• Nienke Vletter

Sketch journaling, urban sketching or travel sketching: what is what?!

If you follow me or other illustrators on Instagram, you’ve probably seen these phrases: urban sketching, travel sketching, sketch journaling or something in this range. Have you ever wondered what is what? Is there any difference? Or do they secretly mean exactly the same? I’ll explain it all in this blog article!


Urban sketching: drawing on location

Let’s start with urban sketching, because this is the only one of the three with official definition! Or better said: a manifest, composed by the international community of Urban Sketchers. This community formed in 2007 in Seattle when journalist and illustrator Gabriel Campanario started an online forum “for all sketchers out there who love to draw the cities where they live and visit (…) always on location, not from photos or memory.”


The manifest summarizes as follows: “We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel. We show the world, one drawing at a time.”

So Urban sketching is really about drawing on location. This can be somewhere outside in the city (beautiful houses and buildings are a beloved subject amongst urban sketchers), but also inside in for instance museums, a café or coffee bar. The monst important real is: you draw what you see at that moment – so not from a picture! Of course you can choose to do so. But when sharing this online, claiming it’s urban sketching, you might get reprimanded by the unofficial urban sketchers police ;-)


All around the world there are local urban sketch groups that frequently get together to draw. It’s a lot of fun to join. You don’t need any experience and you can learn a lot from drawing together.

One of the highlights in this community is the Urban Sketching Symposium, which is hosted in a different country every year. Last year Amsterdam was the lucky city to host this event and (despite the extremely tropical temperatures that week) it was such an awesome experience to be there. For 3 days you can join workshops and draw on location. With sketchers from all over the world, who enjoy urban sketching and nerding out over art supplies just as much as we do!


Travel sketches: visual travel diary

It’s in the name of course. This is drawing, illustrating and sketching while traveling. It can be anything: from the great landscapes and viewpoints in Australia, to the colourful houses of Curacao or that Frech bakery where you get your daily fix of fresh croissaint. Or the city trips you make in your own country!

Just as fun to record are smaller details and objects. For instance the lettering you see on the local shop logos. Your summer sandals you where every day during a summer trip. Or those beautiful handmade tiles you can spot on every house in Lisbon (I spent a holiday obsessively photographing these tiles, but ended up doing nothing with the picture. In hindsight I should have draw them in my travel journal right away)! And do you like to collect receipts, tickets and nice patterned papers on your holiday? Stick ‘em next to your sketches or even better: draw them in you travel sketchbook!


Sketch journaling: inspiration is everywhere (even at home)!

Sketch journaling is actually the same as travel sketching, with one big difference. You sketch journal every day, wherever you are! You don’t have to travel far to make special memories. Those day-to-day moments are easy to forget, but at the same time most memorable to look back on. The more you practice, to more inspiration you will discover in day to day life.

Of course there are nice little trips to record, like a day at the zoo or a coffe-date with a friend. But even a trip to Ikea can be a lot of fun to draw! And have you ever walked around in your own hometown with the eyes of a tourist? You’ll discover so many special details you normally don’t notice.

Also don’t forget to look around in your home, where you can discover even more. For instance: your daily coffee mug, the old typewriter that used to belong to your grandfather or the favourite worn-down stuffed animal your kid sleeps with every night.

So, now that you’re reading this: are you peeking around already what you can draw? Are you getting excited to start, but don’t really know where to start? Or maybe you have that little voice inside your head saying “I wish I could do this, but I can’t draw”? I’ve got you’ve covered!



Starting with Sketch Journaling?

Together with my colleague Anne of GoudenLijntjes I’ve developed an online course Sketch Journaling! In this course we’ll teach you about illustration, handlettering and urban sketching. Plus we have lessons on composition, color theory, and most importantly: how to just start drawing and throw your perfectionism out the window! It’s for beginners and intermediate level. The 1st edition starts at July 31st. Are you in? You will find all the information here.


Do you have more questions about Sketch Journaling? Let me know in the comments!


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