Opus Resource Library
The Allure of Urban Sketching with Zandro Tumaliuan
Opus Resource Library

"Even amidst bustling crowds, as I sketch, I am transported to a tranquil realm, lost in the beauty of my own creative process."

Zandro Tumaliuan posing with his work
Zandro Tumaliuan posing with his work.

We caught up with Vancouver artist and passionate urban sketcher, Zandro Tumaliuan, and asked about his experience with Urban Sketching.

Zandro travels the world documenting the scenes around him with pen and watercolour, and sharing his joy for this exciting medium for creating art outdoors. 

Read on for a truly inspiring story about how Zandro approaches his urban sketching and why he loves it so much.

Part of Zandro
Part of Zandro's urban sketching set up with some of his artwork.

What draws you to Urban Sketching - Why do you do it? What do you enjoy about it? How did you first get involved in Urban Sketching?


Growing up, I developed a deep affinity for sketching a 16th-century old church that stood proudly in front of my parents' house. This architectural marvel became more than just a subject for my drawings; it served as the catalyst that ignited my passion for studying architecture and delving into the captivating narratives of historic buildings. Since those early days, my love for sketching has never waned, remaining an enduring part of my life.

The allure of travel has always beckoned me, both for work and leisure, affording me the opportunity to immerse myself in diverse locales, cultures, and architectural wonders. It is during these adventures that my sketching truly comes alive. Urban sketching, with a simple pen and paper in hand, has become my constant companion, allowing me to indulge in the art of doodling wherever I find myself: on trains, buses, bus stops, in parks, or cozy coffee shops.

Beyond its artistic significance, sketching has become my personal sanctuary—a form of meditation and relaxation that offers respite from the world around me. Even amidst bustling crowds, as I sketch, I am transported to a tranquil realm, lost in the beauty of my own creative process.

Not merely fleeting drawings, my sketches have evolved into cherished records of my journeys. With this in mind, I opt to create them in sketchbooks rather than loose pages, providing a safe haven for my artistic expressions. I envision them as more than personal mementos; they possess the potential to be shared with others, sparking meaningful conversations and connections. Inspired by this idea, I made the decision to curate a collection of my most beloved sketches and publish them as a book, Travelogue Sketches, ensuring their accessibility to all—whether they seek adornment for their homes or wish to gift their loved ones with a captivating visual journey.

In this pursuit, I aim to safeguard the tradition of sketching, often seen as a fading art form. By sharing my sketches in a coffee table book format, I aspire to revive the appreciation for this timeless craft. Each page will bear testament to the beauty of architecture, the allure of travel, and the power of artistic expression. Through Travelogue Sketches, I endeavour to inspire others to cherish the wonders that surround them, embark on their own creative explorations, and preserve the magic of our built heritage.

Zandro's sketch rendered in pen and watercolour.

Pen with watercolour washes appears to be your preferred method for your Urban Sketches. What do you like about working this way? 


When I embark on my travels, time is often of the essence, but my passion for sketching remains unwavering. I have discovered that sketching with a pen allows me to capture the essence of a place swiftly, enabling me to complete the linework while still on site. This efficient approach enables me to devote more time to soaking in the surroundings and immersing myself in the moment.

Once the linework is established, I swiftly apply a wash of colour, serving as a study of the vibrant hues that envelop me and setting the mood for the artwork. With these two mediums at my disposal, I find that I am able to accomplish a significant portion of the artwork, typically 80-90%, within the given time frame. Whether it's during a rest stop from exhilarating city walks, while soaring through the skies on a plane, or taking advantage of layovers, even a quick morning stroll on weekends provides me with an opportunity to breathe life into my sketches.

One aspect I cherish about watercolour is its inherent transparency, allowing for the chance to make enhancements and refinements to the artwork. I take full advantage of this quality, seizing the moment to add depth, texture, and subtleties to my creations. It is a dance between spontaneity and precision, a delicate balance that adds an extra layer of dimension to the final piece.

When it comes to landscapes, I tend to veer away from using solely the pen. However, in moments of yearning for additional intricacy or when I feel that watercolour alone fails to capture the minute details, I may resort to employing the pen as a supplementary tool. It is a careful decision, made with the utmost consideration for maintaining the integrity and authenticity of the natural scenery.

