Sometimes when you’re urban sketching, there’s just no time to include every detail. Sometimes, you just have to go for it. Charlie Flinder’s FREE live demo is perfect for anyone interested in learning how to keep their lines and brushstrokes fast and loose.
Urban sketching style means loose, free, casual in sketchbooks, with splashes of colour. It is not entirely realistic, but more an impression of a place. They are quick sketches with quick colour on top.
Reference photo – Cliffton Observatory in Bristol is not a traditional “urban” scene, but it is attractive with simple colours. Charlie uses Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook in cold press because he likes the irregularity of the pen lines (pen skips) from cold press paper.

Sometimes he even uses rough paper. Charlie and I are using the Etchr graphic pen collection, and you should always use a waterproof pen if you know you're going to be painting on top of it afterwards! 
Drawing faint construction lines is perfectly acceptable, especially for the curved top of the observatory. Charlie tends to do a pencil sketch first if it’s a large painting because perspective and proportions are essential. If you’re casually sketching, you can go straight to the pen.

Step 1: Speed Sketching

Today’s subject will be the Clifton Observatory in Bristol, UK. Charlie has already done a quick pencil sketch beforehand to make sure the positioning and proportions fit the size of the paper. 
Tip: We will later add a splash of watercolour so Charlie recommends using cold press watercolour paperThis type of paper also adds texture to the overall piece. However, you’re welcome to use hot press paper if you prefer a smoother drawing surface.
The sketch I’ve done here is probably a little too detailed, but as long as you get it done within 10-15 minutes, it’s okay. You can even skip this step entirely if you’re pressed for time, but a few pencil outlines can go a long way to make sure you fit everything you want to on your paper.

Step 2: Keep it Casual

Next is to ink your sketch. Because we will paint over it, make sure you’re using waterproof pens! Charlie recommends 0.1 and 0.3 pens for line variation. Using different widths will help add depth to your sketch.
The key here is to keep your lines casual. They don’t have to be perfectly accurate, and you can even do some faint construction lines to help out with the overall shape of the building.

You should also thicken the lines where you see the strongest shadows, either by going over the same lines with the 0.1 pen or using a thicker pen and doing one stroke on top.
Tip: If you’re concerned about perspectives and proportions, you can spend more time on your pencil sketch beforehand. It is best when you have a little more time or you’re working on a larger painting.

When you finish the outline of the middle tower, move on to the side buildings. Charlie says his lines usually kind of peter out towards the bottom because the focus should be on the central part of the building. You can leave out some of the details or squiggle in a few things like grass and trees.

Once you have all your main lines, you can go over the left side of the building with the 0.3 or 0.6 pen to indicate shadows. Fill some areas with ink, like the entrances and glass (on the windows).
You can also add some brick details using the 0.1 pen, but be selective – just a few indications of bricks here and there are enough! 

Step 3: Paint Splashing

Now it’s time to break out the paints! Because we’re keeping it loose, it’s okay to simplify your colours and allow your paints to bleed into each other. Use a large mop or round brush for most of your painting because it will cover a larger area more quickly.
The first thing to paint is the central tower. Charlie mixes the classic combo of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue for a warm grey. You can also mix a dark brown or dark blue depending on your ratio.

The shadowed area should contain more ultramarine blue, while the lighter areas should use more burnt sienna. 
Paint the side buildings before switching to a mix of sap and olive green (or any earthy green you have). Paint the tree and grassy areas, allowing the green to bleed a little into the building. 
Tip: Charlie also switches to a rigger brush here to create some paint splatters, which you can also do with any paintbrush that can hold a lot of paint. Be careful when flicking your brush, though – you don’t want the splatter to go too far!

You can use your other hand to protect the rest of your painting or a sheet of scrap paper or something similar. Try not to touch the wet paint!
For the top of the main building, use diluted Naples yellow or something similar to paint in the parapet. Then, add a warm yellow like Hansa yellow before painting on the pavement. If you're using the Etchr Watercolour 24 Half Pan Set, it's the Lemon Yellow paint.

Again, it’s okay if the paint bleeds. This is the kind of style Charlie works for!
Bonus tip: Leave in some white gaps, especially for the windows and the area near the bottom. This helps give it that “loose” feeling!

Step 4: Fastest Skies

Last but not least is to paint the sky. Again, use a large mop brush here so that you can paint quickly. Charlie uses a diluted neutral tint for the sky, but an indigo or Payne’s Grey works well too. Just make sure it’s not too dark! 
If you want to stay faithful to the reference photo, you can use a light blue like cerulean for the sky too. It depends on what kind of atmosphere you want to create for your urban sketch.

We have a free quick tutorial on painting several different types of skies in watercolour on our YouTube page if you want to experiment with them. 
To paint the sky, quickly brush in your diluted paint mixture around the building. Leave some white gaps for clouds, or again to add to that “loose” effect. You can also add more paint to the top area of the sky, as skies tend to be deeper-coloured as you get higher above the clouds.

Last but not least, add some paint splatters here. Let the watercolour paint do its own thing; there’s no right or wrong way to do this.  

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick, fun urban sketching and exercise! It’s always good to pick up different drawing and painting techniques, especially when you’re outside and on a time crunch. If you want to learn more from Charlie, feel free to check out his mini workshop or master class. 

Alternatively, you can follow along at your own pace with this free live demo recording. If you do, please share what you did with Charlie and with Etchr. We love to see how people in our art community grow, whether it’s a small step or a giant leap. 

Subscribe to our email newsletter to get more tips and techniques. Whether you follow our workshops or live demos, we’ll notify you of all the latest happenings with Etchr!

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


  • Catherine said:

    Hi. The link to the live demo doesn’t work 😢
    Etchr Studio replied:
    Hi, Catherine! Can you try copy-pasting this to your internet browser?

    November 03, 2021

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