Urban Sketching for Beginners

An Ink and Watercolour Urban Garden Sketch

Morning class, this week I’ve been in Corsica exploring the North Coast of the Island.

Sketching your surroundings can be such a fantastic way to create a visual diary of your travel experiences, so when I’m walking around the streets of any new town or city, I always carry a small sketchbook in my backpack.

A couple of tonal sketching pens and a brush pen is usually all I need, always trying to keep my kit as simple and minimal as possible.

The Romieu Gardens, a series of sketches

I was walking through the old town of Bastia when I came across this beautiful tranquil garden with these fabulous ornamental pillars and wrought iron gates.

Often when you’re out on location, you develop a series of drawings that build on each other. This video tutorial looks at how you can focus on different aspects of a scene exploring different materials.

So I started with a quick 15-minute black pen drawing to get the information down in my sketchbook, purely enjoying the process of recording everyday life on location and then when I got back home to my studio, I spent more time developing a sepia sketch and working up a watercolour.

Each sketch influencing the desicions for the next piece.

Downloading the reference photograph

The photo’s below can be ‘right clicked’ and ‘Save image as’, so you can use them as reference images, print them out and follow along with the video above.

On-location & Sepia Sketch Reference

You can also download a High-Resolution Image here.

So this is the view from where I’m sitting, I initially started with a portrait format but for the watercolour, I decided to crop the view and just focus on two main elements within the scene, swapping to a landscape composition.

Watercolour Sketch Reference

You can also download a High-Resolution Image here.

Materials you will need:

For the On-location Sketch

  • 10.5 × 8.5 inch Portrait Format Sketchpad, I use a Hand Book Journal Company – Travelogue Watercolour Journal 200gsm Acid-Free Watercolour Paper Cold Pressed (Not) Texture Finish

a collection of black sketching pens for urban sketching

  • Pilot G-Tec-C4 – Black
  • Muji Gel Ink 0.5mm Ballpoint Pen – Black
  • Tombow ABT N75 Dual Brush Pen – Cool Grey 3
  • Pentel Brush Pen – Black (Waterproof Ink)

For the Sepia Sketch

  • 20 x 15 cm Portrait format Watercolour Paper Saunders Waterford CP (Not) Surface watercolour paper. Made using 100% cotton. Weight: 300gsm (140lb) White CP – Cold Pressed Not – ‘Not Hot Pressed’ so it has a slight texture to the paper

sepia ink pen with a brush tip used for sketching

  • Pentel Brush Pen – Sepia Ink (Water-soluble)

waterbrush pen used for watercolours

  • Pentel Aquash Water Brush Pen
Additional Materials
  • Winsor & Newton Galeria Acrylic Titanium White
  • Small Round Synthetic brush

For the Watercolour Sketch

  • 18.5 x 25 cm Landscape format Watercolour Paper Saunders Waterford CP (Not) Surface watercolour paper. Made using 100% cotton. Weight: 300gsm (140lb) White CP – Cold Pressed Not – ‘Not Hot Pressed’ so it has a slight texture to the paper

cotman watercolour travel kit

Winsor & Newton Cotman Travel Kit with a mix of Cotman and Winsor & Newton Artist 1/2 pans

  • Cadmium Yellow Pale
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cadmium Red Pale Hue
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Sap Green
  • Winsor Green (Blue Shade) – same as Phthalo Green Blue Shade

plein air sketch, bastia, corsica

On-location sketch

sepia townscape drawing of gardens

Studio sepia sketch

Studio watercolour study

You can watch the full video tutorial above and see more photos from my Corsica trip here: @willkempartschool instagram, enjoy!

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This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Norbert

    Thank you, Will. A great opportunity to practice with media different to my usual acrylic.

    1. Will Kemp

      My pleasure Norbert, really hope you enjoy it,

  2. Patsy Hutchings

    Once again thank you Will. I just love watching you. Its really inspiring.

    1. Will Kemp

      That’s very kind of you Patsy, pleased you enjoyed it.

  3. Melinda

    Thank you, Mr Kemp! I have really enjoyed the two classes that I have purchased. I was sad when I finished the class because I wanted it to keep going so this is so exciting. Really appreciate your methodical teaching and process that you teach to help those of us who are beginners.

