Tips, Tutorials & Inspiration for Drawing on Location
There are many reasons why you might want to branch out and start drawing on location: perhaps you are bored of always drawing indoors, or maybe you want to make your diaries or art journals more visually interesting with illustrations of real life? Travel sketching is particularly popular because when people are on holiday or are traveling around the world, they may want to capture memories and scenes in a more personal way than simply taking a photograph. A collection of you own illustrations would make a beautiful and unique travel journal.
This page will give you tips on how to go about sketching and painting outside and in public places. It can be difficult to have the courage to sketch in public when there are other people around, such as 'urban sketching' where you create your drawings in cities and towns where it is likely to be busy. For beginners, it may be a good idea to start sketching in more quiet places first, and also not trying anything too ambitious!
To begin, you'll need a compact kit with your paints or pens/pencils in, plus a solid base to rest your work on. There really aren't many supplies you need to get started, but the main problem for me is always confidence!
I hope you find the examples of travel drawing on this page inspiring :)
Buddha, Sulamani Temple, Burma
Best Books About Urban Sketching & Travel Illustration
The following books are highly rated and are filled with plenty of beautiful drawings, information and inspiration:
Travel Sketching Introduction
A Summary & Some Tips
Sketching and painting when you're out and about is calming, relaxing and fun, and it gives you an excuse to fully immerse yourself in the scene and really look at your surroundings. It's a lovely way to spend your time, and you're much more likely to remember the place and commit it to memory if you are concentrating on the details around you. It's also great for art journaling and adding another dimension to your diaries and travel journals rather than just filling them with only writing. Sketches record moments in your life forever, and can make much more out of mundane and ordinary things. Sketching is also a productive way of amusing yourself when you're waiting somewhere; such as during your commute on a train, or waiting in a cafe for your order.
With regard to your art kit, most art materials are quite portable anyway, but there are some items that are specifically designed to be used when working 'on location' such as: collapsible water pots and fold-away easels and palettes. The least you require is a piece of paper and a pencil, but you can also bring other items like ink pens, a sketchbook, watercolor paper, a drawing board, a watercolor paint tray, brushes etc. My favorite items to use are water-filled brushes because you can fill them up before you travel so you don't even need a water pot. If I'm going to be doing a lot of painting in a day then I just take a little bottle of water along too, (plus a small tray of watercolor paints of course.)
A few tips to make drawing in public easier (especially if you're shy or don't want people to notice what you're doing):
- Sit with your back to a wall, or sit in a place where people won't be walking behind you.
- Take minimal materials with you; any painting equipment will stand out, so a pen/pencil together with a sketchbook is best.
- Sit in a quiet spot. Or if you can't do this, try to stay at the edge, rather than in the middle, of the 'action'.
- Draw someone from the back. Not only is it easier because you don't need to draw their face, but they're not going to see you looking at them.
- Hide your sketchbook in a larger book, or rest it on a clipboard that has a hinged cover on the front so you can hide what you're doing more easily.
Travel Sketch Kit
The kit consists of:
- Moleskine large, watercolour
- Moleskine small, sketch
- Lamy fountain pen black ink (for all drawing and writing)
- Edding 1800, Profipen 0,3 and 0,5mm
- Rembrandt pure sable brush 3 and 6
- Lamy pencil 0.5mm, H
- Ordinary pencil 2B
- Waterbrush, medium Koi
- Pentel paintbrush, black
- Stabilo fineliners
- Portable watercolour set
Santorini From Photographs
Lessons & Advice - Guidance to Help You Sketch on Location
- 10 Tips for Sketching People
Such as focussing on shape and value rather than details.
- Sketching People in Public Places
With brilliant examples to illustrate the points.
- Using Moleskines
Excellent article all about moleskine sketchbooks.
- Sketching Materials
A walkthrough of what is contained in a watercolor travel kit.
- On-Location Demonstration
Step-by-step instructions for sketching a building in the street.
- What to Put in Your Travelling Kit
A useful list of things you can include, plus info on each item.
- Painting on Location
A series of excellent tips and info about situations you may face when painting in public.
