Inspiring books on urban sketching


Last summer, I started coloring. I bought one coloring book and I took out my old set of Prismacolor pens from high school (yes, they are 35 years old and they have survived 9 moves!). I love playing with colors and filling a whole page with brightness made me happy. After a few weeks, I started asking myself whether I should be doing my own drawing instead of just coloring someone else’s designs. And I looked for some art classes focusing on drawing. Surprisingly, I did not find that much of interest on the Internet in the Montreal area, but there was a little studio that had some sessions that sounded fairly unstructured less than 10 minutes from my house. And yes, I could learn the basics of drawing there. So I started on the basics of classical drawing, learning about perspective and tone (and tone was a challenge because I was drawing everything way to pale).

While I was doing that I kept looking for examples on the Internet to try to determine where I really wanted to go with that learning and I stumbled upon the work on urban sketchers… Wow! That was inspiring! Powerful or whimsical, sometimes colorful, always full of movement and emotion. Now that was something I wanted to do. I particularly liked the work of a woman from Manchester, England called Liz Ackerley.  But I thought it would take me months, if not years to draw well enough and to master some medium well enough to do urban sketching.

In November, at the Montreal Book Fair, I met Raynald Murphy, a local watercolor artist, who had published a book showing some aspects of many of the metro stations in Montreal ( I bought the book and as he signed it (and made me a drawing on the spot), we had a short conversation about my interesting in drawing and in urban sketching. He told me about the Facebook page of the urban sketchers in Montreal and about the monthly meetings they had to do some sketching together and share their work.

At that point, I still thought that going to one of the urban sketchers meeting was well beyond my ability. So I bought a bunch of books (they are always a part of any learning journey I embark on!). So far, there is only one I have read thoroughly. I skim through the others and look at drawings and read snippets of text regularly. There are many things I want to try and practice. I have tried new markers and even bought a watercolor set… which I had yet to try! I feel very intimidated by watercolor, but I do love the line-and-wash technique that many urban sketchers use. I still do most of my drawings with graphite pencils.

By the time January rolled around though, I was ready to give the urban sketchers meeting a try and I joined them for the January 27 outing to the Pointe-à-Callière museum. I missed the February meeting because I was in France, but I attended the March 27 meeting held at the Redpath Museum at McGill University. I think that will become my priority on the fourth Sunday of each month.

The books will help with making some progress, as well as practicing by copying pictures or images from the TV or movies (where I get a bit of break by stopping movement!). There are other books out there but I think that my little collection will provide many hours of enjoyment and stimulation. All five books are full of examples and useful tips.

Many thanks to Raynald, who also became my Facebook friend, for telling me how to get in touch with the urban sketchers, and to the group members who are so warm and friendly and who make the Sunday outings quite an experience. As for so many things, one can only learn and progress by practicing and trying again, even if in between the gorgeous drawings there are many shitty ones, and by getting feedback and tips from others and keeping an open mind as well as wide-open eyes!

I still have a long way to go to reach the level of proficiency I aspire to, but I think that this journey is just as important as the objective.


Campanario, Gabriel. The Art of Urban Sketching: Drawing on Location Around the World. Quarry Books, Beverly, MA, 2012.

Gregory, Danny. An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration from the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers. How Books, Blue Ash, OH, 2013.

Holmes, Marc Taro. The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location. North Light Books, Blue Ash, OH, 2014.

Lawlor, Veronica. Reportage and Documentary Drawing: Tips and Techniques for Drawing on Location. Quarry Books, Beverly, MA, 2016.

Scully, Pete. 5-Minute Sketching People: Super-Quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings. Firefly Books, Buffalo, NY, 2016.

Other things:

On Twitter: search for #urbansketchers


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