As I zap through time, I remember walking in my architecture school for Architectural Sketching with no idea if I could actually draw. The only tools I had were a 2HB ordinary pencil and a clipboard (which I thought was a drawing board). Entering the room, I saw a boy stretch his arm, tilt his head and close one eye, but I could not understand what he was trying to do with a hundred pencils, all of them having the same lead according to me, and a weird pose. The invigilator looked at my clipboard and smiled, moved to a corner, and brought a gigantic board that I assumed was to knock some sense into me. I wanted to run out of the hall, but to my amusement, my years of drawing pen tattoos worked a miracle on my drawing test when I had to live sketch a sculpture.

I discovered my talent when I traveled to the UAE and planned to make a travel journal. The goal was to sketch the essence and the mood of the place instead of the details and who knew that I would be able to discover a whole new world beyond my imagination. Therefore, I have concisely summed up 15 tips for those of you who think they cannot sketch and for those who want to master it.

TIP 1 – Never underestimate the power of your hand | Architectural Sketching

Starting from the basics, you need to understand that a man’s hand can create wonders with tools it is comfortable with. There are certain angles at which your hand works best depending on what type of line you are trying to create. There are certain tools that suit your style best. There are places and spaces that enhance your mood and creativity. Consider your art as the manifestation of your thoughts through your hand.

TIP 2 – Know your tool

Firstly, knowing your tool does not mean that you stay loyal to just one option out there. It means to explore your options. There are a variety of instruments out there: brush pens, aqua color pencils, acrylics, poster paints, soft pastels, oil pastels, markers, drawing pens, ink, charcoal, etc. Sketching, necessarily, does not mean that you do it with a pencil. It is to blend your creativity with other mediums to capture the details and atmosphere of a place.

TIP 3 – Know your paper | Architectural Sketching

Talking from my experience, I can say that the paper quality and type can really make a difference in your sketching. Knowing your medium is step 1 to go big on your skill. Experiment with your medium and explore the paper type that works best for your stroke. For example, there are several types of textured paper, such as scholar, hot-press, cold-press, charcoal, newspaper, craft, mid-tone, etc. The type of texture helps define how your tool would move on it, what kind of a feeling it would produce, and how flexible you feel working on it.

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Know the paper ©

TIP 4 – Know your grip

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Know your grip ©

Defined by the Australian artist, there are four basic unique ways to equip your pencil, which determine the stroke, its weight on paper, the type of line, and the type of detail you are trying to portray. Moreover, you need to keep switching between your grip style in a sketch to bring more definition to it.

  • The basic tripod grip – helps you have a tight hold on your tool to get the fine details onto the paper;
  • The overhand grip – usually used for shading, helps you capture bold and blur details of the scenery or landscape to help create an environment;
  • The underhand grip – allows your hand to move freely with your wrist being the anchor, to create curvilinear geometry or organic forms;
  • The extended tripod grip – helps capture the bigger picture in a frame with your elbow acting as the anchor. It allows you to design or sketch your ideas freely on a greater canvas.

TIP 5 – Play with light and shadows

Light is one of the highlighted features in our world of architecture. Space cannot be realized if there is no light poured into it and complementing it. In sketching, we need to learn how to represent the different tones of our visualized scene. It can be done in three ways: by switching pencil grades, using different shading techniques, and chiaroscuro

  • Use of pencil grades: Use the lightest grade pencil to set your background (H, 2H, etc.); portray the dark tones to show volume by using higher grade pencils (B, 2B, 4B, etc.)
  • Use of shading techniques: There are multiple techniques to show the depth in your sketchings such as hatch lines, smudging, and pointillism.
  • Chiaroscuro: Often we develop sketches by considering the positive subject and object which eventually form the negative. Chiaroscuro is a technique that you can try using a monotone medium (chalk, charcoal, etc.) by sketching the negative first to form the positive image.

TIP 6 – Broaden your vision

Visualization is the real game in architecture and perspective is the trick. How you set an angle to visualize your idea, building or subject, dignifies your work. The multiple perspective techniques are based on the number of vanishing points you set and at the angle from which you are viewing, for example, zero-point perspective (for mountainous landscape), 1-point perspective, etc. 

