Urban Sketching with watercolors. Simplifying urban scenes.

Do you remember when we talked about the idea of tackling a wider scene to record the atmosphere, the “big picture” in our sketchbooks?
Soooo, I keep working on it, step by step. ☺️

And I noticed a sort of pattern within my last “urban” sketches, that I thought I could share with you. 😊



First of all, I am sure some of you won’t think these sketches really show urban scenes!! 😅😉

There are two reasons for that :
– I live in a French large village with 6500 inhabitants so it’s only a bit urban!! 😜
– Plus, I like plants and flowers and it’s spring so I tend to pick composite views with a lovely garden or a tree over boring rows of façades. ☺️

And I think this is a part of my strategy! 😙


So, I noticed that, to simplify an “urban scene”, I just pick a house I like as a focus with, if possible, a row of flowers, a lovely garden, a colorful field or a tree and… that’s it! I then compose a sketch using the direction of the road and these elements.

Often, a nice sky set the mood… ☺️
And, when I feel brave, 😁 I add a passer-by. 😉


Once again, the trick is to focus and to simplify!
So, my advice, following my experience, would be to choose just one or two elements you like (for example one house and one “green” subject?). Then, start from it and focus on it, really simplifing the other things ! These can be just colorful shapes without details.

If you fear this approach could lead to a too simplistic sketch, feel free to add a companion sketch to the page with a close up view of a flower like I did in some of the spreads, below, or a people sketch, or a sign, or whatever detail (or lettering!) you feel like adding to your sketchbook. 😙







I think I am going to keep trying to widen my angle of view when I sketch… but not too much nevertheless. ☺️ Of course, a few houses could be sometimes great for a change, but I think it’s important not to forget to focus on something. Quality over quantity! 😉

Is that strategy sharing useful for you, fellow Urban Sketchers?
What are your own tricks to make quick sketches of your urban surroundings?

I wish you a marvelous week end! 😀

8 thoughts on “Urban Sketching with watercolors. Simplifying urban scenes.

  1. As always, this lesson was very helpful. Thinking about painting the primary focus of the painting first, then adding details later is certainly a method of working that I will try. Thank you for this helpful post.

    • Terry Lou, thank you so much! Afterwards, I was thinking that my article really was too simple but I am happy that you found it useful. Often, the simplest things are the most useful I guess!

      I think that painting straight with the brush, just beginning with my focus and growing shapes helps me with with the focussing process, whereas a pencil sketch most likely tends to make us draw a lot of details and to add a lot more things in addition to the subject. ☺️

  2. Hi Anne-Laure. These are beautiful pages. You’ve given great advice-I forget to simplify. I live in a small farming community where cows and corn fields are everywhere! That’s my ‘urban’. Barns and tractors instead of sky scrapers and taxi cabs.

    • Hi Cathy, thank you for your kind comments about my sketches!
      I think simple sketches can be really powerful. I don’t talk about mine, I think about some just a few strokes sketches like Julia Sverchuk or Greg Betza can do.

      Your urban seems even less urban than mine!!!!

  3. Hi Anne-Laure! These tips are wonderful, especially for a beginner sketcher like myself who often feels overwhelmed by a scene. Thanks so much for sharing. Your paintings inspire me to get out there and try to catch a little bit of the beauty in even the most every-day subjects!

    • Thank you Carol, I am so happy this simple tips can help you!
      I hope you will like sketching your surroundings like that, with a strong focus. ☺️

      You’ll see, in India, we will work like that tot, not to feel overwhelmed by this teeming country!
      It’s often better to make several simple sketches with each time a strong focus than to try to include everything in one go. ☺️

  4. I loved the simplicity and colors in your sketches. Good advice, and so lovely. You never cease to amaze me with your creative talent. Thanks for the tips and for sharing. I had to laugh about the population of your village as I live in a small logging community with only 1,500 people. When driving 50 miles in either direction, we rarely see another person. Maybe there should be “rural sketching”!

    • Karla, thank you for your nice and fun comment. 😉

      I think that Urban Sketching is more about connecting with our environnement using a quick sketching approach than about the amount of inhabitants in our town or region but that’s true that, in some cases, it’s difficult to call our works urban!!

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