Pentel Water Brushes - My Personal Recommendation
Fort in Valenca, Portugal
More About Tools & Sketching Ideas
Speed is usually particularly important when sketching on location, depending on where you are sat and what you are drawing. If drawing people you will have to be quicker than drawing a landscape for instance. This means that you will need to work on how to sketch a scene quickly, which may mean cutting a few corners.
When drawing people, for example, it is best to either draw rough outlines of everyone in the scene or concentrate on one person in particular. Because people move around a lot, speed is of the essence, so first try and choose someone who is likely to be in the same place for a while, such as on a long train commute, or they have just ordered some food in a cafe. Get the outlines of the person/people you are drawing down on paper as quickly as possible before adding details. Sketch lightly on the page and keep your pencil/pen moving - don't get bogged down with detailing and getting your lines exact. For beginners, to make it easier you can leave out faces and feet to start with when drawing people. If you're keen to improve your skills, life drawing classes are well worth it, but you just need practice.
When looking at a scene, I find it easier to focus on one detail first - whether it's a person, a tree, a building or a bench, so you aren't overwhelmed. When you've drawn that you can leave it, add a plain color background, add a rough approximation of the rest of the scene, or a draw the rest of the scene in its entirety. The most important thing is just to start and get rid of the blank page first of all, because starting is the most difficult thing to do.
If you would like to add watercolor paint to your sketches, you will need to use watercolor paper (you can buy sketchbooks and moleskines specifically for applying watercolor paints to) because otherwise the paper will be too thin and will warp and wrinkle. You will also need to draw in waterproof pens, such as Micron pens. If you don't want to carry around paints, brushes, a palette and some water, you can draw the outline and any details on location in the waterproof ink pen, then color the drawing in at home. To record information about the colors, so that you can remember them later, you can make notes about the colors in a notepad, you can color the sketch in roughly with colored watercolor pencils so that water can be applied later to finish it off, or you can take a photograph of the scene so you can refer to it at another time.
If watercolors aren't your thing, you can also use other coloring tools like colored pencils, markers, felt-tips, pastels etc. If sticking with black-and-white images, you can use charcoals or pencils for adding shading, or if using a pen you can use the 'hatching' technique for shading.
Collapsible Products & Travel Paint Palettes
Travel Sketching Demo Videos & Examples
Drawing Blogs & Sketchbook Galleries - Lots of Inspiration
- Danny Gregory
One man's journey with his beautiful journals.
- Gallery of Urban Sketches
Great variety of drawing and painting styles.
- Urban Sketchers
Be sure to browse the blogs of the other USK communities in the right-hand column too.
- Sketching in India
Beautiful pen and watercolor travel art blog.
- Sketch Away
Huge collection of colorful paintings-on-location.
- Mostly Drawing
Many different techniques on display.
- Urban Sketchers Flickr Gallery
Endless array of artwork from talented artists across the globe.
- Art Kit Photo Gallery
Inspiring photos to show how other people go about sketching on their travels.
- An English Artist
An interesting blog full of stories, photos and urban sketches.
- Drawn The Road Again
Fantastic watercolor paintings of road trip travels.
On The Train
Ideas for a DIY Art Kit
- Altoids Tin Watercolor Box
Re-use a container to house your paints, with polymer clay partitions.
- Another Altoids Tin Watercolor Set
This time with movable magnetic pallets inside.
- Homemade Travel Journal
Simple book binding tutorial for making a journal out of your choice of papers.
- Watercolor Pencil Palette
A creative way of making watercolor pencils easy to carry around.
- Lip Gloss Case for Watercolors
Convert any box with compartments to a DIY travel kit.
- Portable Art Case
Repurpose an old hardback book into a smart case for your art supplies.
Making Your Own Art Kits & Sketchbooks
Please Leave a Comment!
Linda Hoxie from Idaho on January 01, 2014:
I love to sketch and paint. I don't do it nearly as often as I should and really wanted to tell you that I admire your talent, love those travel sketches and the idea for using an altoid can to make your own travel kit.
Joy Neasley from Nashville, TN on December 07, 2013:
"On the go" is the only way I know to draw...LOL! Great lens.
visit2goa on October 29, 2013:
i must say this is a very unique post that i have come across. really great lens.. i do not have good drawing experience but i definitely would try my hands on it..
loved this idea..
Embeegee on October 26, 2013:
Very much like your travel watercolour set. Well done.