Urban Sketching: Simplifying Perspective and Designing A Fluid Composition

Urban sketch of Chinatown

By: Guno Park

First and foremost, urban sketching, or any kind of sketching for that matter, are to bring joy and excitement to each artist/sketcher at their own level of understanding and their own enjoyment of sketching. There are rules of perspective and specific practices that can enhance and benefit the sketch, but to me, they are just good suggestions to keep in mind. I always try to adjust my creativity of design and composition to fit the mood that I want to portray in each sketch that I create.

Here, I will be diving into some introductory rules of perspective. I use these principles whenever I’m sketching architectural or mechanical objects. Perspective is something that can become complicated if you want it to; but keeping in mind a few simple elements within the world of perspective, anyone can create fun and convincing urban sketches.

The 3 Elements of Urban Sketch Composition

The main 3 elements of composing an urban sketch are comprised of the a) horizon line, b) vanishing point(s), and c) the angled lines that meet the vanishing point on the horizon line.

1-point perspective eye level

I like to establish the horizon line first, which also can be thought of as the eye level. The horizon line provides a kind of anchor, or baseline that the vanishing points can land on. If the urban scene or composition that you are putting together is simple and doesn’t have varying angles of the building facades, then you can just use one vanishing point, but if there are facades that are angled or tilted in any direction, those will be best measured with their own separate vanishing point.

2-point perspective

The lower you (and your eye level) are to the ground, the lower the horizon line, giving you more of the sky in the composition. Alternatively, the higher your eye level is, the higher the horizon line, giving you more of the ground in the composition. I like to think of the lower and higher horizons as either being an ant on the ground, or an eagle flying in the sky. And of course, the middle one is the average height of a person standing. When you practice sketching these simple diagrams a few times, you will get a good understanding of the simple principles of perspective.

An important note to keep in mind is, if the buildings and objects are lined up uniformly parallel to each other, all the angled lines will recede to the same vanishing point. This is a good way to practice sketching simple compositions as there will be less angles to worry about. I’ve broken down the composition into simple lines that I’m constantly referencing. The horizon line, the vanishing point(s), and the angles of the buildings that recede to the vanishing point(s).

Composition Supplies

Here are the pens and markers I like to use to create sketches like the ones I’ve included below:

Why These Supplies Work

I enjoy using Mildliner Highlighters due to their colors and mild tones that allow me to create underdrawings to set up my compositions. Gradually moving toward the darker colors allows me to add shadows and darker objects into my composition strategically.

As I move onto more fine details, I like using Sarasa Clip Gel Retractable Pens. These gel pens come in various colors and have a fine tip. This allows me to utilize appropriate colors to add definitions to the sketch.

The STEEL F-402 Ballpoint Retractable Pen is always my favorite tool to use whether it’s for light sketching or for adding deep tones to finalize shadows or added texture. This ballpoint pen works very well when used with varying pressure. It allows me to create light wispy lines as well as dark and heavy lines.

Demonstration of These Principles

In the galleries below, I’ve provided annotations pointing out the principles we went over above. From thumbnails to highly rendered drawings, I hope these simple ideas can help guide you to make some fun compositions.

Chinatown, NYC

Bushwick, Brooklyn


For more sketching inspiration, check out, Ballpoint Illustration Tips from Guno Park. In this article, I share why I like illustrating with ballpoint pens and challenges that come with the territory.