OCAD Studio: Urban Sketching – Tonal Drawing

Tonal drawings of urban landscapes make a bold statement and are a great way to capture the mood of a place. They are especially good for night scenes and foggy or rainy days as details tend to be obscured.


  • Sketchbook
  • Pencil (HB, B or 2B)


  1. First, find a subject to work from: You can either head out into a town or city and work from life or you can collect photo references from the internet – ideally pick scenes that you find interesting. Scenes with lots of large shapes of tone, evident contrast or lots of gradations work well for tonal studies.
  2. Start by lightly sketching in the basic shapes of the buildings, trees and sky/clouds.
  3. Once the shapes a roughly sketched in, find the shadow shapes. Thes might be parts of the buildings or they may be cast by the buildings onto their surrounds.
  4. Shade the shadows in with an even tone.
  5. Then start finding variety within the shadows and lights. Some parts of the shadows will be darker than other and the same goes for the light shapes. The about the form of the buildings and scenery as well as how they relate to the light source (either the sun or streetlights/ lights from buildings).
  6. When you reach the foreground, spend more time refining details and emphasising the contrast, as this will make this section of the drawing the focal point.
  7. When you’re happy with the overall effect, you’re finished!


Try out more scenes and see how different subjects work as a tonal drawing.


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