Saturday, January 9, 2021

Book Review: Techniques for Beginners

The latest book in the Urban Sketching Handbook

The Urban Sketching Handbook Series (begun by our own founder, Gabi Campanario, with his Architecture and Cityscapes book) has a new volume: Techniques for Beginners: How to Build a Practice for Sketching on Location, by Suhita Shirodkar. Now with 11 titles, the popular series introduces concepts, principles and techniques used for urban sketching in compact, easy-to-grasp capsules.

After an introduction to materials and how to build a compact sketching kit, Suhita dives into three main subject areas: objects, places and (her favorite) people. In the Objects section, she gives basic how-to suggestions on making contour drawings of ordinary things around the house. Beyond the cereal bowl and coffee cup, though, Suhita supports the urban sketching philosophy by showing readers how to include context that will convey “a sense of place.”

Her attitude in the Places section resonates deeply with my own, which is that even the smallest, ordinary scene can still capture a sense of place without being “grand.” Urban sketching is not just for those who travel to exotic lands filled with spectacular architecture and sweeping views; it is for anyone who has a lamp post on their own street. In this section, Suhita offers tips and ideas on composition, perspective, values, shapes, texture and pattern.

Suhita's watercolor palette

Suhita is probably best known for sketches made in the midst of crowded markets and plazas that would be daunting to many but in which she thrives. In addition to practical suggestions on sketching people as silhouettes, human proportions, capturing gestures and capturing those crowds she loves, she also offers help to timid sketchers who shy away from sketching people. Take a baby step by sketching people in your own home, she suggests, and work your way up to drawing small groups in public.

Human proportions

The last instructional chapter, Bringing it All Together, gives a step-by-step process on composing a scene by selecting various elements and deciding how they relate to each other.

The final section is a collection of challenges to nudge sketchers out of the doldrums or just to get us thinking in a new way. Draw the same thing over and over, sketch at an unusual time of day, or try a new material.

Tips on composition

Throughout, concepts are illustrated with examples from Suhita’s own sketchbooks as well as those of 75 other well-known sketchers from around the globe. As is true of the entire Handbook series, the list of artists featured reads like the who’s who of the urban sketching community.

Challenges to keep things fresh

Suhita’s book makes an excellent primer for the rest of the Handbook series: Whenever she introduces a concept that has been covered in greater depth by another book in the series, she refers to it. Any urban sketcher just starting out should begin with Suhita’s volume, then dive in deeper in areas of interest with the other books.

My only complaints about this book are the same as they are for the entire series: The elastic band that holds the book closed may have been clever when the first volume came out because it mimicked a sketchbook, but it has no purpose here and gets in the way. (OK, it had one useful purpose: To hold the cover closed while I took the photo at the top of the post.) And maybe it’s just my aging eyes, but reading the pale, tiny type makes me cranky. It’s also a shame that all these beautiful sketches have been reduced to two or three inches, but I realize that’s the limitation of the compact format. I do like that the books are thin, small and quick to read: They are an easy entry to urban sketching.

Speaking of easy entry, I’m often asked by novices for book recommendations on how to get into sketching on location. In addition to the “bible,” Gabi’s first book, The Art of Urban Sketching, I like to mention James Hobbs’ Sketch Your World and Mike Daikubara’s Sketch Now, Think Later. The first title is an overarching introduction to the world (literally) of urban sketching, and it’s required reading for any urban sketcher. The latter two are favorites for their philosophies and approaches to sketching on location (which align well with mine). And now I’m adding Suhita’s book to my “recommended” list for sketchers who are just getting started.

(This book was provided to me free by the publisher. All opinions expressed here are my own.)


  1. Sounds like a great book. I always admire her work!

    1. Me, too... her teaching experience shows in the way the book is set up!

  2. I rely on your though and informative reviews. Thanks Tina!

    1. You're welcome... glad you find the reviews useful!


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