Urban Sketching Materials

Since I started my Urban Sketching Journey back in 2012 I have tried a lot of art materials. I started out using a dot pen on an affordable sketch book with some basic watercolors.  This is not a bad way to start the journey of Urban Sketching as the most important thing to do is to sketch. One can choose to do an Urban Sketch in any material they feel suits them best, be it gouache, watercolor, ink pens or even digitally. The thing to keep in mind is that the material renders itself well to be used in a fast paced environment , anything that takes too long to dry would be cumbersome and counter intuitive.

What You’ll Need:

  • A Sketchbook
  • Watercolors
  • Brushes
  • Pens
  • Palette
  • A pouch to carry Materials
  • A Technical Pencil or HB Pencil
  • Eraser

Let us first discuss the sketch book, I have used many sketchbooks from many different companies. The thing to look for in a sketchbook ,mainly aimed at Urban Sketching to have a hard back and it should lay flat when opened. This will make sure that when you carry you book around on a daily basis the cover doesn’t bend and it’s easier to hold in one hand and draw if the sketchbook can lay flat. I don’t like spiral bound sketchbooks because you can’t use both sides at once

 Of the ones that I have used Moleskine Art Plus Sketchbook is slightly off white has 165 GSM paper and works wonderfully with watercolor, it has no texture and is best for writing around the sketch too.

The other one is the Moleskine Art Plus Watercolor Album ( The link is to a landscape type , Couldn’t get the portrait type link, which is the one I use more frequently) I will elaborate as to why I love this sketch book above all else. I have really come to admire the paper texture in the watercolor sketch book, the hardback never once gave away, the pages are stitched to perfection, the colour of the white paper is perfect for watercolour and it can take quite a lot of heavy washes. There is absolutely no ghosting and you can write on the paper too, which is another Urban Sketching specific necessity. The cons to this sketchbook is that it is a bit pricey, the number of pages is quite limited and might hinder you from doing some rough sketches.

There are a few affordable options, you can choose to use Talens Royal Art Creation Hard Cover ( 140 gsm ). It is perfect for line drawings and a light wash. It doesn’t have texture and has a slight off white colour. The cons is that the colours don’t look very rich on this paper.

A really affordable option for Urban Sketching in India  is the Classmates sketchbook and can be a great starting point for newbie sketchers ( No link to this, it is available in every normal stationery shop). I like this because for the affordable rate, the paper quality is really good and it can take a slight wash and doesn’t buckle immediately. There is not much ghosting and the colours look quite fresh, which is not the case with some other sketchbooks available at much higher costs. The cons is that it is a paperback and is difficult to hold while in the field.

Now let us discuss watercolors. A very heated debate will definitely ensue if you start this conversation among experienced Urban sketchers because each will have their own preference. Over a period of time one will understand that the choice of watercolor can depend on the kind of artist one is. But here are my preferences.

I started with some affordable set of watercolor, then I tried a Daler Rowney travel set, it can be a good starting point. The paint quality is good, the color is lush and rich and reactivates fast, the thing I didn’t like about this set is that the pans is a flimsy plastic which is kept in a metal tin case, though theoretically good , didn’t function well after rugged usage.  

The next one I bought was a Winsor and Newton Cotman series Watercolour Travel set, this is an amazing addition to any new Urban Sketcher. It has all the colors one might need except of course the white which I never use, the colors are rich and the box is a hard plastic which works very well on outings.

And after many years of Urban Sketching I have come to the conclusion that the best set is the one you make yourself, which means you buy a metal half pan box to hold 12 pans and of course you can insert a few more half pans in the middle section, this is a light weight durable long term solution to carrying watercolours. Here you have two options, one is buying half pans of every colour you would ever need and build a collection over time  which can be a bit costly affair or buy large tubes of good paints and fill them in empty half pans and dry them out and use them in the box, this allows you to change the set of colours that you will need on each journey and can be a fun activity to do before you start a trip or before you head out in your own city or neighborhood.