Through my chosen artistic process, I strive to encapsulate the fleeting beauty of the places I encounter, capturing their essence in a form that resonates with both myself and those who lay eyes upon my sketches. Each stroke of the pen and brush serves as a testament to the wonders that unfold during my travels, preserving cherished memories and inviting others to embark on their own visual journeys.

In the realm of travel sketching, time constraints and artistic choices are intertwined, each dictating the other. Yet, it is within this delicate balance that the true spirit of my artistry blossoms, enabling me to create evocative and captivating artworks that transcend the boundaries of time and space.

Zandro working with a Sakura Pigma Micron Pen.
Zandro working with a Sakura Pigma Micron Pen.

Do you have a favourite style of pen for Urban Sketching? What qualities do you like about it?

When it comes to sketching, my trusted companion is the Sakura Micron Pen. This remarkable tool has become my go-to choice due to its smoothness and impeccable control, particularly because I seldom use a pencil as a preliminary guide. With a gentle touch, I can effortlessly build forms, carefully compose my sketches, and draw outlines, all while maintaining the freedom to make adjustments along the way. This versatility grants me the flexibility to add intricate details and refine my artwork as I progress.

The Sakura Micron pen has truly become an extension of my hand, allowing me to express my artistic vision with confidence and precision. Its consistent flow and reliable performance instil a sense of trust, empowering me to explore new creative possibilities without the worry of unexpected mishaps. Each stroke glides effortlessly across the page, leaving a trail of ink that breathes life into my sketches.

However, I also understand the importance of having a reliable backup option. That's where my trusty LAMY pen comes into play. While the Sakura Micron remains my primary choice, the LAMY pen acts as a dependable substitute, ready to step in whenever the need arises. Its consistent performance and distinctive ink flow make it an excellent alternative, ensuring that I can continue my creative endeavours without interruption.

By carefully selecting and relying on these high-quality pens, I have honed my ability to capture the essence of my subjects, whether they are architectural marvels, picturesque landscapes, or captivating street scenes. The Sakura Micron and LAMY pens have become integral tools in my artistic journey, providing me with the means to bring my imagination to life, one stroke at a time.

Zandro's completed pen linework.
The same linework with his watercolour treatment
The same linework with his watercolour treatment.

How do you approach adding colour to your sketches? 

When it comes to sketching architecture, I have developed a technique that brings depth and dimension to my drawings. Once I have completed the linework, I meticulously incorporate shades and shadows, breathing life into the architectural subjects. This careful attention to detail adds a sense of realism and complexity to the sketch.

After meticulously defining the lines, I then introduce a lighter wash of watercolour to enhance the overall composition. This subtle layer of colour serves to accentuate the subject and bring it to the forefront, while allowing the linework to maintain its prominence. It is a delicate balance between preserving the intricate details of the architecture and infusing it with a touch of colour to evoke a sense of atmosphere and mood.

When sketching on location, I make it a priority to dedicate as much time as possible to complete the artwork before me. Immersed in the surroundings, I am able to observe the interplay of light and shadow firsthand, capturing the essence of the moment. I seize the opportunity to apply the colours to the focal point, the architectural subject that has caught my attention, infusing it with vibrancy and life. As time is of the essence, I make the most of every minute, ensuring that I capture the essence of the scene before it changes.

While the main subject receives the full treatment of colour, I often leave the surrounding elements as linework. This deliberate decision helps to create a visual hierarchy, drawing the viewer's attention to the central architectural feature while still providing context and a sense of place. By leaving these areas as linework, I can strike a balance between detail and suggestion, allowing the viewer's imagination to fill in the remaining blanks.

Through this meticulous approach, I strive to capture the intricate beauty of architecture while infusing it with a touch of artistic interpretation. Each stroke of colour and every line contributes to the overall narrative of the sketch, telling a story that extends beyond mere representation. It is in this delicate dance between linework and colour that the true essence of the subject emerges, inviting the viewer to explore its intricacies and immerse themselves in its unique charm.

