Many architects enjoy and are accustomed to sketching. But for others, particularly young people just starting their jobs and students, it may feel like the scourge of their existence. Why am I unable to make a straight line? Why are my structures so level? Why does that window seem to be floating in the air? Why can everyone else do this but not me?

Although drawing is a valuable talent, architects are not artists. This is not to argue that creating architectural designs is not an art form but rather that we frequently use drawing as a tool to achieve a goal. Our sketches are mostly used to convey concepts; they rarely need to be flawlessly executed or dazzlingly original.

What actually matters regarding architectural sketching will be outlined in this post. It will outline some typical categories of architectural sketches and provide a plethora of advice on how to get better. Remember that sketching is just one of many skills that an architect needs; drawing is one skill that almost everyone becomes better at with practice.

What Is Architectural Sketching?

Architectural sketching is simply the act of drawing structures, building components, or landscapes that include buildings. This might be done with a lightbox, a computer, or simply on paper. Of course, there is a lot more to it than that in reality.

Architectural sketches differ from, say, artist’s sketches in that they frequently depict their subjects from unusual angles (such as in a floor plan, which places the architect above a building, or in a section, which imagines a building cut in half), they frequently include scales and keys for cross-referencing information, and when hand-drawn, they typically use a specific size and type of paper.

What Does Architectural Drawing Serve As?

No matter who the audience is for the sketches—a coworker, client, contractor, or member of the public—the primary goal is to convey ideas. We need a visual “language” to explain architecture because it can’t really be discussed with words alone.

There are, however, a variety of additional reasons why architects create sketches. Sometimes, in order to better comprehend an existing structure or for future reference, we want to record it (this applies especially to hand drawings made on trips we are unlikely to make again). 

Like some writers claim to think by writing, we frequently utilize sketches to develop our ideas. And thus, while working on a project with other people, like engineers and constructors, we make drawings that serve as guides for them.

Why Is It Vital To Sketch Out Buildings?

It’s common to hear people characterize architecture as a career that combines creativity with utility. This also applies to architectural sketches. They enable us to express and develop our ideas, often in a very abstract way, while also demonstrating how they will function in practice. 

Long before any bricks are poured, sketches enable us to anticipate issues and devise solutions. Additionally, the speed of paper drawings allows us a lot of flexibility prior to using a computer. Consider how quickly initial concept sketches may be made and revised.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the architecture industry is more globally connected than ever. A strong sketch can communicate much more among a group of people who speak different languages than a timid verbal description.

What Advantages Do Architectural Sketches Offer?

Among the clear advantages of architectural drawing are:

It Helps You To Slow Down

Concept sketches can be completed quickly, but the majority of architectural drawings call for much more thought. Writing down your thoughts allows you to use both the creative and practical aspects of your brain, which makes it easier to work through problems in your thinking.

In The Long Run, Paper Sketching Actually Saves You Time

Drawing on a computer typically takes longer than drawing on paper for most individuals. You’ll spend a lot of time fixing errors if you sit down at your laptop without first sketching by hand; paper sketches enable you to identify issues early.

It’s The Most Effective Method Of Idea Generation

Consider how long it would take you to describe a structure in words, especially to someone who speaks a language other than your own. All you actually need for a sketch is a pen, some paper, and some basic sketching abilities (keep in mind that architectural sketches don’t have to be works of art). Drawing by hand is also inherently a collaborative process because a piece of paper may be shared around and changed as concepts solidify.

It’s Similar To Learning A New Language

You gain an extra visual language that you can use to communicate as your drawing abilities advance. Drawing is a wonderful brain exercise, just like learning Spanish or Chinese is, according to studies, and it will also make you a far better architect.

There are undoubtedly many more excellent reasons to sketch as well, not the least of which being that drawing itself is enjoyable and even contemplative.

Are Drawings By Hand Still Used By Architects?

They do still draw by hand, yes! It’s simple to imagine that paper sketches are a thing of the past with the advancement of computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM). However, for all of the aforementioned reasons, no real architect can perform their duties without them. 

Particularly, many architects discuss the significance of rapid concept sketches and bubble drawings, which are diagrams created early in the design process and help to organize space in testing and refining their ideas. However, a transfer from paper to computer occurs invariably later in the design process.

Do Architects Need To Have Sketching Skills?

Both yes and no are the responses. There is no escaping the fact that drawing is a crucial ability for architects: it’s how we interact with others, particularly in the early stages of the design process when a project is simply too complex to be addressed verbally. 

But drawing is a skill that can be learned via repetition. Although you don’t need to have the inherent artistic aptitude, you will need to put in the time to ensure that your paper drawings can convey the message you want them to.

