4 Tried & True Tips for Adding Watercolor to Your Urban Sketching

When you’re on location for your urban sketching, it’s often easiest to limit the supplies you’re hauling with you. A set of great pens and a sketchbook is all you need while you’re out and about, but it doesn’t have to end there. When you get a quiet moment back in your studio, you can add watercolor to your urban sketching. 

How to Add Watercolor to Urban Sketching

Urban sketching with watercolor is perfect for artists who love to separately draw and paint.

Combining the two can bring your drawings to life with vibrant color and fully expressing all that you experienced while sketching. 

It’s easy to try this technique, but there are some things to keep in mind while you work. Follow these tips for successful urban sketching watercolors!

How to Add Watercolor to Urban Sketching

1. Consider your paper choices carefully. 

Before you put pen to paper, consider the tools you’ll be using. Is your paper meant to handle watercolor? You might need to get a pad of paper that’s specifically for wet or mixed media use — often, the paper is a little thicker weight, which means it won’t curl or wrinkle under the weight of water. Unfortunately, this means that you might have to forgo your favorite sketchbook if the paper is too thin. (I’m a big fan of Legion papers.)

2. Don’t forget about your pens, either!

When it comes to pens, make sure you know if your ink is waterproof before you start drawing. A waterproof pen won’t bleed when it comes into contact with water, but a non-waterproof pen will.

To begin, it’s best to start with a waterproof pen. Once you’re more comfortable with the mixed media technique, you could try using a non-waterproof pen and experiment wetting the edges. 

How to Add Watercolor to Urban Sketching

3. Use watercolor to imitate the textures you saw during your urban sketching. 

Pen techniques such as hatching, cross-hatching and scribbles are a great way to bring texture into your drawing and convey what you saw outdoors. But before you draw all the rough edges and bustling leaves, save some areas just for your paint.

One easy place to start is with bricks. Using a thin liner brush, imitate a brick-like texture by painting horizontal lines onto a building.

Another idea is using watercolor to create the look of leaves. The wet media is especially great for this — using a wet-on-wet or salt technique, you can mimic the look of individual leaves that comprise a bunch. 

How to Add Watercolor to Urban Sketching

4. Remember, color is for more than looking nice. 

Many people love to see things in color, and by adding paint, you’re sure to have a more dazzling piece. But decorative aspects aren’t the only reason to paint your urban sketch. By layering color and texture in watercolor, you are making your drawing more realistic and adding an emotional depth that wasn’t there before. Was the sky bright blue, or was the scene dreary? Through a few key color choices, you can let the viewer know what you were seeing and feeling at the time of your drawing. 

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