Improve Urban Sketching: 5 Practical Ink & Wash Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Focus on the basic structure first
  2. Add details with dry brush techniques
  3. Use hatching for textures
  4. Apply wash for shadows and depth
  5. Practice quick sketching for improvement

Urban sketching, a unique art form capturing the vibrancy of cityscapes, is an exciting journey that can be both challenging and rewarding. One of the key ingredients to getting better at urban sketching with ink and wash is understanding and applying practical techniques. Let's dive into the world of ink and wash and uncover the secrets to improving your urban sketches.

Focus on the Basic Structure First

Beginning with the basic structure is a key step in improving your urban sketching with ink and wash. This is your sketch's backbone and will guide you in adding details, texture, and depth. Here's how you can approach it:

Start with a Loose Sketch

When you first approach your sketch, don't stress about getting every line perfect—instead, start with a loose sketch. This will give you a rough idea of your overall composition, and you can refine as you go. Think of it as a roadmap for your masterpiece. The roads may not be perfectly straight or evenly spaced, but they'll get you where you need to go.

Pay Attention to Perspective

Ink and wash urban sketching is not just about capturing a scene—it's about capturing it from a unique perspective. This can involve playing with angles, heights, or even the level of detail you include. When sketching, consider how you're viewing your subject. Are you looking up at towering skyscrapers, or down a winding cobblestone alley? Your perspective can make a world of difference in how your sketch comes to life.

Keep Proportions in Mind

Getting the proportions right can be tricky, especially when you're dealing with complex urban landscapes. But don't worry, you'll get better with practice. Remember, the size of objects in your sketch should reflect their distance from the viewer. Things that are closer appear larger, while distant objects seem smaller. Keep this in mind as you sketch, and your urban scenes will have a sense of depth and realism.

With your basic structure in place, you've laid the groundwork for a fantastic urban sketch. Remember, it doesn't have to be perfect—it just needs to capture the essence of the scene you're sketching. It's all about capturing the heart of the city, one ink stroke at a time.

Add Details with Dry Brush Techniques

Adding details to your sketch can really make it come alive. One technique that can take your urban sketching with ink and wash to the next level is dry brush. Let's break down why this technique is so valuable and how you can implement it in your own work.

Why Use Dry Brush?

Dry brush is an ink technique where you use a brush with minimal moisture. It creates a unique texture that can give your sketches a rustic, gritty feel—perfect for capturing the spirit of the urban landscape. Plus, it's a great way to add details without overwhelming your sketch. Remember, in urban sketching, less is often more.

How to Implement Dry Brush

When using the dry brush technique, you'll want to dip your brush in ink, then remove most of the excess on a scrap piece of paper. Then, lightly drag your brush across your sketch to create textured strokes. Feel free to experiment with the pressure and angle of your brush to create different effects. The beauty of dry brushing is in its unpredictability—each stroke is a surprise!

Mastering Dry Brush Details

To master the art of detailing with dry brush, keep these tips in mind:

  • Less is more: Don't overdo it with the dry brush technique. A few well-placed strokes can be more effective than a page full of texture.
  • Think contrast: Dry brush is a great way to create contrast in your sketch. Use it to highlight certain areas and draw the viewer's eye.
  • Practice, practice, practice: Like any technique, mastering dry brush takes time. Keep practicing, and you'll see your skills grow.

With dry brush in your urban sketching toolkit, you're well on your way to getting better at urban sketching with ink and wash. Remember, it's all about capturing the unique spirit of the city, and dry brush is just one more tool to help you do just that.

Use Hatching for Textures

Adding texture to your urban sketches can transform flat, two-dimensional spaces into lifelike, three-dimensional ones. One technique that can help you achieve this is hatching. Let's dive into what hatching is and how you can use it to improve your urban sketching with ink and wash.

What is Hatching?

Hatching is a drawing technique that involves making closely spaced parallel lines. You can change the direction, length, or closeness of the lines to create different textures and shades. It's a simple technique but can have a profound effect on the realism of your sketches.

How to Use Hatching in Urban Sketching

When it comes to urban sketching, hatching can be your secret weapon. The technique can be particularly useful for creating textures like the rough surface of a brick wall, the smooth finish of a pavement, or the grainy appearance of a gravel path. To do this, you simply need to adjust the direction and density of your lines according to the texture you are trying to mimic.