Whether it's the play of light on a historic facade or the interplay of shapes in a modern skyscraper, I aim to capture the essence of architectural beauty through a harmonious blend of linework and colour. It is a dance of observation, interpretation, and artistic expression, resulting in sketches that evoke emotion and transport the viewer to the very heart of the architectural marvels I have encountered

Zandro setting up his Opus Essential Watercolours Tin Set.
Zandro setting up his Opus Essential Watercolours Tin Set.

Do you have a preferred palette of must-have watercolours paints?


When it comes to selecting my palette for sketching, I often gravitate towards neutral and earth tones. These subtle hues lay a solid foundation for my artwork, providing a sense of grounding and harmony. Additionally, I incorporate a touch of primary colours into my palette, allowing me to introduce vibrant elements into the composition. These pops of colour often manifest in the form of entourage, such as people or other elements that have the potential to enhance or dictate the overall mood of the artwork.

In my quest to find the perfect watercolour set, I initially experimented with the Sakura Koi Watercolours. Their compact size and convenience appealed to me, making them an ideal companion for my sketching adventures. However, as I delved deeper into my artistic journey, I felt compelled to explore other options to further enhance my creative expression.

Subsequently, I ventured into using Winsor and Newton watercolours, captivated by their renowned reputation and extensive colour range. The quality and versatility of these paints became evident as I delved into their pigments, allowing me to achieve subtle gradations and vibrant washes. Their presence on my palette brought my sketches to life in new and exciting ways.

More recently, I have been experimenting with the Opus Essentials Watercolour tin set, and it has quickly become a personal favourite. The exceptional quality and performance of these watercolours have left a lasting impression on me. The vibrant pigments and smooth application have elevated my artwork to new heights, offering a delightful painting experience. The Opus Essential Watercolours set has truly become an essential tool in my artistic arsenal.

While I have developed a preference for Winsor and Newton and Opus Essentials watercolours, I acknowledge that every artist has unique preferences and techniques. The choice of watercolour brand is a deeply personal decision, guided by individual artistic vision and desired outcomes. It is through this exploration and experimentation that we uncover the perfect tools that resonate with our creative spirit.

As I continue to explore the realm of watercolour sketching, I am excited to further refine my palette and discover new colours that will expand my artistic horizons. The interplay of tones, the dance of light and shadow, and the evocative emotions captured within each stroke of the brush are the hallmarks of my creative process. With each new artistic endeavour, my palette becomes a conduit for expressing my unique perspective and sharing my artistic journey with the world.

Tools from Zandro
Tools from Zandro's urban sketching kit.

What’s in your Urban Sketching kit? What do you bring with you, and what do you love about working with each of the supplies?  

Within my trusted art kit, I gather an assortment of tools that have become essential companions in my creative journey. 

First and foremost, a pencil finds its place, either an HB or 6B variant, with no particular brand preference — I find that even those I acquire from hotel rooms serve their purpose admirably. This humble tool, capable of capturing the subtlest details and laying the foundation for my sketches, has earned its rightful spot in my kit.

Alongside my trusty pencil, I house a compact watercolour set comprising three distinct brands: Sakura, Winsor & Newton, and the Opus Essential Watercolours Compact tin set. Each brand brings its own unique qualities and nuances to the palette. The Sakura Koi watercolours initially caught my attention with their compactness and portability, while Winsor & Newton enticed me with their extensive colour range and renowned reputation. However, it is the Opus Essential Watercolours set that has recently won my heart, delivering exceptional quality and performance that elevate my artwork to new heights.

To complement my watercolour adventures, I wield a Sakura Koi Water Brush, a delightful companion that came bundled with my Sakura set. Its convenient design allows me to effortlessly apply washes of colour while on the go, making it a valuable addition to my toolkit. Additionally, the Opus Galiano Quill brush graces my collection, offering exquisite precision and control, enabling me to capture fine details and execute intricate strokes with ease.

When it comes to penmanship, I rely on the .3 and .5 Sakura Pigma Micron Pens, known for their consistent ink flow and impeccable line quality. These pens have become invaluable allies, allowing me to refine and add intricate details to my sketches with confidence. Alongside them, my trusted Fountain Pen from Lamy finds its place, delivering a smooth and elegant writing experience that adds a touch of sophistication to my creative endeavours.

