Winter Survival for Urban Sketching

Sunbathing, camping, picnicking, urban sketching…wait a minute. Aren’t these out of the question for several more months for most of us? Sadly, yes–but urban sketching is the exception! Marc Taro Holmes is here to tell us there are abundant opportunities to stay warm and cozy inside and still draw your favorite outdoor scenes.

Marc is one of our instructors at ArtistsNetworkTV (watch his and 600 more art workshops for free January 16-23!), and today he shares his favorite indoor/outdoor urban sketching areas around Montreal, Canada. Share yours with us in the comments below, and you could have a chance to win a copy of Marc’s The Urban Sketcher and some sweet drawing supplies. Happy sketching! ~Cherie

Urban sketching ideas | Marc Taro Holmes,

Urban sketching examples by artist and author Marc Taro Holmes

Urban Sketching Winter Survival: Share your Favorite “Inside-Looking-Out” Sketching Spots! by Marc Taro Holmes

We’re in the deep freeze here in Montreal. This time of year I end up scouring the city for the best views from the inside, looking out. I just need a warm place with a great view. Somewhere to hang out for half an hour or so with my sketchbook. Preferably somewhere I don’t have to buy a $7 cup of coffee, and where I won’t be in anybody’s way.

Yes, the classic solution is the coffee shop. It’s the home away from home of urban sketchers everywhere. Or, you can ride the subway if you’re looking for people to draw. And then there are your local museums and libraries. But after a while these familiar sketching spots get stale. And sometimes, they’re not the best record of the city. For example, every Starbucks looks the same from Montreal to Beijing.

Over the years I’ve found a few great places in Montreal. But we want to know what you guys have found in your city! Let’s make this post into a holiday gift for other sketchers.

Leave a comment below telling us about your favorite Inside-Looking-Out sketching spot. Anyone who’s in town can try out your recommendations. As an extra bit of fun, ArtistsNetwork is going to do a prize drawing*! (U.S. residents only, sorry. But we’re sure you understand–due to the shipping and such.)

And now, here are some of the great “inside-looking-out” drawing spots I’ve sketched in Montreal.

Urban sketching ideas | Marc Taro Holmes,

Urban sketching idea: The Palais des Congrès de Montreal

The Palais des Congrès de Montreal, ground floor lobby, facing Rue de la Gauchetière (Google Maps)

This spot is accessible (without going outside) from Place d’Armes metro station, and the RÉSO Montréal underground walkways (tunnels connecting some of the major shopping districts). So if you take the metro you don’t even need to put your coat back on.

From Place d’Armes go up and over an enclosed overpass (you can sketch the Chinatown gate here as well) and you’ll find a giant lobby with a wall of glass doors facing onto a courtyard.

Outside the entrance there’s a quaint little church in a park, looking like a historic village in a fish tank. There is usually plenty of foot traffic going to the metro, so that’s fun to add to your sketch.

Poke around a bit and you’ll find plenty of other views from this giant glass complex. If there’s a major event on, you might have to stay on the metro side but as a bonus, there are restaurants, facilities and a few art galleries over there.

Urban sketching ideas | Marc Taro Holmes,

Urban sketching idea: The Montreal Science Center

The Montreal Science Center, 2 Rue de la Commune O, Montréal, QC H2X 4B2 (Google Maps)

This is another building with a large glassed-in lobby open to the public. Sketchers have the option of drawing the 300-year-old buildings along the Rue de la Commune, the ultra-modern Pointe-à-Callière Museum, and occasionally, cruise ships or harbor tours docked at the next pier.

There’s a second floor with wider views, but the windows have an energy saving reflecting pattern that make it a bit tricky for urban sketching. Not impossible, but your eyes might develop waffle patterns.

Bonuses at this location are an on-site café, a free lunch room, coin lockers or coat racks, and the option to pay to get into the exhibits, where there’s plenty more to sketch.

