Lessons In Doodlewashing: Urban Sketching 

Aesha and I decided to try a little urban sketching over lunch for the first time today. Our subject was the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts here in Kansas City, MO.  And it was fun, but much more difficult than we expected! Luckily the weather was nice and not too hot yet.

As I’ve mentioned before, the intent of urban sketching is to sketch from direct observation. We love our urban sketching friends so we figured we’d try to do a little plein air sketching ourselves and then doodlewash it. First, we packed a lunch and then we headed out (oh! side bar… I also made hummus for the first time! Philippe is the cook, and I can barely use a stove, but hummus is more mixing than cooking so I gave it a try. It wasn’t horrible, but his tastes better).

First off, sketching live is in full 3D and it’s very, very different than sketching from a 2D photograph. You don’t have the border of the photo to help you stay inside a specific vantage point or clearly see where the lines should go and the light keeps changing while you’re drawing. Some artists use a viewfinder like this one here, to help frame their subject and choose a composition. I didn’t think that I needed one, but now I may reconsider as it was a bit of a challenge to frame the sketch and it would have been super helpful.

Aesha’s sketch is above on the left, taken in urban sketcher fashion showing the actual subject behind it. My finished sketch is on the bottom right, and yep, that’s us in the photo. Where’s the doodlewash you ask? Well…one, it was super windy and I don’t like how quickly the paint dries, but mainly we were just a couple exhausted newbies trying to get a decent sketch. Aesha and I agree that while this was fun, we are definitely doodlewashers, first and foremost. The added requirement of sketching live can be a little stressful, and so we decided to doodlewash our sketches at home without all the distractions… and bugs.

I don’t think we’ll become full time urban sketchers, we still prefer to calmly doodlewash in private, working from our photos or just creating whatever thing we imagine in our heads, but I can see why so many people enjoy it. If you’re planning to urban sketch and haven’t done it before, be sure to remember to pack all your supplies you may need including things you might not think about like sunscreen. We forgot to bring paper towels, for instance, so that would have been another problem had we ended up trying to doodlewash on the spot.

Kudos to all the fabulous urban sketchers out there! It’s not as easy as you make it look! I highly recommend trying live sketching if you’re used to sketching from photos like I am. You don’t actually have to leave your home to do it, but it’s fun to sketch outdoors and there’s only so many sketches of dogs and bananas one can do before you need a change of pace and take your urban sketching to the streets! Be safe and good luck!

Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!
5 Comments
  1. I think you did a really nice job with a challenging subject, Charlie! Woot! And in August, to boot! (I’m a heat-hater, too.) Well done.

    • Author

      I’m a heat-hater too! That’s why I had said I was waiting to sketch plein air this fall. But Aesha talked me into it and it wasn’t too hot yet so I went for it. Thanks so much!!! 🙂

  2. memadtwo 2 years ago

    Very cool building…and I think your sketches capture the layers well.

    • Author

      Thanks Kerfe and/or Nina!! 😉 I really appreciate that…the layers were really challenging!! Glad you like it! 😃

  3. Cathy Tenzo 2 years ago

    Nice post and I like the sketches. It can be very nice to sketch on site but not always so convenient!

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