint over them. While this can create some exciting effects, if you don't want watercolor to bleed, then it is a problem. With ink, there's no need to worry because it's waterproof once it is dry.

The problem with ink and wash being used for urban sketching is it requires mixing trays and water. While not impossible, to set up a work area like this for urban sketching, it isn't exactly practical. One way to work around this is to use Inktense Pencils and a set of water pens. Inktense pencils are very similar to watercolor pencils, but they give you much bolder colors, and once they dry, the ink is waterproof. They also make Inktense color blocks for laying down large areas of color quickly.

Ballpoint Pens

Ballpoint pens aren't a standard artist medium, but when it comes to creating art when has normal ever been relevant. You are an artist! That means you make your own rules. Ballpoint pens are practically made for urban sketching. You can quickly lay down bold strokes and complete a picture with speed it takes to succeed when sketching outdoors. When using ballpoint pens, don't try to create perfect lines, and don't worry about light marks that you can't erase. Embrace the chaos, and you'll love the results.

Water Container Or Portable Bottle

If you are going to be using watercolors or ink and wash for urban sketching, having a water supply is a necessity. One of the easiest ways to carry water is in a simple spray bottle. You can open it to pour water into a mixing tray, or spray it onto the tray or directly onto the paper to create a unique look. Of course, using water pens is even easier. They come in a variety of brush sizes, and all you do is fill them and paint with them. When you need more water instead of having to dip your brush into a cup of water, you just squeeze it gently, and some water from the pen's reservoir will flow to the brush.

Best Watercolors For Urban Sketching

Watercolor paint comes in a variety of different forms, but for urban sketching the best options are either watercolor trays or watercolor pencils. Watercolor in a tube form is simply too much work for urban sketching. One of the benefits of watercolor trays is that you can mix your paints directly on them.

They also sell gouache watercolor trays, for a slightly different look. Gouache is opaque watercolor, which can be handy to use when you are painting buildings.

You might also want to look into Neocolor II crayons. These are water-soluble crayons that can create dramatic effects that differ from the look of traditional watercolors.

Urban Sketcher Brushes

For urban sketching using watercolors or ink and wash make sure that you buy watercolor brushes. To be honest, your best option for urban sketching is water brushes. You can use them as a regular paintbrush, or you can even add ink or watercolor paint to the water reservoir before you start sketching.

The Best Sketchbook For Urban Sketching

The best sketchbook for urban sketching depends on what your style is as an artist. If you like precise artwork, then using something along the lines of a hot press watercolor sketchbook, or a pad of bristol board will probably work best.

Plan to work in charcoal? Then use either charcoal paper or pastel paper. If you are planning ink and wash or watercolor, then using watercolor paper is your best bet. You can find a variety of different types of papers and sketchbooks at amazon.


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of improvedrawing.com and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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