Tips, Tricks, and Techniques for Urban Sketching

Travel Sketching is not only relaxing and rewarding but also an awesome family activity during travels.

In this blog post learn about what to put in a travel sketch kit, awesome travel sketching techniques for beginners and tricks to encourage kids to begin their journey of travel sketching.

Travel Sketching slows me down, brings everything into sharp focus, and I lose myself in the moment. Sketching has truly enriched my life.

Why create your own travel sketchbook?

Pausing to see the delicate patterns of lichen on tree trunks in the Nilgiri mountains.

Becoming friends with a 5-year old Vietnamese boy in a village without a word exchanged between us!

Sitting inside a bamboo grove, silently.

Watching a tour guide’s face light up.

Getting authentic local food and travel tips.

Being zen while waiting in airports and stations.

I’ve had all these experiences and many more through travel sketching.

And, that’s why I love sharing it with others and getting them started on their own sketching journey. Here’s my take on how to get started with travel sketching. I have included step-by-step photos from a sketching session I did in Sirsi, Karnataka.

Travel sketching is an awesome family activity. It gets children to observe and remember a travel destination. And of course, you’ll have a unique souvenir for every travel.

A glimpse of the famous floating market.

Travel sketchbook ideas

People often say “I can’t even draw a straight line. Forget about sketching.”

I tell them, “ That’s great. You don’t need to draw straight lines.” There’s no such thing as a born artist. It is all about practice, practice, and more practice.

Look for inspirations around. If you find your zen moment of producing a sketch on the spot, go ahead sketch it out. If not, look for small collectibles like dry leaves, ticket stubs to paste in your travel sketchbook for inspiration to strike you later.

In the above image, we had hiked up a hill and it was absolutely beautiful and surreal there. There were prayer flags strewn all around. I picked up a few and pasted them in my sketchbook.

A page from my Bhutan travel sketchbook.

Putting together a travel sketch kit

A travel sketching kit must be a collection of the basic tools required for making a sketch. Also, I have found having limited supplies encourages me to be creative. Such as mixing two different mediums.

Here’s what you will need:

  • Pencils
  • Black pens with waterproof ink
  • Color pencils
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Sketchbook
  • Eraser

Yes, I’ve deliberately left out the ruler😊

You could also keep a box of crayons, some watercolor pencils, and a glue stick. If you have smaller children, avoid carrying watercolors. For older children, a small watercolor pan and some water brushes are perfect. Keep it small, simple, and light.

A5 size sketchbooks with thicker paper (more than 150 GSM) are a good choice – they fit in everywhere and are not too small for landscapes.

Pro Tip: I like to keep all my art tools in a sling bag. This helps me access my art kit easily.

The joy of pouring over maps and sketching them!

5 awesome tips for travel sketching for beginners

Choosing a subject

Start with a tiny step – don’t try to draw the entire forest or city around you. Choose a small window of a house, a dry leaf on the ground, or an interesting branch. Long waits in airports can be used to draw the people, bags, food stalls or simply the announcement boards. You could even draw maps to show the places you visited.

Choosing the Subject!

This is a small town in Sirsi, Karnataka. The blue roofs amid all the browns and reds interested me and I decided to sketch the road.

Outlining in pencil

Draw an outline of the object using a pencil. It does not have to be perfect – if something looks off, draw over it. Forget if the drawing “appears correct” – the idea is to capture the object in your own style and have fun while doing it.

Outlining in Pencil

Adding in the details using a black pen

Now that you have a basic frame done, add in the details using a pen. Encourage children to add some text to capture the place, date, the sounds around you, or any other details. You could paste things around your sketch – a ticket stub, a leaf, restaurant bills, bits of pamphlets. Ask a local to teach you how to write a few words in their dialect on your sketchbook.

There were some changes to the pencil outline. However, I didn’t erase anything.

Adding details with Black Gel Pen

Adding the final touches with colors

Use a mix of different colors to add life to the sketch. If you are in a hurry, color in the most prominent bit – the red bricks, a green tree, or that yellow dress. This will save some time while capturing the essence of the place.

My favorite bit, adding the colors

You’ll notice I’ve added some blue in the sky which is not there in the photograph. As an artist, you can take liberties while making a travel sketch 😊

Let Go!

Doing art at home or at school is different than working in a public area.

When I sketch during my travels, people often stop to see what I am drawing and want to talk about it. I remember, when I started travel sketching, I’d worry that my drawing is not good. I felt people passing by were judging me.

Eventually, I stopped worrying about all those things. I’d simply draw. And that is when I enjoyed outdoor sketching the most!

So, I’d say be kind to yourself.

Don’t judge what you draw.

Just go with the flow.

3 thoughts on “Tips, Tricks, and Techniques for Urban Sketching

  1. I never could imagine myself doing travel sketching. But inspired by your work, I guess I’ll try this out sometime for sure. Great work. Keep up the good work and write more tips about travel sketching. 🙂


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