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How to Sketch People in Public: Urban Scribbles

Urban Scribbles, Casey Roonan
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In 30 minutes, use continuous lines to draw every figure that enters a public space.

Core Ideas

Figure, gesture, line, shape, point of view

Recommended Tutorials


Art Supplies: Sketchbook
Art Supplies: Colored Pencils
Smart Phone
Art Supplies: Prismacolor Fine Line Markers


Pick a public space with a lot of people, such as a coffee shop or mall food court.

Find a comfortable place to sit. Choose a spot where you can see lots of people.

Set your alarm for 30 minutes.

Art Supplies: Sketchbook
Urban Scribbles, Tina Guo

Using a single, continuous line for each figure, draw every person who enters the space. Use quick, general marks to capture their motion.

Do not draw the background. Instead, draw the figures in the distance much smaller than the figures that are close to you.

Draw until your alarm goes off, or until you’ve filled a spread with about 7 – 10 figures of varying sizes.

Art Supplies: Prismacolor Fine Line Markers
Urban Scribbles, Casey Roonan

Reset your alarm and switch to a different pen. Draw any new people entering the space into this same spread, on top of your previous drawings.

For seated figures who haven’t moved between drawings, overlap your second sketch on top of your first, and get more specific with your lines!

Urban Scribbles, Casey Roonan

Draw until your alarm goes off. Repeat with a third pen, or start a new spread.

Urban Scribbles, Casey Roonan

Related Artists

Edgar Degas’ ballerina drawings, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele’s figure studies, Jason Polan’s illustrations, Adrian Tomine’s New York Drawings.


Tina Guo

Tina Guo

“To be honest, I have never sketched at the same spot for as long as one and a half hour before. It brought to me a new and intriguing perspective to a public space. I realized that all the figures are somewhat monotonous but so unique at the same time.

I actually did this at a couple of places and noticed that people repeat the same couple of postures and actions but everyone has their little quirks to it so that the same position looks different. This is especially exciting to capture. Rendering the figures in one single line and controlling their sizes are challenging to me at first, for I am usually more used to very detailed and delicate micron pen drawings; but in the end, it really helped me loosen up and focus more on what I see than what I am drawing.”

Anya Chen

Anya Chen
Project Assistant

“Whether I’m walking to the bus stop or just waiting for my coffee at a café, I often find myself observing other people. Sometimes I spot someone sitting and crossing their legs in a way that makes the fabric fold really interestingly and I think about how great they’d be to sketch, but I’m forced to look away before they catch me creepily staring.

In a nutshell, this project provided me with a socially acceptable form of people-watching. I’ve always been pretty comfortable with figure sketching, but I’d mostly done it with charcoal in a very posed setting (in a studio or an art class). Drawing with household items like pens or colored pencils in a public place made figure studies much more accessible and convenient, especially since there aren’t many opportunities to draw hired models in day to day life.

It was challenging to capture each figure that entered the space accurately because some were moving so quickly, so I decided to focus more on the motion of the figure instead of the proportions. In the end, I think I made the right choice; my piece looked much more interesting and had a very fluid movement to it.”

Vivian Kong

“From what I have seen being a part of many art communities, small and large, is that people tend to either have a love or hate relationship with figure drawings. To be honest with you, my relationship with figures is not the finest of fine wine.

However, being in my comfort zone all the time has long been restricting my performance as an artist, and therefore I challenged myself by drawing moving figures in the famed Seattle Pike Place Market, a heavily trafficked sight. There, I found a bench near the intersection of many sidewalks and crosswalks…which was soon locked up by a police officer, but that didn’t stop me from sitting on what surface was left of the bench to sit on to capture the movement of passing figures.

Nobody would cross my sight for more than 15 seconds, causing me to slowly begin to fill in the figure as quickly as I could based on the faint image lingering in my mind. It got easier as I went on to capture the big parts of the figure and fill in the nitty gritty based on what I remember and what it would logically look like.

So, although it was more than difficult to capture someone walking past you in a small time span, my understanding of the human figure has greatly expanded due to a better understanding of what a figure should naturally look like.”

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