Before we go to the actual tips, let’s talk about some tools of the trade real quick:
Almost 100% of my sketches are created using two pens. I use the Sharpie Permanent Marker – ‘Ultra Fine Point‘ for my thin lines and the ‘Fine Point‘ for my profile (heavy) lines. I use a 12″ wide x 50 yard long roll of trace paper, and an architectural scale (which is used to measure out dimensions as I sketch and I use the edge to tear the trace paper off the roll). On occasion, I will use a an Alvin 10″ Parallel Glider but normally only when I am sketching out dimension floor plan concepts.
It drives me slightly crazy to have a roll of trace paper constantly rolling away when I am trying to sketch. A tip I learned from my current partner, some 20+ years ago, was to smash the roll slightly so that the tube gets crushed. Instead of the roll being round, it’s now oval-shaped and won’t roll away. It also helps me know which rolls of trace paper in the office are mine. Just some food for thought …
So let’s get to it – here are 5 Tips and Techniques that should improve your architectural sketches
TIP #01: “The Hit-Go-Hit”
The ‘Hit-Go-Hit’ tip is a way for you to pick up and set your pen back down on the page as you’re drawing in a purposeful manner. Why would you need to do something like that you ask? Well, tip #02 will elaborate a bit more (come to think of it, Tip #02 should really be the first tip in terms of importance but I’m not going to remake the graphic) but whenever you are drawing a straight line, you’ll frequently find that you need to repositioned your arm, or the paper, to continue drawing. Make that reset look intentional and add some graphic flair with this technique.
If you use this ‘Hit-Go-Hit’ technique, you’ll find that your straight lines will actually become a lot straighter. It’s kind of amazing to see the difference a sketch with straight lines looks over one that’s all squidgy and wonky. (yes, those are real architectural words in case you’re wondering …)
TIP #02: “Don’t Move your Pen/Pencil by Bending Your Wrist or Elbow”
I should also point out that you shouldn’t “push” your pen across the page, you should always “pull” it. Lock your wrist and elbow into a comfortable angle and only move your entire arm when sketching. As you get more skilled, this tip can be relaxed and you can first bend your elbow and ultimately your wrist. In the beginning, by limiting your movement to the entire arm, you’ll end up with straighter lines. And since you can only move your arm so far, that’s when the hit-go-hit technique comes in. Now all of a sudden you realize that you need to reset your pen on the page more often than you did previously.
sketches have straight lines in them – which really does make a big difference.
TIP #03: “Incorporate the Use of Pen Weight”
This technique is a biggie … you have to use line weight to help convey depth to your sketch. More gifted sketchers and take care of depth using hatches and shading techniques so eventually that’s something you can take on. In the meantime, use two pens and get some profile lines into your sketches. Don’t know what profile lines are? You need to know and I strongly recommend that you pick up a copy of ‘Architectural Graphics‘ by Francis D.K. Ching. I’ve had my copy since 1986 and still look at it from time to time. Ching’s book (along with my studio professors) taught me how to show profile lines – their use defines the look of my sketches as well as a generation of other architects.
Another benefit to using a heavy pen is that it can help show you what you should be looking at – what the point of the sketch might be. Multiple pen weights help the viewer understand the order of things within the drawing, and through proper technique, they can also show to the viewer what’s not important in the sketch.
TIP #04: “Intersect Your Lines at the Corners”
This is pure style and allows the inexact nature of a sketch to come across as what it is – a delineated representation of a thought or concept. Sounds a bit like architectural mumbo-jumbo but it really isn’t. The inexact nature of the sketch – when attempted to be exact – looks sloppy and, well … inexact. By allowing your lines to cross at the corners, you can still convey the thought (or shape) you are going after, without having to focus on making the shape perfect. There is a “in-the-moment” that sketches imply and if you look at the two rectangles illustrated above, I think the one on the left looks far better despite the fact that it is far less precise or exact than the rectangle on the right.
I think this crossing of lines at the corners is a carryover from when I used to hand-draft with a pencil. The beginning and end of a line had slightly darker marks than the middle of the line and they accentuated the edges very crisply. Just about every line I have ever drawn by hand in the last 20 years crosses at the corner – take that for it’s worth.
TIP #05: “Trace Paper isn’t Precious … Draw in Layers”
Design is an additive process so why shouldn’t your sketch be as well? Since most of my sketches happen on trace paper and not in a sketch book, I am able to lay sketch upon sketch on top of one another to build up and refine my sketches. I may start with a clean piece of trace paper for every sketch, but it’s only that first sketch that doesn’t have the benefit of something prior to work from.
A lot of the sketches I draw are the result of several iterations of tracing … one idea superimposed over the other. Tracing allows me to take advantage of my previous work while experimenting with new ideas and concepts.
Architects sketch as part of the process when doing their job . There are many different styles and techniques that architects use when graphically working through problems.
Drawing Like an Architect
You don’t have to draw well to be an architect!! Sure it doesn’t hurt but let’s pull the curtain back and be honest here for a minute. Architects communicate through drawing , we aren’t making art.
Your Sketches Speak for Themselves
With the prevalence of computer 3 dimensional software, fewer and fewer graduates from the design profession are entering the “real” world with the ability to hold a pen, pencil, paintbrush – whatever – and work through their ideas, explore concepts, or sit across from a client and communicate through drawings.
Architects should sketch. You may not think you are very good at sketching but if it helps you work through your thoughts, I would argue that you are in fact, very good at sketching.