Phil Dean is an urban sketcher who captures the architecture in London with marker pen, fineliner pen and watercolour wash. He calls himself the Shoreditch Sketcher, referring to the East London area where he lives and works. His Instagram profile is very popular with many fans of his skilful line drawings. Phil has a degree in Graphic Design from Leeds College of Art and leads urban sketching workshops in London. Follow Phil on Instagram to stay updated about his latest workshops. He has a workshop coming up in late September.
All of the drawings shown in this article are by Phil Dean using Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache, Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour, Winsor & Newton Promarkers and a fineliner sketching pen. The drawings on cream coloured paper are in a Moleskine Sketchbook. The drawings on toned paper are on Canson Mi-Tientes paper.
A Beginner’s Guide to Live Sketching with Winsor & Newton
by Phil Dean
I love sketching live and whilst it can be one of the most challenging disciplines, it can be the one of the most rewarding. A lot of people use photographs to draw from in the studio, but I think the finished artwork betrays the source material and a photography reference is sometimes too perfect.
Whilst I am more than happy to draw from a photograph on specific commissions for example, it’s impossible to beat a sketch created live in situ – somehow there is more soul to the finished piece.
I thought I’d pass on a few guidelines for successful live sketching as I really want as many people to get out and about, sketchbook in hand. These aren’t foolproof of course, but based on sketch workshops I’ve run with people of all abilities, they definitely add to the enjoyment and finished work.
1. Travel light
I always travel with a small selection of pens, Winsor & Newton Markers and an A5 sketchbook. This allows me to travel lightly with a small bag and set up camp quickly. Some artists prefer to have lots of kit, easels and large format but I find the less encumbered I am by the kit, the easier it is to focus on the job at hand.
2. Pick a subject that interests you
There is absolutely no point in sketching something that doesn’t get you excited – the fact is, you’re more likely to get a great result with something that interests you. People in pubs, buildings, still life, trees – whatever it is that gets you excited, start with that and I’ll guarantee the finished result will be good, and you’ll feel good about it.
3. Get comfortable
I like standing to draw as it gives me pace and impetus to work quickly (try it, it’s fun) but I would say for beginners or less confident artists, a seated position is more comfortable and allows for more accuracy. Find a location where you can easily sit on a wall or chair and this will give you more time to capture the scene.
4. Work in a medium that you feel comfortable with
I love drawing with pen – straight in, no pencil. But I’m very aware this requires a lot of confidence and my advice to beginners is always start with a medium you feel comfortable with and this is usually pencil or Winsor & Newton charcoal, as both are quite forgiving. Having said that, I have known beginners who were terrified of pen linework graduate comfortably to it and enjoy the free lines.
5. Remember a drawing is not a photograph
Don’t fall in to the trap of trying to faithfully capture the scene you are drawing as you would in a photograph. A drawing is meant to be an expression of something you’re looking at, not an exact reproduction. The freedom of this though loosens the shackles of realism and will help you be more satisfied with the finished result. And don’t forget to celebrate the mistakes!
6. Set yourself a time limit
Often I’ll set a time limit on a live drawing as it helps me get focused on what I want to capture (equally, sometimes I won’t) but I do think it’s good to give yourself the time limit and then move on to another view. This allows you to capture the energy of a fast drawing without overworking it, often quick sketches capture way more than you would imagine.
7. Stop and come back to it later
Don’t be afraid to call time on a sketch even though it’s not ‘finished’ – remember you are the one to decide what’s finished and what’s not. One great tip is to take a quick photo on your phone of the view you’re sketching and then use the image as a reference to add more detail, tone or colour after the live sketching. This is a great tip if the weather turns wet and you want to add more to the artwork. Here you can see where I have added Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour and Gouache to my sketches when I’m at home.
8. Keep at it
Sketching is like a muscle, it needs exercise to grow and get stronger. Practice makes perfect in your sketchbook and a sketch a day is a great way to keep your eye in. draw mundane things: bus journeys, sandwich shops, mugs on desks, drab buildings…you get the idea. You’ll quickly become able to look for the interesting captures and turn your sketchbook into a travelogue for your life.
See more of Phil’s artwork on the Shoreditch Sketcher website.
Shoreditch Sketcher on Instagram.
You can find the materials that Phil Dean uses for urban sketching on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website
- Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache
- Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour
- Winsor & Newton Promarkers
- Moleskine Sketchbooks
- Canson Mi-Tientes paper
- Fineliner sketching pens
Postage on orders shipped standard to mainland UK addresses is free for orders of £39.