Urban sketching ideas | Marc Taro Holmes,

Urban sketching idea: Hotel Bonaventure

Hotel Bonaventure, third-floor lobby, overlooking Place du Canada (Google Maps)

One of the best ‘secret spots’ for urban sketching downtown is the upstairs lobby of the Hotel Bonaventure.

Right beside the elevator bank, you’ll find a large window equipped with a simple wooden bench. You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to visit this floor, but I didn’t exactly announce my freeloader status. There are always people passing through from the hotel’s meeting rooms and exercise facilities.

From here you can look down on St. George’s Anglican Church on your left, and the impressive dome of Marie Reine du Monde Cathedral on the right. It’s great to see these monuments from this drone’s eye view! A fun companion to any sketches you might make on ground level.

The hotel lobby also features a Japanese Garden (ish) sort of thing behind glass (looking austere, covered in snow as I write this) with plenty of comfy seating. As well there’s the hotel bar, so this might make a good last spot of the day. ~Marc

Remember to comment on this blog post for your chance to win a package of drawing supplies and a copy of The Urban Sketcher by Marc Taro Holmes! *Contest ends January 31, 2017.

Marc Taro Holmes is the author of The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location (2014) and appears in the four-part video series on Urban Sketching beginning with Urban Sketching: Drawing and Painting in a Travel Journal

Marc blogs about drawing and painting at He is the Montreal correspondent on, and was recently elected to the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour

You may also like these articles:

59 thoughts on “Winter Survival for Urban Sketching

  1. SinkThePink

    The Old Market in downtown Omaha, NE (USA) has a lot of great old buildings and surrounding restaurants, bars, and coffee houses that all make fantastic vantage points for sketching at your leisure while in the comfort of the great indoors.

  2. Scoto

    We are lucky in San Antonio Texas, there are many place along the river walk that you can be warm and dry while sketching people as well as the river scene, on of these is The San Antonio Museum of Art. So you can draw inside, outside you have the river as well as art. There is the hotel Emma and all of the Pearl a restored Brewery that has many interesting buildings and once again the river, these are just two of many people friendly places to draw.

    1. Elainee

      One great lookout is the Faculty of environmental studies at university of Montréal at 2940 Côte Sainte Catherine road. Anywhere on the main floor looking in the in-seize courtyard where reflections of the old school windows to the curtain wall of the workshops. Anywhere inside in, great volumetric perpectives from the central steel staircase and fourth floor in the workshop glassed wall space overlooking South to the Ernest Cormier yello brick building atop the Mount Royal.
      The cross over to HEC and explore all the space and views from all corridors and exits to inside roof top courtyards, exterior atrium. Check the views from the library mezzanine.
      Have fun in and old and contemporary environment.

  3. richard4155

    I have been trying to take quick snapshots of local city scenes so that i can save my bacon and not sit out in -15 degrees trying to paint. My water cup freezing over, brushes getting stuck to the paper, just generally being a mess; more so than usual. I get back to my desk and the pics never look the same and I have to do more setup work. Winter is my favorite time to paint.

  4. Jeff_Clicks

    In Milwaukee, we are lucky that we have many old public buildings. Our City hall has fantastic architecture and some nice places to sit. Our Public Museum is great as well. Colectivo Coffee at numerous locations have nice views, and the one in Wauwatosa has a nice outdoor Firepit (Gas) that is running all the time.

    1. kbrown

      Actually, I have not done any urban sketching, but I’m intrigued by the idea! Frederick, Maryland has some interesting architecture and a walkway along a canal. I believe it might be possible to find a comfy chair near a window in the public library to look out at nearby buildings and the arched bridge crossing the waterway.

  5. CDH

    The glass enclosed elevator at the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie. Beautiful and ever-changing views of the Hudson River as you go up and down and up and down and up and……
    I’ve got to become a faster sketcher.

    1. kvburg

      One of my favorite winter sketching spots is inside the Alaska Ferry Terminal in Bellingham, Washington. Tables are set up next to a large dome window which has great views of the Alaska Ferry or the large sailing ship, the Zodiac, when they are in port, the wharf, the dry dock for ship maintenance, various other boats and activities, not to mention many people sketches inside the terminal.