In the watercolors that I have used I have really come to love Mijello Mission Gold watercolor tubes, which are artist quality, amazingly intense and when dried re-wet with ease, these are a lot pricier than the Camel Artist watercolor set, which to be honest is a good starting point too. The browns in Mijello Mission Gold have not performed well, inspite of me trying a few times. The reds and blues work amazingly well, greens and  yellows are quite nice too. Winsor and Newton tubes I haven’t liked the Cotman series that much, they come off a bit powdery and not much translucence as one might want in Watercolors.  The best option for browns and earthy colors is undoubtedly Schmincke. The reds and brows are lush and beautiful and when dried don’t loose their brightness. Daniel Smith is a hot favorite with many artists and Urban Sketchers , I have only got one which was the Green Gold, it is beautiful and has a sort of luminance to it, but a small tube costed a lot and dried up within two years of having it, so don’t know if it was a specific singular event or not, but make of it what you will.

The next important thing is the brushes to be used. You will need 4 main types of brushes to start with one large round brush size 10, one smaller round brush size 4, one detailing thin brush , one flat brush.

Of the many I have used over the years I have come to love my Escoda Versatil Synthetic Kolinsky Sable Hair Brush size 10 and the Escoda Prado size 4.

Another Brush set I bought that has worked very well is the Silver brush set This set has all the brushes you will need and works really well with watercolours. There are a lot of travel brushes in the market with appealing metal cases, but I carry a trusted cotton embroidered pouch in which all these brushes and pens I need fit well and is super light weight to carry, so I just carry these instead of the travel brushes. If I find a travel brush that I love will update this post, most of the ones are very pricey if they are of good quality.

Another important item in the Urban Sketchers tool kit is the pens, there are artists who love to go straight into watercolors, I am not one of them, I love my lines, it gives me a good idea of composition and helps me direct the focus of each sketch in a way that I want and add little details in. I love pen lines a lot and really helps me calm when I am drawing them. I have been wanting to try the watercolor direct approach, but well as of now I can only speak to what I have been doing over the years. The best pens for Urbansketching is a technical pen which is waterproof.

The ones I am using currently that I absolutely love are the Uni Pin Fine Line set with water proof, fade proof pigment ink. These are smooth and easy to draw, very durable and affordable. I have loved the Sigma Microns too and are a hot favorite with most artists. The thing I liked about the Uni Pin pens as opposed to the Microns is that I can draw at an angle, with Microns you are mostly expected to keep the pen straight up and draw. I have also used Brustro and Faber castell pitt pens, both are commendable sets and can definitely be used

There are many palettes available in the market, I prefer ones which are foldable and are airtight when closed, these are very useful in the field because after you have finished with your sketch you don’t need to wait for the paint to dry or worry about your items in the bag being smeared with colour. Another wonderful thing about these palettes is that you can put tube paints of your choice and dry them out and use them as your paint box cum palette a light and efficient way to carry colour.

I have illustrated the items you will most likely need to start your Urban Sketching journey, now a few add ons to that is – Always carry a bottle of water, you will want to drink and hydrate yourself while walking around and sketching in the sun and also to fill your tumbler with water for your watercolors. Carry a few snacks or dried fruits if you’re planning long hours of sketching and you don’t want to feel faint. There are many tumblers you can carry some made specifically for Urban Sketchers, but I just use an old Vaseline box with a lid, does the trick, easy to use and dry out and close before its put back in the bag. Carry some sort of polythene bag or large pouch to put your sketchbooks in; you don’t want to get drenched with them in your not so water proof bag (unless you carry a fully water proof bag ) . Carry a rag cloth to clean your brushes and a few soft tissues. You can also add a few markers to add details or write dates and places to the sketch, I use Crayola Markers. Always carry a technical pencil and a normal HB pencil and an eraser with you. I never use a scale for drawing but if you get too confused with perspective a scale can help understand the converging lines better. Carry some loose sheets of paper or a cheap sketchbook to do some trials with composition and test colours if you are attempting a large and detailed sketch. You can also choose to carry a few colour pencils to give a bit of texture and intrigue to your sketches they are easy to use and super fast to get around.

And that is my list now apart from this all you will need is a sharp eye to catch things around you to draw, an enthusiastic mind and heart full of good vibes!

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