If you’re feeling stuck on what to draw or paint, why not try out this FREE Live Demo? While it’s more of a precursor to a full tutorial, Leslie Parsons is here to show the value of trying a new style and drawing something you don’t usually draw when you have an “artists’ block”. 

Thus, we’ll be following along with a Japanese storefront sketch today and learning more about adding depth and contrast to your linework!

Step 1: Pencil Sketch

Leslie starts by showing the reference photo, a picture of a rustic barber shop in Japan (shoutouts to @storefronts.japan!). He also mentions that while we’ll just be doing an ink drawing today, we can always paint it later as a bit of “homework”, so don’t feel like you have to stop after this demo is over!

Leslie also says that while having a reference image is good, you don’t have to follow it exactly. He likes to exaggerate the features sometimes, such as making the door narrower than it is or windows wider than they are.

Kind of like drawing a caricature, but for storefronts. It adds a lot of charm and character to your drawing so that you can try it out!

All that being said, it’s time to sketch! Grab your favourite sketching pencil and watercolour paper (if you’re planning on painting it after), and lightly mark out the main features of the barbershop. 

It’s best to simplify the shop into basic shapes, such as rectangles, circles, etc., to make it easier to tackle. You can start with the lines for the pavement, then add dividing lines for the shop itself.

Note that the shop is divided perfectly in half with the door to the right, which will make it easier to block in the pillars, awning, and windows.

Bonus tip: Leslie’s lines are a little shaky here from nervousness, but it actually adds to his style and to the shop’s charm! So don’t worry about getting perfectly straight lines – in fact, it can be a good thing. Learn to work with your quirks, and love the imperfections!

As you draw, feel free to adjust certain things as you see fit. Leslie makes the barber’s pole bigger, as he wants it to be the main focus of the drawing (it is a barbershop, after all!). He also adjusts the types of potted plants along the bottom.

All these details can be tweaked as you see fit, so just play and have fun with your sketch! And don’t feel like you have to add every single detail – you can always ink them in later.

Tip: The bike may be daunting to draw, but just take it one feature at a time, starting from the wheel and adding the surrounding elements at a relative distance from the wheel and the shop.

The wheel’s placement itself can be done just by seeing that its centre point intersects with the bottom right corner of the shop’s door so that you can go on from there. But again, even if it’s not perfect, that’s fine – it adds to your own personal style!

Step 2: Foreground First

Once you have your pencil lines down, you can start inking your drawing. Leslie uses one of Etchr’s graphic pens here: the small, felt-tipped brush pen. You can use a different brand, but make sure to test that the ink is waterproof if you want to paint over your drawing after.

The great thing about this type of pen is that it gives you a thicker line the harder you press down, so you’re bound to get some good line variation with this! The flexible nip also protects it a bit better when you’re drawing on textured watercolour paper, as a rougher paper surface can wear down your pen nibs quickly.

Regardless, once you start drawing, keep track of which objects are in the front and which are in the back. You don’t want to accidentally ink in a line of an object that’s behind another one!

Again, you can keep your lines shaky if you wish. Leslie recommends breaking up some of your lines as well instead of always doing one continuous line, as it makes the overall drawing look more easy-going.

Add tiny dots here and there to the concrete areas, which will give it a bit of visual texture. You can also do a little shading as you go.

Step 3: Shadows and Lines

As you draw, keep in mind that thicker lines give an object more weight, so a general rule of thumb is to have thicker lines for the foreground and thinner lines for the background.

An exception would be when you’re adding some shadows, especially between the plant pots and the windows. Adding a dark shadow to these areas will really help make the foreground pop, so be sure to include them in your drawing!

For the windows, there’s no need to make them completely black, especially if you’re painting them later. Leslie even uses uneven dashed lines to shade in instead of the traditional crosshatch, making the drawing look less stiff.

Step 4: Bringing it Together

You can make any necessary adjustments as you go or add things that you may have overlooked during the pencil sketch. You can even leave out certain things if you think they’re too distracting (e.g. Leslie leaves out the smaller Japanese kanji). Keep in mind where the light source is as well, so your shadows are cohesive.

For extra texture, add tapered strokes to the awning and anything that’s made of fabric. And while it’s OK to fill in some really dark areas with ink, don’t add too much black, as it can dull your drawing.

Step 5: Making it Yours

When you’re just about finished, erase the pencil marks by rolling a kneaded eraser over the drawing. This helps get rid of the pencil marks without affecting your inked lines.

For more stubborn pencil lines, you can switch to a traditional eraser, but be careful not to rub too hard.

Add any final touches you may need – more shadows, missing elements, more textures. Keep stepping back to look at the overall feel of the drawing and make any final marks to finish it off. Once you’re done, feel free to sign it and even paint it if you wish!

I hope you had fun with this quick sketch. And even if you don’t get around to painting it, feel free to share your work with us! We love to see what our fellow artists have done to make the drawing their own.

If you want to follow along with the video, here’s the link to the live demo recording. Happy drawing! And thanks again to Leslie for this fun sketching session.

Nicola Tsoi is a practicing graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 


  • Edith mcnally said:

    Great read. Thanks
    Etchr Studio replied:
    Glad you enjoyed reading, Edith! We hope these steps help you with urban sketching :)

    October 09, 2021

  • Leslie Parsons said:

    Hey, that’s awesome! You make me sound like I know what I’m talking about! lol Thanks so much. I look forward to seeing all your Japanese barbershops! (and bunny cafes, and yakitori restaurants)…
    Etchr Studio replied:
    YOU are awesome, Leslie!! :)

    October 06, 2021

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