  6. hanleyhe

    In Chicago, a number of indoor sketching places when the weather is bad as it can be similar to Montreal conditions, all of these I have gone to multiple times weekly sketching with a sketching buddy:
    – inside the Cultural center, free and stunning architecture
    – inside the French market, lots to see of people, food, vendors
    – inside the big Whole Foods on Kingsbury , has a open food area and also views to the Chicago River
    – in the Norstrom bridge mall, or the Norstrom shoe department, they were very welcoming to us on a weekday
    – Architectural artifacts on Ravenswood, call ahead to check they are open and do not have an event scheduled .
    – iFly indoor flying place, lots of fun to watch people and instructors, very welcoming too.

  7. kateraed

    Things you could do anywhere: sketch in church. Sermons give plenty of time, and most are churches (at least, the Episcopal churches I attend) are pretty distinct and interesting. Priests just think you’re taking notes 🙂

    In Seattle — The Edgewater Hotel has a restaurant, or you can grab coffee in their gift shop and grab a eat in their lobby. It overlooks the Sound and towards West Seattle — great for broad landscape practice and changing water/skyscapes

  8. Tamar

    I like the view from the Starbucks store in Uniqlo on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. Not just a great view but you can also warm up with a cup of coffee when the weather is not great:)

  9. sketchn

    I go to a crafting group once a week where each person works on any craft and item they chose. I like to sketch people sitting in the room working on projects. I also like to sketch the implements they use.


    I’m not in an incredibly cold location, but the weather does get inclement enough that I won’t be terribly inspired to head outside. On days like this I like to use my car as a mobile studio and seek out places that I can drive up to and get a decent view of and not stay in one place for too long (parks, parking lots, etc.). An added plus: the mosquitoes can’t get to me!

  11. Sue

    As a new urban sketcher, I love Marc’s posts and find him inspirational! I had to laugh about this one though. I am in beautiful sunny south Florida and winter is the ideal time to be enjoying outdoor sketching; in fact, it is nice outside all year round. However, in the subtropical summer, we do get afternoon downpours, so it is too wet to sit outdoors! So my favorite indoor spot for a rainy afternoon is Boca Raton Town Center Mall – lots of comfy seating areas, bathrooms and food outlets available nearby, and shoppers, salesclerks, storefronts, fountains and plants to sketch! There are even spots to sit and see the parking area to sketch cars and people in the rain.

  12. Wfdesign

    Chicago is very cold and windy in winter so plein air is pretty much out. I find that a great resource to indoor sketch is a place like Architectural Artifacts that has a great variety of subjects to sketch. It’s a facility that has 3 floors of antiques,architectural and art pieces of all kinds. Very interesting subject matter. The owners have no objection to Urban Sketchers spending time there.

  13. Archanashankari

    Coffee shops are great and we have plenty of those here in the twin cities. I like the corner ones with large windows with a clear view of the street outside. Museums are nice too especially the smaller ones focussing on dioramas, science, railroads etc. But be warned you might need prior permission and some of them dont allow wet media. I always have a small sketch kit in my car and sometimes i do small/quicker sketches sitting in my car.

  14. Deb H

    I am a total ‘newbie’ as far as urban sketching goes. I’m a bit shy about sketching in public. I tend to sit with my back to a wall and quietly draw. I’m not sure, but I think that’s a symptom of my PTSD… not wanting anyone to sneak up behind me. I get very involved in my sketching and am not aware of my surroundings… so to be safe, I make sure my back is against a hard surface. Any way… sketching indoors looking out… one great place around me is in the IKEA dining area, Elizabeth, NJ… exit 8A on the Turnpike. The large windows look out over Newark airport, and surrounding city. It’s warm, there are bathrooms, food… and no one bothers you or asks you to leave. Take off your coat, spread out your supplies, and ‘have at it’.

