Everyday Sketching, People Sketching, Sketching, Urban Sketching

It’s Time to Get All Your Toys Out… And Play with Urban Sketching Techniques

Have you noticed how small children love to get all their toys out?  When they were little, my boys used to line up dozens of toy cars to make ‘traffic jams’. They loved the excitement of seeing all the cars out at once.  While kids like to collect toys – sketchers often collect art supplies. Yet most of the time we only use one or two types of supplies in a given sketch rather than mixing several urban sketching techniques in one sketch.

Yet it is worth taking all your toys (art supplies) out, in a childlike way. Not only it’s exciting and fun… but it could help improve your sketching too!

Busy Lakeside Scene in pen, Pencil and Watercolour by Sophie Peanut
A busy lakeside beach – I started with a loose watercolour wash and drew people and details in watercolour pencil on top. It allowed me to sketch a complicated scene quickly.

Mixing urban sketching techniques

I use a combination watercolour, pen and pencils to capture complicated scenes to help me work quicker as I build the sketch up in layers.

This approach gets rid of ‘complicated-scene-anxiety’ too. Lots of buildings? Perspective? People everywhere? I feel I can try and draw anything and have fun in the process too!

Market Street Halifax UK - Using different Urban Sketching Techniques by Sophie Peanut
Market Street Halifax – I layered watercolour, pencils and pen to capture a complicated street scene.

Quick watercolour wash

When I spot a sketching challenge, I don’t close my sketchbook and run home. Instead, I just take a toy out.

First of all, I use watercolour to draw the scene and block out the main areas of colour: sky outlines – buildings or landscapes.

I simplify the scene as much as possible and don’t worry much about accuracy. Keep it simple, quick and easy – you can build your picture and add complexity and detail after.

Cafe scene sketch in mixed media by Sophie Peanut
I  sketched this cafe scene quickly. As I expected people to move, I started with a very light wash and a line drawing.  I used the different colour fine liners to add interest and give a sense of depth to the scene. Finally, I added more watercolour to crank up the colour and contrast.

Play with pen and coloured pencils

Once the watercolour base is in, I get coloured pencils out and play! I like watercolour pencils best as they work on both dry and wet paper and you don’t have to wait for the watercolour wash to dry.

Pencils do allow for expressive sketches if you work quickly and draw bold marks. I use them to draw lines or block colours as needed and switch to a fine liner when I need a stronger line.

I let instinct guide me and trust the sketch to unfold as I draw. Some lines are wonky out of place, proportions might not be correct but none of it matters. It’s only a sketch and those imperfections give the drawing character.

Sophie Peanut - Urban Sketching on location in Halifax
In action…  I used a range of urban sketching techniques to complete this street sketch.
Cafe terrace and street market Halifax by Sophie Peanut
Sketch of a cafe terrace and street market in Halifax.

Finishing touches

Finally, I add a few extra touches of watercolour to crank up the sketch’s colour and contrast.

It is not groundbreaking to mix urban sketches techniques, but I find that working in stages from simple to complex and layering the drawing allows me to break a scene in manageable elements. Challenges stop being overwhelming.

Most of all I like the resulting sketches. I have fun while I draw and it shows. My sketches become lively, playful and expressive.

Train Sketch by Sophie Peanut - Mixed media urban sketching techniques
On the train – Sketch in watercolour and pencils.

Get all your toys out and play with Urban Sketching Techniques - Sophie Peanut


7 Comments to “It’s Time to Get All Your Toys Out… And Play with Urban Sketching Techniques”

  1. David p

    The joy and satisfaction of urban sketching you don’t have to drive yourself mad with spot on perspective you 9 times out of ten get a surprise on how it’s turns out,,

  2. D S

    Hi Sophie,
    I really like the analogy you made with toys and sketch tools. Kids bring out all the toys but play with one or two.just the presence of other toys brings joy..I also feel the same with my urban sketch tools ( various colors of ball point pens and watercolor).. but use may be one or two or more, but having them all together in my pouch is pure joy..I could not justify myself for carrying so much, even though I knew I would use less….Thankyou so much for putting it in words..now, I can carry my gear without guilt..and enjoy having all my tools around..


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