    1. Will Kemp

      Really glad you enjoyed the courses Melinda and found the teaching method helpful.

  4. Bonnie Yuill

    Love the sepia sketch – in many ways prefer it to the watercolour. Thanks Will for another great tutorial. Bonnie

  5. Catherine Stahl

    Hi Will, I have just started and very much enjoying your Urban sketch course. The Corsica little garden sketch showing the different media from initial pencil to coloring it in is very helpful.

    1. Will Kemp

      Really glad it was good timing for you Catherine, pleased you’ve been enjoying the Urban Sketching Course.

  6. Mathew Arthur

    Cheers Will, Corsica has been on my bucket list for years. How long did ya spend there?

    1. Will Kemp

      Cheers Mathew, it’s really lovely there, about 10 days.

  7. Lawrence Driscoll

    Great to see the location and your lovely studio. I like the way the nature seems to be embracing the lone figure in the watercolor. Great lessons as always: the comment about the answers are in front of you is very helpful.

    1. Will Kemp

      Cheers Lawrence, yes, it can be very easy to become engrossed in your sketchpad or canvas and realise you’ve forgotten to look up!

  8. Gloria Wheeler

    Once again an excellent tutorial Will. Many thanks

    1. Will Kemp

      My pleasure Gloria, hope you’re keeping well.

  9. Anna M Scully

    Always a pleasure to see you at work. You are really amazing

    1. Will Kemp

      That’s very kind of you to say so Anna.

  10. Louis-Philippe

    Merci Will, After a week’s work nothing better than enjoying your courses in beautiful settings. your an inspiration !

    1. Will Kemp

      Cheers Louis-Philippe, really pleased you enjoyed it.

  11. Bernie.

    Many thanks Will. It is interesting to see you at work as I am one of those people who will never sketch or paint in public or view someone else’s work.

    1. Will Kemp

      Pleased you enjoyed it Bernie, hope it helps to give you confidence to try even a 5min sketch outside, they can be so helpful in many aspects of your drawing and painting.

  12. J.Woodward

    Most inspiring. I will be trying out some these ideas. Thanks Will.

    1. Will Kemp

      Good one Judy, pleased you enjoyed it.

  13. Beck

    Thanks for this post! I was trying to make a watercolor for my husband’s birthday with ghastly results. I then remembered this post and after reading it I made something quite nice. Very much appreciated, Beck

    1. Will Kemp

      So glad it helped with your present Beck, really hope your husband enjoys his gift.

  14. Edward Gold

    Hello, Will! I’ve just joined you list and I’m watching the Urban Sketch for Beginners video. So, I’m confused. You started with an on-location sketch, and then it looked like you started over with the sepia drawing. What was the point of the quick on-location sketch if you started over in the studio? Did you use the on-location sketch as a reference or did you use the photo as reference for the sepia drawing? Please help me understand. Best wishes, Ed

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Ed, I used a mix of the two, the reference photo and the location sketch to see what was working or grabbing my eye in the sketch. Often, when on location you’re drawn to certain areas that look interesting to capture at the time that might not work in a final composition. Or vice versa, you might find a part that really interests you from the sketch that you only notice when back in the studio. Hope this helps,

  15. Alain Louise Caroline

    Your lovely voice, your knowledge and excellent tutorial makes me want to grab my paints and brushes right now, although it is night time here in Australia. Thank you Will,I know that I am going to really really enjoy watching you paint. Your generosity in sharing yourself with the world is exemplifying the teachings of Our Lord, giving and helping, so bless you Will and I look forward to joining you to become a looser and more tonally aware watercolour artist. Warm wishes, Alain

    1. Will Kemp

      Well that’s so nice to hear Alain, really pleased you enjoyed the lessons and fab that you’re feeling inspired! thanks so much

  16. Kerena

    Thank you Will. Your videos and tutorials provide me with the perfect combination of inspiration, instruction and motivation. I shall sign up to some courses as soon as I can carve out some free time. I wish I could retire and paint all day!

    1. Will Kemp

      That’s great to hear Kerena, so pleased you’re feeling inspired.

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