Shake Up Your Urban Sketching: Add Colored Pencils!

If you’ve been practicing your urban sketching for a while and are looking for ways to shake it up, why not try changing your medium? For your next sketching trip, consider updating your urban sketching with colored pencil.

Most urban sketchers work in pen or pencil. Fewer people work in colored pencil, but this medium is urban sketching’s secret weapon — it brings a punch of color to the page without the hassle of acrylic paints or ink. This means it’s both easy to take on the road or to complete in your studio after you’ve spent the day snapping photos of different buildings.

One of the best things about sketching with colored pencils is the ability to layer hues. The waxiness of the pencil lends itself well to layering and blending, so it’s easy to achieve rich, multifaceted tones that add dimension to your drawings. When applying this to urban sketching, we’ll work in the same way — with light layers that gradually build up to brilliant color.

Step 1: Sketch Your Subject In Color

Start by sketching an outline of your subject in the proper hue. If you’re depicting a blue house, for instance, use your blue colored pencil to draw its contour lines. For a red roof, use the crimson-colored pencil and sketch it.

Follow this process until you’ve got a rough layout of your drawing. And don’t worry if the colors aren’t quite perfect. As long as your lines are light enough, you’ll be able to go over it without the initial outline showing through.

Tip: If this is one of your first times using colored pencils, you might want to draw with a graphite pencil first. Colored pencils are notoriously tricky to erase, so if you’re nervous at the prospect of drawing everything perfectly, try your conventional pencil. (Just make sure you don’t press too hard.)

Step 2: Apply The First Layer Of Colors

Now that you’ve got your outline completed, it’s time for the fun to begin. Apply the first layer of color throughout your entire drawing. Make sure you press lightly with your pencil; it should be light enough that it covers the paper, but there will still be some of the paper showing through.

Step 3: Add Layers, Layers And More Layers

Applying your first layer of color is just the beginning. Using the same approach as you did in the last step, enrich your hues by adding more colored pencils layers on top of them. Depending on the waxiness of your colored pencils, you’ll be able to blend colors together to give a rich sheen to the paper.

Once you’re done with layering, you shouldn’t see much — if any — of the paper peeking through your color.

Tip: It’s important to work from light to dark when layering color. If you’re trying to add depth to a set of shutters or a doorway, use the darkest hues — such as a brown or dark blue — last. Outline the edge you want to define, with a semi-heavy hand, and then release the pressure you’re putting on the page. Go over the line you just made and the surrounding color in order to naturally blend the outline with the rest of the drawing.