Book Review: 5-Minute Sketching – People By Pete Scully

coverOne of the first urban sketchers I started trying to mimic was Pete Scully.  When I was getting started in sketching he was creating small building portraits (often two to a page in Moleskine watercolor sketchbooks).  He also got me hooked on drawing fire hydrants and I continue to learn from his sketches.

Today, though, I want to talk about Pete’s new book, 5-Minute Sketching: People.  It’s part of what may become a series from Firefly books.  When I reviewed Liz Steel’s book in this series I made some comments about how structured, and to my mind limiting, the publisher-dictated format was and if you haven’t read that review I encourage you to do do so here.

While some of those limitations do affect discussion of sketching people, I think it’s less limiting than for sketching buildings for a couple reasons.  I think, far more real-time people sketching is done in less than 5-minutes than is building sketching and, for so many people, quick-sketching is so foreign that there are a lot of useful tips one can provide that are quite separate from the actual drawing itself.  Pete does a great job of talking about how to capture people quickly, how to put yourself in good positions to do so, and how to make those captures interesting.


Section one is titled How To See, and Pete starts out with some basic dimensional anatomy of the human form.  There are sections on arms and legs, faces, and all the things you’d expect to find in a ‘how to see humans’ section.  This expands into sections regarding quick composition and simple backgrounds, to bring your sketches to life.  He talks about playing with perspective and using negative space to position people in a scene as you draw and each of these sections is a series of hints and tips to related to each topic.

postureSection two is titled Quick On The Draw and here Pete emphasizes the need for speed.  His discussions run the gamet from drawing quick portraits to some great tips for drawing a crowd of people quickly.  There’s an interesting section on capturing conversation in sketch form and another on how to capture passers-by using compositing ideas and building up your visual memory capabilities.  This section, and the next, form the meat and potatoes of the book with a bundle of great ideas, some of which I’ve done, some not… yet.


Section three of the 5-Minute Sketching series is titled Time-Saving Techniques and here Pete emphasizes the use of different line techniques; how to do simple tonal sketching; how to sketch over color and other approaches that help to provide quicker, but more satisfying sketches.

quickinkSection four is titled Speedy Supplies and Pete provides series of tips to help when using pencil, pen and ink, markers, pastels, etc. as well as providing some advice on things like paper choice and even a bit on using digital media.  I confess that I didn’t get much from this section but I’m fairly myopic in my choice of medium so that’s probably the reason.

While this book won’t teach you how to draw, it should be very helpful for those wanting to get out and draw people on location.  If you’ve never done it, it’s a daunting task but Pete’s tips should put your mind at ease and provide a gentle nudge to get you out the door.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: 5-Minute Sketching – People By Pete Scully

  1. Great reviews — both this one and the one of Liz’s book. I just finished reading both books, and I agree completely about the series structure. I think the “5 minute” concept and the rather rigid format of the two books is limiting when it comes to architecture, but less so for people. My opinion is based largely on how much more I got out of Liz’s online class compared to her book. While her concepts are the same in both, I felt she was really constricted by the book’s format, and I knew there was so much more that she had to say on any given topic. This is just marketing, but I also found the sketch on the cover of Liz’s book to be deceptive. It’s quite obvious that it took longer than 5 minutes to make that one! 😉 I had fewer issues with Pete’s book because, as you point out, it’s much more realistic to do a sketch of a person in 5 minutes than of a building. But I did get value out of both books where they offered helpful tips on sketching faster, regardless of subject matter.

    – Tina

    • I agree with everything you’ve said, TIna, particularly those parts where you think I was right (grin). Liz’s courses are pretty special and I wish these and Marc Taro Holmes’ Craftsy courses had been available when I was starting out. Lucky for me I’m such a slow learner because I’ve gotten a lot out of these courses, even the basic stuff that I should have learned in my first year. — Larry

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