Urban Sketching with Water Soluble Supplies

It Have you tried Urban Sketching?   I never did, although I’ve always been interested in it.  Every time I browse art books, I often gravitate to the books showcasing urban sketches.  I like that they are generally quick sketches filled in with washes of color.  They are imperfect and loosely drawn.   Or at least most of what I’ve seen is.

Living in Seattle, I’m close to many iconic locations.  From the waterfront to the space needle, it is pretty easy to find something to sketch.  Many of my friends and past co-workers work at Starbucks and I am no stranger to stopping at the Starbucks Reserve at HQ on the weekends.   It’s only a few minutes down the road and it’s a few blocks from several of the art stores I patronize.

Starbucks HQ is a monstrously large brick building that houses about 5,000 employees.  Atop the building is a clock tower decorated with the Starbucks Siren.   I thought this would make an interesting first sketch because of it’s limited color palette and shapes.  But first, I needed to pick my medium.

I’ve recently been playing with watercolors and I thought I would stick with a water-based medium.   Browsing my shelves of shamefully unused and expensive art supplies, I picked up several sets of water-soluble products.

I had two sets of Caran d’Ache Aquarelle pencils:   The Marine Assortment and the Landscape Assortment.   I created a quick color chart for the sets and tested out the results of light pressure and heavy pressure in each box to see the difference intensities I could get.


Also, I had Caran d’Ache Neocolor II Pastels.   They’re basically water-soluble crayons.   The set I have has 84 colors and the idea of swatching them all out was too much to bear after having created my recent Dr Ph Martins watercolor chart. I decided I would just test the colors on some scrap paper as I used them.

Last, I found I also have Derwent Inktense pencils.   It is also a larger set and I am tired of swatching colors.  I’ll jump into sketching and playing with my supplies.


urban sketch starbucks headquarters clock tower

Sketching this out was challenging.   The tower is a lot of straight lines and without a ruler, the lines were pretty all-over-the-place.   Most of my work is pretty precise so giving in and allowing it the drawing to be loose was difficult.  I keep reminding myself it is supposed to be a quick sketch and to keep moving on.

When I got to coloring it in I found the crayons had the best color for the tower.   I filled in most of the drawing and spread the color around with my watercolor brush.  The pencils came in handy when I started working on the smaller details and the siren at the top.

The biggest blunder I made was not to test the interaction between the products.   These crayons are waxed based, which I would have known if I would have read the box and tried intermingling the products on some scrap paper before starting.   I realized this once I tried drawing on some lines for the brickwork.   Wax will resist anything on top of it.   And it definitely didn’t want any lines on top of it.

I really wanted to throw some more layers on top to add some depth and highlights but that just wasn’t going to happen with the page covered in wax.   I decided to just stop and take what I learned into future drawings.

Overall, I really liked the pencils.  They spread around the page easily and didn’t leave any scratch marks you might find with cheaper pencils.   The crayons, while they are really nice, are too chunky for this drawing and the wax base really limits what I could do with it.

But this is how we learn, so next time I’ll have to pick one or the other and maybe I’ll be a bit more successful.


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