The best supplies for urban sketching help you draw on location, working quickly with a range of materials. You can draw with a simple pen or pencil, but color makes everything come alive!
One of our favorite instructors, Ian Fennelly uses watercolor and a range of materials in his Sketchbook Skool urban sketching workshops. In Paint a Pub: Introduction to Urban Sketching, Ian uses watercolors, markers and fineliners to add personality and a sense of whimsy to a classic English pub.
We’ll break down six essential supplies for urban sketching and tools in the Paint a Pub workshop. Want to browse or purchase something? Shop the supply list with BLICK.
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Choosing Supplies for Urban Sketching
We talk (a lot!) about the supplies that can make a difference in your creative process as they are just as important as the tools you would use to build a house, or a pub in the case of this workshop!
If you use the right hammer, saw, and drill when building a structure, everything will come together easier and you will enjoy the process much more than if you use tools that simply will not do the job.
When drawing on location, the right supplies for urban sketching will enhance, rather than hinder, your process. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to make art, but these supplies will expand your horizons and help you work right alongside Ian Fennelly in the Paint a Pub workshop. Plus, these supplies for urban sketching will last for years to come!
Essential Supply 1: Paper
Hot press vs. cold press? Cheap or expensive? Paper is a complex subject, but hot press paper tends to be smooth rather than textured, capturing a high level of brush detail. Hot press refers to how the paper is made, i.e. it’s pressed through two smooth heated rollers.
Paper is your most essential supply…it’s hard to get started without it! Go for a 10” x 14”, Hot Press Watercolor Block, 140 lb.
Essential Supply 2: Fineliner Pens
Fineliners are perfect for establishing, well, precise lines. These are particularly well-suited for urban sketching because they offer a variety of line widths as well as a dense black from a nib that holds its shape with precision.
In this workshop, Ian used Winsor & Newton black fineliners because they have a long nib, perfect for details and line work. It also comes in handy when hatching.
Fineliners hold up well to watercolor and you can draw right on your paper, or on top of paint. Ian uses three different fineliner pen sizes: 0.5, 0.3, and 0.8.
Pro Tip: While this may seem obvious to most, avoid water-soluble pens unless you are experimenting with particular effects!
Essential Supply 3: Watercolor Paints
Well-milled, high-quality watercolors make a remarkable difference in your process and Winsor & Newton Artist’s Watercolors are some of the best! They will mix predictably based on their specific pigment characteristics.
If you’ve used student or hobby-grade colors in the past, you will be surprised at the intensity as well as how far professional grade watercolors will go. It does not take much high-quality paint to cover lots of ground on your drawing surface.
These Winsor & Newton watercolor paints come in a block form or in tubes, which you can squeeze into your watercolor pan that you can bring outside.
In the workshop, Ian works with a range of colors, including: Raw Sienna, Cadmium Red, Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine, Cerulean Blue, Mars Black, Titanium White, and more.
Use these colors or choose your own colors to create your own urban sketching style.
Essential Supply 4: Markers
Markers offer a quick hit of color while allowing you to get even shades as you go from light to dark. They also work well in combination with the watercolors and the fineliners. Paint a Pub, features both permanent and watercolor markers.
Promarkers: These are alcohol-based, dual-tipped markers that come in a range of colors. You can use them for adding personality and detail, but we like to use these at the beginning of his sketch. Using black and grey tones, he marks essential elements of the subject and then goes over them with watercolor.
Watercolor Markers: These are water-based, come in a variety of colors, and have both a brush tip and a fine tip for getting in all of the nooks and crannies of your final product. Unlike permanent markers, these behave just like watercolor paints…and they’re so much fun! You can draw with them for a gorgeous, blended watercolor effect. We like to use these at the end of his urban sketch to highlight key details in his art.
Essential Supply 5: Brushes
Using a variety of different brushes can give you amazingly different effects as you draw on location. We like likes to bring a few brushes that work well together. These are his favorites:
Flat Brushes: These are amazing for washes of color at the beginning of your drawing. You can use them loosely, applying lots of color and working wet on wet. Achieve dramatic washes in large areas of your piece.
Rigger Brushes (#2 & #1): These are great for creating lots of precision and small details. These long brushes are useful because they hold lots of paint. You can paint long lines with these brushes, which is useful for developing detail.
Essential Supply 6: Water!
When you set out for an afternoon of urban sketching, you have to bring everything with you…don’t forget the most essential supply of all! Bring a small spray bottle and a cup or small bowl for dipping your brush. Some urban sketchers also use a waterbrush, a hollow handled brush that contains water. No need for cups or bottles!
Some urban sketchers also use a waterbrush, a hollow handled brush that contains water. No need for cups or bottles!
Experimenting with Urban Sketching Supplies
While the Paint a Pub workshop will give you clear instruction around the use of these supplies for urban sketching, don’t forget that, in many cases, the best way to find a great result is to experiment! This can include:
- Trying different color mixes, especially if you do not have the ideal color handy.
- Using a different angle of the marker. You will be surprised at how different your objects, lines, and shading will appear.
- Testing with a different paper surface or a different texture. The type of paper you choose can change the way your waterproof ink, fineliners, markers and other supplies show up and last
Whatever you use, just know that while it may sound cliché, there really are no mistakes. It is all part of an ongoing process and unexpected or surprising results can point you in a fresh direction.
Start Urban Sketching
It’s a really inspiring and satisfying experience to have the whole world as your subject. Grab your supplies and draw alongside Ian Fennelly in Paint a Pub: Introduction to Urban Sketching. You get lifetime access to practice again and again!
Want to start practicing right now? Check out a few urban sketching drawing tips.