If you find this off-putting, keep in mind that there are draughtsmen now, just as there were in the past, whose sole responsibility is to produce finished drawings in accordance with architectural specifications. 

Unless you decide to specialize in it, it is doubtful that you will be assigned exclusive responsibility for producing final sketches, and it is uncommon for an architect to have their drawings on the show for the general public. Nine times out of ten, sketching is only a tool in architecture.

Architectural Drawing Types

The primary categories of architectural drawings are shown below, some of which are created by hand and others by computer.

Workflow Diagrams

Working drawings are those that convey crucial information to be needed during building construction to scale. They comprise architectural drawings produced by architects, such as floor plans, site plans, elevations, and cross-sections, as well as assembly drawings frequently created by engineers and component drawings produced by experts like lighting designers.

Working drawings from the present day differ slightly from those from the twentieth century. In the past, a lot of information would fit on a single sheet of paper, but today it’s more likely that there would be numerous sheets for various building components, each with its own page of written specifications.

Detailed Diagrams

A set of working drawings may also contain detailed drawings. They enlarge a portion of a building to allow the visitor to observe intricate interactions between individual pieces and minute surface details up close. Scales of 1:10 or 1:5 are typically used when creating detailed drawings.

Survey Renderings

Land surveyors create survey drawings before architects create working drawings. In order for architects to know exactly where and how to build, they display the measurements of the land and structures that are already there.

Drawings for Presentations

To market your ideas to clients, presentation drawings are displayed to them. They typically depict buildings in their larger surroundings, together with things like automobiles and pedestrians, and are realistic.

In contrast to working drawings, they may use color and have hatching and rendering (to show shadow and texture). A specialized artist or designer may be used by architectural firms to produce their presentation drawings.

Archival Drawings

When architects are impressed by a specific structure and want to learn from it, they create record drawings of that structure. You’ve created a record drawing if you’ve ever traveled abroad and sat down to draw a skyscraper or church that attracted your eye. 

Today, it’s feasible to virtually tour some of the most well-known buildings in the world and learn how they were built, but someone with a penchant for every day will probably still have a notebook filled with illustrations of everyday objects. Additionally, they are created towards the conclusion of a project to represent a building’s actual appearance rather than how the working drawings predicted it would appear.

Developing And Learning Essential Architectural Sketching Skills

Perspective, which uses lines to simulate how the eye sees three-dimensional space in a two-dimensional image, is one of the key skills needed for architectural drawing. Three-point perspective is a technique used by artists to convey a realistic sense of a scene. 

This technique involves having three “vanishing points” (spots on the page where lines converge) in the scene. On the other hand, architects frequently employ a two-point perspective with two vanishing points. The illustration below demonstrates how various perspectives alter how an image appears:

It’s a good idea to practice perspective drawing on common household items before attempting to depict something as complicated as a building. It should quickly become instinctive if you do it little and often. Additional pointers for bettering your architectural drawing include:

Beginning With The Volume

Consider the structure as being made up of various three-dimensional shapes, such as cuboids, cylinders, cones, pyramids, and so forth. Lightly sketch these, then make adjustments to create more realistic and intricate forms.

Beginning With The Forms

A building could alternatively be thought of as a patchwork of two-dimensional shapes, such as squares, circles, triangles, and diamonds. Write these down, then connect the flat areas to add volume.

Beginning With The Edges

One more step down, try to imagine the structure as a collection of edges or lines. Mark them out lightly while considering their distances and lengths from one another, and then begin to add more information.

Begin With An Interest Of Yours

Draw the part of a building that most fascinates you first, then extend as far as you deem necessary. The more distant portions of the structure could simply require short markings to suggest them.

Limit Your Time

You’ll be familiar with this method if you’ve ever taken a life drawing class. Draw the same structure or scene in the same area throughout a range of time periods, such as two minutes, ten minutes, and then a half-hour or an hour.

Flex Your Entire Arm

A practical technique is to avoid moving your wrist or elbow when drawing. You can draw straight lines quite easily by using your entire arm.

Vary The Lines’ Weights

Without any variety in line weight, drawings fail to come to life. You can do this by using different pressure levels with the same tool to create varied line weights with pens (such as a fine and an ultra-fine marker), pencils (such as H pencils for thin lines and B pencils for thicker ones), or possibly even after you’re more experienced with drawing.

Play Around With Color

Adding color can help you step outside of your comfort zone by drawing attention to the way a building is lit.

Think Harmony, Not Symmetry

Unlike many buildings, balanced images are not always symmetrical. In actuality, symmetrical images often seem a little flat. Consider additional approaches to achieving harmony in your work, such as the use of the rule of thirds.

Your Ally Is Tracing Paper

Drawing on tracing paper is similar to using CAD layers in that you can make as many iterations of your design as you like or overlay various building components. You can move the sketch to a better paper after you’re satisfied and if necessary.

