Phil Dean (also known as The Shoreditch Sketcher) trained as graphic designer in Leeds, England back when learning to draw properly was essential for the job. Before computers took over, physical drawing was much more part of the creative process than it is today. Over the years, in his roles as a designer Phil gradually drew less as part of his commissioned work and more in his personal sketching work.

His first love is live drawing on location, and the vibrant and eclectic urban landscape inspires Phil to get out and about and capture the cityscapes. Phil sketches at home in London and also wherever he travels, previously sketching on the streets of Zurich, Los Angeles, Malaga, San Francisco, Girona, Florence and Paris.

Increasingly Phil is being asked to sketch events and situations where photography doesn’t really do them justice or there is something essential and emotional about a drawing that connects the viewer to the scene, more than a ubiquitous photograph can.

Phil regularly teaches urban sketching workshops and posts drawings from cities around the world using his popular Instagram account, @shoreditchsketcher, which has more than 50,000 followers. His debut book, TATE Sketch Club: Urban Drawing, has recently been published and is available to buy.

“I moved from my home city of Leeds to London about seven years ago and this re-kindled my passion for drawing. I trained as a graphic designer and drawing was a big part of the course back in those days. We got bored of drawing life models, so we started going out drawing buildings instead. I was taught by a drawing tutor called Laimonis Mierins, a Latvian fine artist whose style was to go straight in with ink on paper, no pencil or charcoal first. He used to threaten us to be bold with our drawing with a real tommy gun, or at least we thought it was real!

I now live in Shoreditch in East London, spending a lot of time out and about, wandering the streets, and I’ve always got a sketchbook with me. Being in a city like London, you can’t but help be inspired by your surroundings – the city, the architecture and the bustle of it.

Urban sketching can be more difficult in a smaller town, but you just have to work harder to find the subject matter – it is always there. Of course major cities like London have just endless subject matter and you’re spoilt for choice. One of the things you learn about living and sketching in London is that if you engage with the city then you get the best out of it. 

I’m now on sketchbook number 38 since I moved to London and my books are like journals, full of drawings and memories. I’m a big believer in trying to sketch something every day, even if it’s just a coffee cup or a book cover or something like that – anything to keep your momentum going with the sketching”

Phil Dean
The Shoreditch Sketcher