Urban Sketching Workshop – With Lynne Chapman – Review

Student's attempts at urban sketching

This is a review of two workshops run by Lynne Chapman: “Urban Sketching For Beginners” & “Rhythm And Blues”.

One of the reasons I decided I wanted to learn to draw and paint was that my previous hobbies involving sport were beginning to take their toll on my body’s joints and tendons, I needed a pastime that was a little gentler!

The downside was that my sporting hobbies where very sociable whereas doing art is mostly a solo activity, and I missed the social aspects of my previous hobbies, so I was keen to find ways I could combine art with being sociable.

Also with my sports I got out and about, art seemed to be a solo indoor pursuit at home.

I found a couple of ways to remedy these problems:

And hence my reason for doing this workshop.

The workshop by Lynne Chapman who is based is Sheffield seemed ideal on several levels: it would be good for meeting other people who liked doing art and it should help my skill level for participating in my Meetup group for urban sketching.

There were two classes one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The “Urban Sketching For Beginners” workshop in the morning was my main focus, being a beginner. In the afternoon there was the more advanced “Rhythm & Blues” workshop. I decided to do the afternoon workshop as well as I was travelling down for the morning one anyway so I thought I would make a day of it.

“Urban Sketching For Beginners”

Lynne started off by giving us some tips:

1) Your drawing doesn’t have to look like a photograph, if you want a photograph quality image take a photo!

That makes sense to me. Especially at this early stage when I don’t have the skills, but even if I did have the skills, would I want to draw a photo like image?

That would depend on what I was trying to achieve. When I look at artwork that I like and that I would like to be able to do, they are not photorealistic.

When I see a photorealistic image I can be impressed with the technical skills but can still be left cold by the subject matter.

I think none photorealistic images are, in a way, more intelligent in that they are using the minds shorthand for identifying objects (the brain is a pattern recognition machine), and more playful, as they can push and experiment with that systems.

So in most cases I think the answer is no.

2) You can work fast and messy.

Lynne gave us a demo where she sketched a person (me!) really quickly, in just over a minute.

She used a technique called “contour drawing”, working quickly without taking her pencil off the paper.

She got a good likeness of me in less than two minutes. So, we were told, this makes it possible to practice whenever you have a couple of minutes spare and you have some drawing gear with you, for example while waiting at a bus stop!

Then it was our turn, we went out and sketched. Our instructions where don’t take your pencil off the paper and you have just two minutes.

I managed a lamppost and a person, I was quite pleased! I was pleased because these were done fast and they weren’t too bad. One of the annoying things about drawing and painting is that it can be quite a slow boring process, this demonstrated that there’s a quick and dirty option.

Two minute urban sketch

Two minute urban sketch

Two minute urban contour sketch

Two minute urban contour sketch

After this task was completed we viewed each other’s efforts. I’d managed to do two drawings in the time others had only done one, so I felt like this was a good thing somehow…. maybe it showed I wasn’t too concerned with the final outcome, or that I was doing it less self consciously. I’m not sure, anyhow it felt sort of liberating.

Lynne says this technique is the best she knows for warming up.

Warming up!?

I’m familiar with warming up for sport but I’d never thought of it for art, but I guess it makes sense, to get into the mindset and flow of making an image.

She says that the warm up is the best way of creating a good line, and a good line is important.

“Line work isn’t just there to describe the features of what your see. The most exciting line is one which is beautiful in itself. A confident, lovely line, which is not quite true, will make for a more enticing sketch than a hesitant but accurate one.”

Lynne then showed us some examples of her urban sketches.

Lynne Chapman urban sketch

Lynne Chapman urban sketch example

The next tip she gave us was that when doing a scene:

3)  You don’t have to get everything in exactly the right position to draw an interesting picture.

You can use what you see in front of you as reference and draw it more like a montage.

I liked the sound of that!

I was always struggling with the “correctness” of my compositions, whereas I could, if I wanted, just chill out and draw items from what I was seeing and get an idea of the scene and a nice image, without getting hung up about its overall accuracy.

One suggestion I don’t want to use

Lynne uses writing on her images, these words are used to fill gaps and convey thoughts and impressions from the scene of the drawing. She also uses this in textiles which works really well. But I don’t want to do it in my drawings, it’s not the style for me unless I’m taking notes about something. For me, let a picture be a picture.

That concluded the morning session of Urban Sketching For Beginners which was really enjoyable. After lunch was the next session.

“Rhythm and Blues”

This workshop was about stimulating creativity.

The main idea behind it was that the colours we use in our drawings don’t have to be exactly defined by the lines we use.

The lines and the colours have different “rhythms”.

