7 Helpful Tips for Staying Focused & Drawing in Busy Locations

Drawing on location is an exhilarating way to learn about a place. If you’re a people watcher, seeing all of the different passersby is sure to entertain. Drawing in busy areas, however, presents a set of unique challenges. But with a little planning, you can improve your observational skills to create urban sketches you’re proud of. 

Distraction Free Urban Drawing

Before you set out on your drawing adventure, here are 7 things you need to know. 

1. Get in the right mindset.

Don’t leave your house expecting to make a masterpiece. This isn’t meant as a slight to your abilities, but it’s the reality of when you’re drawing from life.

Factors like weather, crowds and the general atmosphere of an area can be distracting and can easily throw the best artists off their game. So don’t feel bad if you discover your perspective is wonky or you don’t finish your drawing — remember, this is all about having fun.

2. Be portable.

Pack light. Take a few supplies that will easily fit in a backpack or tote bag, so that you can pick them up at a moment’s notice. (You never know when you might have to move.) If you take snacks or supplies that can spill, be sure to secure them in a plastic bag.

3. Have a plan.

If you can, scope out your locale beforehand. Ask yourself: Where will you sit? What will you draw? Is there an optimal time of day for this location?

Determining these factors ahead of time means you don’t have to spend you drawing time figuring it all out. Instead, you can spend more time and feel more at ease when it’s time to put pen (or pencil) to paper. 

4. Get comfortable (or as comfortable as possible).

Find a chair or table if you can, or if that’s not available, a wall to lean against. Regardless of where you land, be sure that it’s a place you can be comfortable at for a while; you’ll be more likely to finish your drawing. 

Urban Sketch with Watercolor

5. Learn to draw fast!

An urban environment is known for its hustle and bustle. When drawing on location, it’s hard to convey all of the fine details you see, as things can change quickly. Learn some shortcuts for your drawings.

One that I like is a trick to determine angles: Hold your pen up to the angle you’re trying to draw — like a building window — and then bring your pen down to the paper, moving your tool back and forth. Doing this will give an accurate representation of the angle. 

6. Diversify and simplify your supplies. 

Pens are ideal for urban sketching: They’re portable, don’t smudge (usually) and you can easily create shadows by switching up the size of your pen tip. Bring along a thin tip for fine details, a medium pen for general drawing, and a fat-tipped marker for conveying shadows or people. 

7. Take a picture. 

Although you’re drawing from life, it’s helpful to take a picture for reference. That way, if you want to finish your artwork later, you’ve got the exact viewpoint from earlier. Additionally, you can use details from that photo as inspiration in your other work!

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