Urban Sketching Step by Step
There are a range of different ways of handling your pencil or pen. One of these is the deliberate, disciplined method in which lines are placed on the paper calmly and carefully. From time to time, you might put your pencil down, briefly interrupting the line, before continuing it in the same direction. Alternatively, you might wiggle your pen back and forth to immediately depict subtle changes in direction. Ultimately, this should result in perfectly clear lines or patterns. Alternatively, you can draw with quick, spontaneous lines that are applied to the page virtually at lightning speed; however, this requires a certain amount of practice.
Beginners will generally tend to favour more deliberate lines, while more advanced sketchers will prefer to be more spontaneous; however, I can assure you that both of these methods will produce good results.
Just like an athlete, you should warm up before you start drawing. Move your hand in circles and quickly set down vertical and horizontal lines – in this way, you will soon be able to draw circles and right angles. On large paper sizes, you should run your pen or pencil across the page in linear or circular movements, ideally using your entire arm to guide it. Overcome your inhibitions – be bold!
Pay attention to the pressure you apply to your pen as you draw lines or hatching, as the pressure determines the tonal value. Outlines should be fine and delicate, while hatching should be applied more forcefully using thick, parallel lines. These can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal, as you wish.
Surface areas, basic shapes and spaces from
The art of a successful and appealing drawing is to
use lines, surface areas and shapes thoughtfully to capture the scale, proportions and angles of the three- dimensional space under observation. It is also about creating the illusion of light and shadow and depicting the people, vegetation and street furniture in the space, in order to create an atmosphere that reflects the day- to-day hustle and bustle of the scene. At the same
time, however, the deliberate omission or understated suggestion of a pictorial element can also serve to stimulate the imagination of the viewer. Remember that on a two-dimensional page the lines and surfaces of what is, in reality, a three-dimensional spatial image must be expressed in a very particular way:
1. Lines that appear vertical in real life – such as the edges of a building façade – should always remain vertical in your drawing. All other lines may change their position or orientation on the page.
2. If you are drawing your sketch directly opposite a rectangular façade, its surface will also be rendered on the page as a rectangular area.
3. Surfaces that extend away from the observer into
the depths of the space will taper towards the vanishing point.
An important exercise for urban sketching is to draw various surfaces and shapes in the correct proportions. The architecture of a house consists of a jigsaw made up of various interlocking shapes. If we are looking face-on at the wall of a house, the surface of that wall will have a right-angled outline, so it will generally take on the shape of a square or a rectangle on the page. If we move to face a corner of the same house, however, the walls will be foreshortened in the direction of the vanishing point – thus taking on the shape of a trapezium lying on its side. The top edge of the wall will fall and the bottom edge will rise towards the vanishing point. The same principle applies to the details on the building, such as windows, doors and bays.
Therefore, we should repeatedly practise drawing the walls and surfaces we see around us as accurately as possible, always following the principles described above. If we can join these surfaces together and imbue them with a sense of solidity and credibility, then we will soon achieve our objective of clearly depicting every building in our picture.
The same ideas apply when depicting the streets and open spaces in a city. When we look at a streetscape lined with buildings of roughly equal height, their tops will fall away relatively steeply towards a vanishing point, while their bottom edges will rise almost imperceptibly, and will usually be almost
completely hidden behind street furniture, pedestrians and vehicles. Open spaces are really just huge, roofless rooms, often adorned here and there with rows of trees.
Use a soft pencil or a fountain pen to practise drawing houses, trees and urban spaces, initially rendering them quickly on the page with one or two vanishing points. Apply hatching to darken some of your surfaces, and leave others completely blank.
The diagonally-hatched or dark-coloured surface of a wall represents the shadow side of a building, whereas blank, white surfaces depict the light falling onto the wall or floor. Linear hatching is the safest option for depicting shadow to start with. Curly or wavy textures should only be used for naturally undulated features of your picture, such as trees or water – although they can also form part of your personal mode of expression.
It is best to use fine lines to lay out the underlying framework of your
picture and the buildings or objects in it. This makes it easier to correct or draw over at a later stage. However, when it comes
to applying hatching inside an outline or an individual surface, I recommend using the blunt edge of your pencil and applying a little more pressure.
Tip: Always keep an eye on the lead of your pencil. Practise drawing finer lines using the sharp edge of the pencil, and apply thicker lines using the blunt part of the tip.