  15. visualflaneur

    Those sound like great places! I am still happy that it isn’t as cold here in SF. Still, I just found a lovely view out of the new MOMA that is begging to be sketched!

  16. Deeorbra

    I am so jealous of you Urban Sketchers because we dont have one in our town! Your art is so wonderful and freeing. I love to see you posts and dream of the day that I think I might be a 10th as good so that I might go out and draw in public. Thanks for the posts and wonderful job!

  17. MorningWaters

    I found the Jury room at the Capitol of California (Sacramento) had a wonderful panoramic view of the city and helped pass the time while waiting to be called (or not) for duty.

  18. PR

    My favorite cozy spot (other than my car) is the Red Mill in Waupaca County, Wisconsin. You can have a seat for as long as you want right above the water in an old mill and look downstream at a covered bridge and woodland chapel. “Urban” where I live means any place with a man-made structure. We’re not too fussy about architectural style.

  19. Jim Purcell

    Thanks Marc and other contributors for some valuable recommendations. Sharing seems to be a strong common denominator for Sketchers. I too have an aversion to a $7 cup of coffee, but I’ve come to reconcile it by thinking of it as rent, with utilities, for a comfortable space.

  20. zuzala

    Today in NYC it was 60 degrees and I was lucky enough to be able and sit at a bus stop on 5th avenue and paint Cartiers. While you article had some great ideas, I’ll take a January day like this over a million great ones!
    I love the hotel lobby idea, never thought of that one, thanx!

  21. pastelpaint16

    My favorite spot for urban winter sketching is the Denver Botanic Gardens tropical conservatory. Not only are the lush plants great subjects to draw, the warm humid atmosphere makes it feel like a mini-vacation to the tropics.

  22. froldt

    Always love seeing Marc’s sketches!
    Recently, I’ve been picking my wife up from work at the local hospital and passing the time in the cafeteria. A cup of coffee is about a dollar, or I can bring my own in a thermos. There are always people moving through lines, sitting to eat, etc so I’ve been getting good sketch time in.
    While in college, I found some great spots to sit and draw. While there were always people moving there were also sculptures, and interesting architecture to keep me interested. Whether in the library, up in one of the office buildings’ waiting rooms or just tucked into a corner, no one ever bothered me and you just had to look like you belong to gain access!

    1. pastelpaint16

      My favorite spot for winter urban sketching is the Denver Botanic Gardens tropical conservatory. Not only are the lush plants great subjects to draw, the warm humid atmosphere makes it feel like taking a mini-vacation to the tropics.

  23. oooman55

    Gorgeous sketches as always, Marc, thank you! The different perspective from upstairs is cool.
    My best place to sketch in cold weather is right from my kitchen window. It’s not as exciting as city living -well maybe it is- but I love how the trees and plants change through the seasons. We live in a small town and our backyard is quite wild, lots of critters come around, too.

  24. dkillebrew

    always enjoy the tips and trick from Marc. Watch him regularly and would love the supplies and a copy of his book. Living in Texas we can usually pick and choose our nice days to go out and sketch, our bigger problem than the cold is the heat in August. Take lots of water!

  25. TwoDove

    I love Marc’s drawings and paintings. I’m a relatively new student but working hard. Unfortunately I live in Southern California where we have a few mission structures, but not much in the way of beautiful, ornate structures in Montreal or other great places in the world. But I have gone down to Pacific Coast Highway in my town (Huntington Beach), which runs up and down the coast largely right by the ocean. We now have many new elaborate hotels that have sprung up along PCH overlooking the ocean. While architecture is very limited, one can surely find many interesting viewpoints of beach goers, palm trees and beautiful sunsets, not to mention sketching the hotels themselves.

  26. bgillca

    I’ve been carrying sketchbooks around to various vacation destinations, but always got bogged down with materials & taking too much time. Just started using Marc’s lessons and finding my speed picking up and am off to developing both drawings and confidence. As for drawing in winter, a nice cafe with a window makes for ideal drawing time (coffee splashes are bonus)

  27. Wayne

    These drawings are extremely inspirational and helpful. For me to see how I can do less on a sketch w/ color and use line work – that doesn’t have to be perfect – for intent is very helpful.

