What view to sketch?-Welcome to the Neighbourhood

Last weekend whilst out sketching , one of my fellow sketchers asked: how do you go about choosing your view to sketch?  It’s an interesting question and it got me thinking beyond the theory of composition, at how exactly I choose my view to sketch .   Here in a short summary; mainly illustrated with recent sketches of my local area  are some of the things I take into account when  deciding which view to draw and what to include.  Note that with most of them, there is more than one reason the composition was chosen.

  • I only ever draw what I find interesting and appealing

LizAckerley_local area_AutumnGlory1

To me, this is the most important thing.  If you don’t find it interesting, you won’t be able to portray that in your drawing!  Taking the scene above, aside from any compositional rules, I wanted to draw this because of the colours and the ‘autumn-ness’ of the scene.  I love to draw and sketch in autumn especially because of the stunning colours and textures.  To me, this scene represented the area in autumn, that glow and connection between landscape (the yellow and burnt orange of the birch tree) and red-bricked terraces and walls.   This scene looses its appeal for me when it isn’t autumn!  That said, the rear of the cottages is somewhat of a distinctive feel of the area and does help to tell the story of the place.

  • I always look for the story, what is it that tells the story of that place, those people etc?  I am trying to portray the place and its look and feel in the drawings and the people and their actions.  These two images are good examples.  The top image is a typical scene on the main street of the area, lots of ‘stuff’ going on around Pulos which seems to sell the most eclectic mix of items.  As a ‘centre of the community’ place, it has to be included in any local collection of sketches!.    There are always people coming and going because it is a link from the bus stop to the supermarket and residential streets.  This was Christmas so lots of Christmas trees too!  earlier, they were all orange with Pumpkins, in summer, all go with bedding plants and compost, etc etc.  Oh and they sell furniture and flowers too?!.  The bottom scene is a typical residential street scene, the backs of terraced houses, small back yards and bins….There are always bins (but few if any people)!!  Sometimes (but in my view, rarely) one image captures the place.  Usually, you want to do a selection of drawings that capture it.  This is where small thumbnail images can help.  They are quick to do and can help you to home in on what are the very critical sketches to capture in more detail.



  • I often frame the view with components such as trees, street furniture etc  This can be a good way of holding the viewers attention on the main focal point as the components are literally anchoring it.  In the top image for example, the railings and the fir tree are to an extent, anchoring the scene.
  • I am looking to draw the observer into the view (and focal point) and sometimes the view itself does that e.g. converging lines.   In the sketch below, the converging lines of the road going into the distance and the houses disappearing from view pulls the eye through the drawing.  Selective colour is another good way of drawing the viewer into the main view.


  • I am looking to create layers and  depth in the drawing by identifying foreground, middle ground and background features within the view, I identify these before I start the sketch.  In the view below, the car sits in the foreground and the middle ground is held by the main focal point, the painted house and garden.  I use the colour to take the focus to just that property and garden, so the adjacent middle ground property, which I have not coloured, is less prominent.  The distant houses are in the background of the sketch and further help create the feeling of depth.


  • Sometimes repeating patterns can be used to create a pleasing composition  In the sketch below, (which, incidentally, is the alley that resides behind the car in the sketch above!) the horizontal patterns of the roof slates and the verticals of the alley gates set up a rhythm into the page.  Windows and other building details can also form pleasing repeating patterns in a composition.


  • Not putting things in the centre of the view usually works better (The rule of thirds)  Note that hear I am not using a sketch from my local area but one from a meet up with Liverpool Urban Sketchers as I think it illustrates the point better than my existing local sketches.  You can see how the glass of the centre bar feature sits in relationship to the overall, at the intersection point rather than in the middle or at the edge.  Given that this was the drawing I was doing when I was asked about how I went about selecting my view, it seemed appropriate to include it here!

  • I draw upon some key design principles when identifying (and creating) the composition.  As a landscape architect, these principles are drawn on automatically and  include: unity-having things that are similar or have strong links- this is what I was trying to do with the composition below, using the verticals and horizontals of the trees, fencing and building to form a unified sketch.  Of course there are several other principles to draw upon including Rhythm: repeating similar forms, colours, textures etc throughout the sketch ; Balance  and Scale and proportion but those are perhaps for another day!


One final note, don’t think you always or even ever have to stick to the rules.  Try different approaches and see what works best for you.  If the composition feels and looks right to you, it probably is!








4 thoughts on “What view to sketch?-Welcome to the Neighbourhood

  1. Excellent and and very informative post, Liz! I do a lot of the same things you mention when I compose sketches, but I don’t think I could have articulated what I do as well as you have in this post. You have given it much thought and explain it well.

    – Tina

    1. Hi Tina, thanks very much for your comments. I think you are right that its probably not news to experienced sketchers but I hope it helps those that are starting off or gives people food for thought.

  2. Thank you, Liz, for being so generous and articulate in sharing your techniques and experiences. The images in this and other parts of your blog take me back to when, at the beginning of time (1951), I joined the Salford City Reporter as a junior reporter. (The “Reporter” back then was a venerable and much-respected journal). Many of the places you present, bring back long dimmed memories of my time, somewhat ‘out-of-place’, reporting on events in the neighbourhood. Irlam-o-th’-Heights, oh my! Now, I am struggling to develop my skills at urban sketching here in Toronto with the local chapter and others. Thank you – I shall be a regular visitor.

    1. Oh wow, so interesting to hear of your history with Salford and now you are in Toronto! Sure you will love developing your skills there. Its an interesting city with lots to draw!! Best wishes and hope I can continue to provide you with food for thought! Liz

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