Where To Find Inspiration And Examples

The internet is the simplest location to find ideas if you’re stuck with your sketching (for example, 100 Architectural Sketches on archdaily.com or the extensive but no longer updated Tumblr blog Drawing Architecture). There is a big selection of architectural drawings on Pinterest as well.

Exhibitions are another excellent method to spark your imagination, whether they focus on architectural drawings (like those at the RIBA frequently do; the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London also organizes the annual Architecture Drawing Prize) or the creations of other types of artists. Drawing inspiration can also originate from photography, sculpture, textiles, and graphic design, in addition to other drawings.

Why stop at a gallery, though? Watch a motion picture with compelling architectural design (think 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Blade Runner films, or Grand Budapest Hotel). Go somewhere you’ve never visited, or just take a stroll through your neighborhood with the intention of seeing things differently. Get outside and enjoy nature; it has been inspiring people for thousands of years. Inspiration is all around us!

Essential Tools For Drawing

A person, not a piece of machinery, is the source of an excellent architectural sketch. However, you will need to spend money on a few high-quality things, such as:

Sharpie Pens

These pens produce a delicate line, as suggested by their name, making them ideal for sketching intricate architectural designs. Sakura’s Pigma Micron pens, which are available in a variety of nib sizes and whose ink is renowned for never bleeding, are used religiously by many architects.

Markers

In addition to fine liners, marker pens offer thicker strokes; always remember to switch up your line weights! Even though manga illustrations have a distinctive aesthetic thanks to refillable Copic markers, Sharpies are still a go-to for architects all over the world.

Obviously, there are occasions when you need to leave a less permanent impression. For their accuracy, robustness, and uniformity of line, mechanical pencils are preferred by some architects; yet, when contrasted to wooden pencils, they leave a fairly impersonal and cold finish. The former for technical sketching and the latter for more intuitive work may be kept close at hand.

Sketchbook

A sketchbook is necessary, whether it’s a traditional Moleskine or another brand that just fits you. Make sure the paper isn’t too thin; for pencil drawings, 75gsm is required, and for ink drawings, 100gsm. Going tiny can be appealing in terms of portability and price, but make sure the canvas is big enough for you to work comfortably.

Tracing paper As previously said, tracing paper comes in handy because it allows you to duplicate and edit prior works. An excellent tip is to slightly flatten the cardboard tube of rolls of paper if you find that they curl up as you draw.

Architect’s Scale (Aka Drafter’s Rule)

Everyone uses a slightly different ruler, even architects. The professional architect’s scale has three sides with two scales on each, and they are all typically constructed of metal (which, if properly maintained, lasts a lifetime). They do take some getting accustomed to, but once you do, you’ll find that they can really help you save time.

Tablet, Stylus, And Your Preferred Apps

In all likelihood, you’ll use technology to aid you in a significant portion of your sketching. Despite the existence of many good, less expensive alternatives (we have an entire essay comparing drawing tablets versus iPads here), Apple’s iPad is still regarded as the industry standard for tablets. A drawing stylus and a variety of apps that meet your needs are also required (see our previous post, The Best Apps for Architects, for a few ideas).

Books To Teach You How To Sketch Buildings

Drawing as frequently as you can help you become a better artist, but why not seek assistance from the pros as well? The publications listed below are all appropriate for architecture students, and Liz Steel’s is a delight for anyone with even a passing fascination with an architectural illustration.

  • Liz Steel’s “Five-Minute Sketching: Architecture” (aimed at the general public and known for its accessibility)
  • Architect’s Sketch by David Drazil (especially suitable for beginners)
  • Mo Zell’s Architectural Drawing Course
  • Francis D. K. Ching’s architectural illustrations
  • Architect David Dernie’s Drawing

Where To Locate Online Education And Fees

Many students are using online courses to sharpen their abilities because of the global uncertainties caused by Covid-19. Start in the following locations if you want to join them:

  • David Drazil, the author of the aforementioned book Sketch like an Architect, provides a self-paced, $99 (about £77) course with the same name on teachable.com that features video courses, worksheets, and a 60-page book.
  • AutoCAD crash course for architects, which features 20 videos and lasts just over three hours, is one of the courses available on skillshare.com. Another course is Watercolour Travel Sketchbook, which is also free and best suited for intermediate-level students.
  • The majority of the $20 to $40 courses on udemy.com are focused on developing computer-based drawing skills, and lastly
  • Edex.org and openculture.com present lists of free MOOCs offered by actual colleges throughout the world, many of which are related to architecture.

If you are interested in more articles like this, here’s one about what differentiate between and architectural firm and an interior design firm.