Urban Sketching: 5 Practical Tips for Inspiration
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 5 min read


  1. Observe the scene before you sketch
  2. Use a small sketchbook for spontaneity
  3. Sketch with a single line for fluidity
  4. Add colors for dimension and mood
  5. Practice regularly for improvement

Urban sketching is an art form that captures the essence of city life. From towering skyscrapers to quaint cafes, urban sketching is all about finding inspiration in the hustle and bustle of city streets. If you're on the hunt for urban sketching painting inspiration, you've come to the right place. Here are five practical tips to help you capture the vibrancy and energy of urban landscapes.

Observe the Scene Before You Sketch

Before you dive into your sketchbook, take a moment to truly observe the scene in front of you. Looking closely at your surroundings can provide a wealth of urban sketching painting inspiration.

Noticing Details

It's the little things that add character to your sketches. Notice the way the sunlight casts shadows on the buildings, or how the people interact with each other. Maybe there's a street vendor selling hot dogs, or a busker playing a lively tune. Make note of these details; they can add depth and authenticity to your urban sketches.

Understanding the Structure

Urban landscapes are filled with architectural wonders. Here's a tip: Look for patterns and shapes in the buildings around you. Maybe there's a row of townhouses with identical windows, or a skyscraper with a unique geometric design. Recognizing these structural elements can help you create a more accurate and visually appealing sketch.

Feeling the Mood

Every city scene has its own mood. A crowded marketplace might feel chaotic and lively, while a quiet park can evoke a sense of calm and tranquility. Tune into these emotions as you observe the scene. They can guide you in choosing the right colors and techniques for your sketch.

Remember, urban sketching isn't just about replicating a cityscape—it's about capturing its spirit. So, take your time to observe and absorb the scene before you start sketching. This way, you can find the unique urban sketching painting inspiration that makes your artwork stand out.

Use a Small Sketchbook for Spontaneity

The beauty of urban sketching painting lies in its spontaneity. And what better way to capture the spur-of-the-moment scenes than with a small sketchbook? Here's why this might be a game-changer for your urban sketching journey.


With a small sketchbook, you can sketch anywhere, anytime. Whether you're waiting for a bus, sipping coffee in a café, or simply strolling through the park, your sketchbook can be your constant companion. It's easier to carry around than a large canvas or easel, giving you the freedom to sketch whenever inspiration strikes.

Quick Sketches

A small sketchbook encourages quick, spontaneous sketches. Instead of spending hours perfecting every detail, you may find yourself focusing on capturing the essence of the scene. This can lead to a more fluid and expressive style, adding a unique touch to your urban sketching paintings.

Less Intimidating

For many, a large blank canvas can feel intimidating. With a small sketchbook, the pressure is off. You can play around with ideas, make mistakes, and experiment without worrying about wasting materials. It's all about letting your creativity flow.

So the next time you head out for some urban sketching painting inspiration, consider taking a small sketchbook along. You might be surprised at how it can spark your spontaneity and creativity.

Sketch with a Single Line for Fluidity

Urban sketching painting inspiration often lies in the fluidity of the scene. One technique that can help capture this element is sketching with a single line. Let's explore how this simple approach can transform your urban sketching experience.

Enhances Focus

When you sketch with a single line, your hand is in constant motion, mirroring your gaze as it travels across the scene. This can enhance your focus, helping you to really observe and engage with what you're sketching. It's not just about the final painting; it's about the process and the connection between you and the subject.

Promotes Confidence

There's something liberating about letting your pencil or pen dance across the paper without lifting it. It promotes a sense of confidence in your strokes, allowing you to express your perception of the scene with boldness and authenticity.

Creates Unique Style

Single-line sketching can become a signature style, giving your urban sketches a distinctive look. The continuous line can infuse a sense of movement and liveliness into your work, breathing life into the static elements of the cityscape.

So, next time you're out in the city, pen in hand, try letting it glide in one continuous motion. You might find that this fluid style of sketching brings a fresh wave of urban sketching painting inspiration.

Add Colors for Dimension and Mood

Colors can significantly enhance your urban sketching paintings, adding depth, dimension, and mood. Each color choice tells a different story, and with the right mix, you can turn your sketches into vibrant representations of the urban life around you.

Colors for depth and dimension

Adding colors to your sketches can bring a three-dimensional feel to your two-dimensional canvas. For instance, darker shades can give the illusion of shadows, creating a sense of depth. Lighter colors, on the other hand, can highlight certain elements, bringing them to the forefront of your sketch.

Colors for mood

Colors also have the power to set the mood of your painting. Cool blues and greens may convey a sense of calm, while warm reds and yellows might suggest a bustling, energetic city scene. Don't be afraid to experiment with unconventional colors to evoke unique moods and emotions in your urban sketches.

Colors for visual interest

Colors can also add a dash of visual interest to your sketches. A pop of unexpected color can draw the viewer's eye and bring intrigue to your urban landscape. Whether it's a bright red bus in a monochrome cityscape or a turquoise door amidst beige buildings, these vibrant details can spark your urban sketching painting inspiration.

Remember, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to adding colors in your sketches. Feel free to play around with different hues and see how they transform your urban sketches. You might just discover a new palette that perfectly captures the essence of the city you're sketching.

Practice Regularly for Improvement

Just like any other skill, urban sketching requires consistent practice for improvement. It's all about finding your unique style, refining your techniques, and unlocking new levels of urban sketching painting inspiration. Regular practice can make your sketches more dynamic, vibrant, and captivating.

Stick to a Routine

Consistency is key when it comes to improving your urban sketching. This could mean sketching for a few minutes each day, or setting aside a few hours each week. The goal is to make sketching a regular part of your routine, so you're always honing your skills and improving your eye for detail.

Experiment with Different Styles

Don't limit yourself to one approach or style. Urban sketching is all about capturing the essence of city life, and every city has its own unique character. Try out different techniques, play around with various color palettes, and explore a range of perspectives. This will help you to develop a versatile skill set and find new sources of inspiration.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Every sketch you create won't be a masterpiece—and that's okay! Mistakes are part of the learning process. Instead of getting frustrated, use these opportunities to identify areas for improvement. Over time, you'll see your sketches evolve, becoming more refined and detailed.

Remember, the journey of urban sketching is just as important as the destination. So, embrace the process and enjoy seeing your progress unfold with each sketch you create. Happy sketching!

If you're inspired by urban sketching and want to further develop your artistic skills, check out the workshop 'Expressing Your Unique Artistic Vision' by Michael Ryan. This workshop will help you unlock your creative potential and find your own artistic voice, making your urban sketches even more captivating and unique.