We can be a bit messy.

The following two examples show Lynne’s work.

Lynne Chapman work exploring the relationship between colour and line

Lynne Chapman work exploring the relationship between colour and line

We can see in the examples that the colours don’t stay in the confines of the lines, but it doesn’t matter, the images are appealing.

It’s like the the colours and lines have their own meaning independent of each other but they are not opposing, they are complimentary.

Lynne Chapman work exploring the relationship between colour and line

Lynne Chapman work exploring the relationship between colour and line


I like the fact that in the second example you can see the counter top through the body of the person in the stall. This breaks the rules of physics but it doesn’t matter, you still know what is being represented. I think it might be the way that the mind works, it’s constructing what the image represents from the information it is given and some how this fact isn’t too jarring and adds a stylistic value.

I also like how things can be represented by a small amount of information. The house to the right, the car to the right. The guy with the beard and apron, his trousers are represented by a squiggled line that shows the crease at the back of his trouser knees and couple of rough lines of colour for each leg.

And I like the fact that it’s not photographically accurate. When we look at a scene we aren’t focussed on every detail all the time, some things are blurred and peripheral we just have an impression and feeling of what’s there. I think this style plays with that way of perceiving.

To try and break us free from the habit of thinking that colours should have to remain within the line Lynne devised an exercise for us where we added the colour first to a page before we even knew what we are going to draw. We did this by tearing coloured sheets of paper and and glueing them into our sketch books. Then we went out and did some drawing on that sheet.

Student's rhythm and blues urban sketching efforts

Student’s rhythm and blues urban sketching efforts

My rhythm and blues urban sketching efforts

My rhythm and blues urban sketching efforts

This showed that you can get an acceptable image even if you completely ignore the rules of keeping colours within the lines.

The next step was to reign that in slightly and try and match colour and shape a little more closely but not too much.

Colours and shapes urban sketching

Colours and shapes urban sketching

In the above image I think the yellow and brown where an example of the goals of the second part of the exercise, I think for the green and the blue I was still operating in the first exercise mode.

Watercolour and Line

The next exercise was to use watercolour instead of the collage paper.

Lynne gave us a demonstration where she went out onto the street and did a drawing. This was instructive in a few ways:

Lynne’s setup and her tools.

  • She uses a tiny stool, it’s a child’s camping stool, which gives the advantage of being very portable.
  • A few “Inktense” coloured pencils.
  • A small selection of watercolour paints.
  • A little mixing pallette that can be held in one hand.
  • A couple of small water containers and a water bottle and a water spray.
  • Brushes.
  • A sketchbook.

All the kit packed down very small and easy to carry.

Sketching in the street.

Lynne, an experienced urban sketcher, obviously has no worries about sketching in public, whereas I still feel nervous and self conscious and still suffer from imposter’s syndrome. It was good to see Lynne just plonk herself down on the pavement and start drawing regardless of the passers-by (who were actually apologizing for interrupting). It gave me confidence that it is OK for me to go out there and do it.

Your paintings won’t always be brilliant even if you have a lot of experience.

Lynne did have a big group of students stood around watching and she was working quickly and trying to explain as she went so it’s fair enough that the picture she did wasn’t very good! (I didn’t get a photo of it). That sort of gave me hope in an odd way because all of Lynne’s work that I’ve seen before is really good.

It’s not in artists’ interest to show their bad work, but they do do it! So I’m allowed to do it too! And I do do a lot of bad work! Of course it is inevitable you have to do  bad work to know what is bad, that’s the only way you are going to improve. But usually that work never gets shown.

Line and wash the Lynne Chapman way.

The previous “line and wash” I’ve seen used pen and watercolour with pen being used first to draw the lines and then the watercolour being added after. With the techniques described above if we wanted to do some watercolour first then using a pen after would be problematic especially if you are working on the street you don’t want to be hanging around waiting for the paint to dry. A way to get round this is to use watercolour pencils for the lines this way you can draw directly onto the wet paint.

So first we added areas of  watercolour, drawing over these with watercolour pencils.

One of the ideas behind doing areas of colours first is to “simplify” a subject. I think this is to give an idea of an object without having to draw all the details.

Student's urban sketching efforts

Student’s urban sketching efforts

Looking at the other student’s work I can see how they grasped the theory better than I did (mine is the one on top in the top row above). They have all done buildings, colouring large areas of the building in colour and adding the detail afterwards.

I need to practice this!


These were great workshops and really enjoyable. Lynne is an inspiring teacher with lots of energy and  good advice. I came away feeling eager to try out the new methods and techniques.  I would highly recommend the workshops.


Posted on: October 20, 2017