  28. TJStudios

    Sketching from the car is great during the cold months. When it’s nicer I head for coffee shops, the library (Pikes Peak Library District) has some great windows, or other public venues. A recent trip to the public area of the Broadmoor Hotel was excellent.

  29. princebill

    A challenge we have just down the road in Vermont is the lack of vistas near the cafes in our sparse cities proper, which can force one out into the streets, swaddled in all the winter gear you can muster. The blustery winds down Church Street also put your setup at risk of a snowy fall as well.

    Luckily one of the things we are blessed with are stunning views from many of the Chalets and Ski Lodges the state offers. Either sketching from restaurants on the top of the mountain (looking at Jay Peak), pulling over to quickly outline a panoview from slopeside or even taking the lift around twice to catch one more look at the valley below; there’s no shortage of breathtaking natural subjects.

  30. walarts

    You always come up with some interesting ideas for our group so we can continue to sketch even in the worst of times. Although our worst on Whidbey Island is probably not so bad compared to Toronto. Any thoughts of coming to South Whidbey to enjoy the scenery? Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio schedules artist classes with artists from all over.

  31. Ssmile

    Interesting article. I am disappointed that the giveaway that accompanies this article by a Canadian author about Urban Sketching in a Canadian citizen is not open to Canadians.

    As stated in the article: “As an extra bit of fun, ArtistsNetwork is going to do a prize drawing*! (U.S. residents only, sorry. But we’re sure you understand–due to the shipping and such.)” I don’t really understand. Shipping is not that expensive.

  32. Adriana Guidi

    There’s a few hidden places here in the San Fernando Valley that I didn’t realize were there; really lovely spots hidden from the main drag,full of lakes and greenery. I love to sketch there! Also I’m sort of a traveling painter,so anywhere I can take out my sketchbook like our local diners are great places to capture people.

  33. greerdeneen

    In frigid Wisconsin, the icy weather encourages FAST outdoor sketches followed by an escape to a cozy coffee shop to splash on a little color – all while endeavoring not to accidentally dip my watercolor brush in my latte!

  34. Catek2652

    I have found I can sit in just about any McDonald’s Restaurant with my lunch and sketch whatever I see out the window. Not very special, but easily accessible by just about everyone.

  35. Shabo5

    There are a couple of small towns on the Kitsap Peninsula (Washington State), Port Gamble and Poulsbo, that have charming buildings and views to draw. Across the Hood Canal Bridge is Port Townsend and it, too, has charm and views one could spend hours sketching.

  36. dragonflywoman

    My favorite spot is a window seat at my small town’s Collegetown Bagels. From there I can people-watch and see the interesting old buildings of Restaurant Row.

    I would love to be in Montreal right now to explore some of those urban sketching environments.

  37. jonesy1260

    Hi all! I happen to live in St Louis, home of the Gateway to the West, the St Louis Arch. From the top of the arch, it seems like one can see into forever. Each time I go up, I notice something completely different. That’s a perfect place to do some sketching, or really, most buildings in downtown St Louis. So much happening, so many historical landmarks. Also, a huge park here, Forest Park, is home to cool sites like our History Museum, and ice skating rink. Plenty to sketch from the inside, and outside.

  38. LifeOfBrian

    That cathedral drawing is very good-looking and it feels natural. I remember making a sketch of a Cologne cathedral – A rather complex structure, so it was really no more than a mere sketch. I found it useful sometimes to familiarize myself with a spot through some pre-made drawing, like a coloring page – It gives me a foundation, in case I am unsure of my abilities.


      The Lobby of the Riffe, (Vern Riffe Center for Government & the Arts, First Floor Lobby
      77 S. High Street, Columbus, Ohio ) provides an excellent winter urban sketching environment. It has large windows and on the second floor you can see both north and south up the main street in Columbus, High Street. Also it is across from the Capitol Building..