Each tool in my kit serves a distinct purpose, enabling me to express my artistic vision and capture the essence of the world around me. As I embark on new sketching adventures, I find solace in knowing that I am equipped with a carefully curated selection of tools that have proven their worth time and time again.

The contents of my art kit are not merely instruments, but extensions of my creative spirit, each contributing to the tapestry of my artistic expression. Through the interplay of pencils, watercolours, brushes, and pens, I embark on a journey of discovery, bridging the gap between imagination and reality, and capturing fleeting moments in strokes of inspiration.

Zandro's rendering of Buckingham Palace.

What do you look for in an Urban Sketching location?


I look for what makes the place memorable, and what story can I tell about the sketch if somebody asks about it.


Tell us about one of your most memorable Urban Sketching sessions.

A moment that remains etched in my memory is the day I embarked on sketching the majestic Buckingham Palace. It was a cherished family vacation in London, during the hopeful spring season. However, nature had other plans, as the temperature plummeted to a chilling -1 degree Celsius. Ill-prepared for such frigid conditions, we had only packed hoodies, leaving our hands vulnerable to the biting cold. Undeterred by the frosty weather, I positioned myself amidst a bustling crowd, determined to capture the essence of the palace through my sketch.

Despite the freezing temperatures, I persevered, my frozen hand holding the pen with unwavering determination. With each stroke, I meticulously crafted the linework of the Buckingham Palace, capturing its grandeur and architectural details. In the midst of my creative process, I found myself engaging in conversations with curious onlookers, graciously answering their inquiries and sharing the passion that fueled my artistic pursuit. The energy of the crowd and their genuine interest added an unexpected layer of joy to the experience, making it all the more memorable.

In a span of just 15-20 minutes, the linework came to life on the paper, a testament to both my resilience in the face of the bitter cold and the enduring allure of the palace. However, I knew that the artwork was far from complete. Seeking solace and warmth, I sought refuge in a nearby coffee shop, carrying with me the unfinished sketch and a renewed appreciation for the simple pleasures of life.

Sitting amidst the cozy ambiance of the coffee shop, I savoured every sip of the hot beverage, grateful for the respite it provided from the harsh weather outside. With steady hands and a renewed sense of purpose, I added layers of colour to the sketch, infusing it with life and vibrancy. The strokes of paint danced across the paper, mirroring the beauty and splendour that I had witnessed at Buckingham Palace.

That day, the experience of sketching the Buckingham Palace under such challenging circumstances taught me the value of perseverance and resilience. It reinforced my passion for capturing the world around me through art, even in the face of adversity. The completed sketch stands as a testament to the memories made, the connections forged with strangers, and the triumph over the elements.

In the realm of art, every stroke tells a story, and my sketch of Buckingham Palace embodies the spirit of a freezing yet unforgettable day in London. It serves as a reminder of the power of artistic expression to transcend discomfort and capture the essence of remarkable moments, forever preserved on the pages of my sketchbook.

Check out Zandro Tumaliuan
Check out Zandro Tumaliuan's artwork on Instagram - @graphitespeak

Find more of Zandro Tumaliuan's artwork on Instagram (@graphitespeak) and in his recently released coffee table book called Travelogue Sketches, which contains drawings done while on personal and business trips in England, France, the United States, the Philippines and around his own backyard, Canada.

About Zandro Tumaliuan

Zandro is a Partner at Hager Design International (HDI), a Vancouver-based Hospitality Interior Design firm. With a background in architecture from his native Philippines, Zandro honed his skills as an architect before venturing into the world of Interior Design while in the UAE. Since 2010, he has been happily settled in Vancouver with his family.

Zandro's passion for sketching is an integral part of his creative process. Whether he is at work, conveying his imaginative design ideas, or exploring new destinations both locally and abroad, he consistently indulges in sketching. Urban sketching serves as a source of joy and tranquility for him, allowing him to find solace amidst the bustling urban environment. Equipped with his trusty pens, sketchbook, and pocket watercolors, Zandro ensures that every moment is vibrant and captivating. He seamlessly incorporates sketching into his travels and experiences, documenting them while engaging with curious passers-by along the way. Through his sketches, Zandro effortlessly captures the essence of his surroundings, creating lasting memories of his adventures.

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