Improving Hatching Skills

To get the most out of hatching, here's what you need to keep in mind:

  1. Control your lines: The key to good hatching is control. Work on making your lines straight, even, and consistent.
  2. Vary your lines: Don’t be afraid to play with the length and spacing of your lines. This can create interesting textures and depth.
  3. Train your eye: Look closely at different textures in your surroundings and try to replicate them with hatching. The more you practice, the better you'll get.

By embracing hatching in your urban sketching, you're adding another layer of depth and texture to your work. It's another step forward in getting better at urban sketching with ink and wash, bringing you closer to capturing the essence of the urban landscapes you love to draw.

Apply Wash for Shadows and Depth

Once you've mastered the art of hatching to create texture, it's time to add another dimension to your urban sketching: shadows and depth. A well-placed wash can bring your pieces to life, giving them a sense of light, depth, and volume. Let's explore how to use washes in your urban sketching with ink.

Understanding Wash Techniques

Wash is a technique that involves applying a thin layer of diluted ink or watercolor over a section of your drawing. The beauty of wash lies in its ability to create a vast range of tones with just a single color. Different concentrations of ink or paint can give you everything from a barely-there whisper of color to a deep, rich tone.

Creating Shadows with Wash

Shadows are not just a darker version of the original color; they have a life of their own. When you're applying wash for shadows, don't just darken the existing color. Instead, think about the quality of the shadow you want to portray. Is it a hard, sharp shadow cast by bright sunlight? Or is it a soft, diffused shadow on an overcast day? Your wash should reflect this.

Adding Depth with Wash

Adding depth to your sketches is all about understanding light and perspective. Here are a few tips to help you use wash effectively:

  1. Follow the light: Pay attention to where the light source is in your scene. Areas closer to the light should be lighter, while those further away should be darker.
  2. Consider the angle: The angle of your light source will affect the size and direction of your shadows. A high light source will create short shadows, while a low one will produce long ones.
  3. Use gradient washes: A gradient wash—where the color gradually transitions from dark to light—can be a powerful tool for suggesting depth and volume.

By mastering the application of washes, you can add a whole new level of realism to your urban sketches. It's another essential skill in your journey towards getting better at urban sketching with ink and wash, allowing you to capture not just the form, but also the atmosphere of your urban scenes.

Practice Quick Sketching for Improvement

Have you ever felt stuck trying to capture every single detail in your urban sketches? If so, it's time to introduce quick sketching into your practice. Quick sketching is about capturing the essence of a scene swiftly, focusing on the most important elements. It's a fantastic way for getting better at urban sketching with ink and wash. Let's delve into this technique.

Why Quick Sketching Matters

Quick sketching is like a fast-forward button for your artistic growth. It pushes you to make decisions rapidly, training your eye to identify and prioritize key elements of a scene. This skill is particularly important in urban sketching, where scenes can be complex and constantly changing.

How to Quick Sketch

So, how do you do a quick sketch? The trick is to focus on the big picture first, then add details as time allows. Here's a simple process to follow:

  1. Observe: Take a moment to really look at your scene. Identify the most important elements—the ones that capture the character and mood of the place.
  2. Sketch the big shapes: Start by blocking in the largest shapes. Don't worry about details yet—just focus on capturing the basic structure. This is like laying the foundation for your sketch.
  3. Add key details: Now, with the structure in place, you can start adding details. But remember, the goal is not to capture every detail, but to suggest the essence of the scene.

Making Quick Sketching a Habit

Like any skill, quick sketching improves with practice. Try setting aside specific times for quick sketching sessions. You might sketch during your lunch break, while waiting for a bus, or in the evening at a park. As you sketch, remember to keep it fun and enjoyable—after all, sketching is about expressing your unique vision of the world around you. With consistent practice, you'll find yourself getting better at urban sketching with ink and wash.

If you're looking to further improve your urban sketching skills, we highly recommend the workshop 'Connecting To Drawing: Pen & Ink' by Molley May. This workshop will provide you with valuable techniques and insights to help you master pen and ink sketching, enhancing your urban sketching experience.