TIP 7 – Reflect depth in two-dimensional

Whenever you are layering your idea or constructing spaces in your plan, especially in a multi-story building, it is necessary to work in different line-weights and line types. Firstly, you need to determine the size of your drawing pen or the grade of your pencil. The bolder the line, the closer or upfront the object is considered. Not only in sketching the line-weight also matters when you are making CAD drawings or perspective sections.

TIP 8 – Fears are to Embraced | Architectural Sketching

As much as we architects love to thrive for details and perfection in our work, sometimes it is just better to start messy. Do not be afraid if you cannot draw perfectly straight lines. The quality of a sketch is measured by the honesty and effort involved in it. The more you are open to embracing your mistakes, the more freely you can spill out your imagination and improve it later by detailing. The major tip is to cross the lines at the edges and not be afraid of squiggly lines.

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Santiago Beckdorf 7 ©

TIP 9 – Lay the Grid

To step further ahead into composing your ideas, your sketches on the paper, laying the grid might be a clever method to work on proportion scale and detail. Whether you are doing photography, sketching in 2D or 3D, or creating architectural drawings, the grid is the key to keep accuracy, proportion, and balance in your art. It helps create efficient spaces and forms on the rules of the golden ratio or Fibonacci spiral.

TIP 10 – Balance & Proportion 

Balance and proportion are essential tools in architecture. Every piece of art needs to be in harmony with its elements due to which one can never neglect the balance your sketch requires. Experiment with new ways of creating balance in your canvas and sketch by looking further into the types of balance (Bonus: do not be afraid of the whites). Whereas, you can never truly understand the scale and standard of the human figure or the building if your proportions are out of balance. The ancient temple architecture is a true example of it.

You might want to refer to the bibles of the architectural world: “Architecture. Form, Space, & Order by Francis D. K. Ching” and “Vitruvius The Ten Books On Architecture – translated by Morris Hicky Morgan”.

TIP 11 – Befriend the visual scale

Once you learn how to work on a grid with proportion, you will start to understand the theory of scale in architecture. The scale of a building has been used to denote its power and impact since the beginning of time. Therefore, it proves to continue making its effect on human psychology. While sketching, perceiving the scale visually is an art. Although there are techniques to set your measurements with the ‘candle grip’, take some time out to practice daily life objects to train your eye to perceive the image in a grid to set the scale on paper.

TIP 12 – Sketch a glimpse | Architectural Sketching

The best quality any architect has is his ability to be sensitive and observe his surroundings. Make it your routine to at least sketch 2 to 3 images in a day of a scene, space, or a building that you have absorbed in a glance, and try to get the maximum details down on the paper. Eventually, you will grow to cherish the little things in life and strive to develop them for a better user experience. This will help enrich your senses and your ability to perceive space. 

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Sketch a glimpse ©Wang, P. (2013)

TIP 13 – Layer your thoughts

Hard work or Smart work? Well, here is the trick for smart work! Working in layers is highly preferable in architecture, as this is the field that demands a REDO now and then. To save yourself from the extra effort and trouble of revisiting your design, you can simply work in layers by going from a minimal outline to a highly detailed drawing while having the opportunity to edit layers from between.

TIP 14 – Leave more to the imagination

However, we look for more intricacy as we continue to develop our design; it is necessary to leave a blank space for a surprise factor. There is no need to fill in all the details in your sketches. What excites the taste is the curiosity your artwork implements onto the mind of the viewer such that your canvas becomes an interactive display. Leaving an impression of a detail provokes the senses to assume the feeling of that particular place you have sketched.

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Leave more for imagination ©

TIP 15 – Categorize your journals | Architectural Sketching

Create different journals for your activities: studio, travel, practice, daily, art, etc. Make a habit of carrying your daily journal everywhere you go and capture the moment in your hand. Make an art journal to expand your creativity in your leisure time. Make a travel journal and collect souvenirs to keep your memory afresh. All of these will help develop an eye looking for beauty, meaning, and soul in everything it sees, and help develop a mind that perceives what is unseen to the naked eye.

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View from hotel window in Sharjah, UAE ©Syeda Neha Zaidi


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With an ambitious spirit to explore the world, Neha has embarked upon building her professional journey beginning from UAE, to Egypt, to what future holds next; to uncover the “extraordinary” in the places we see as ordinary keeping one eye ahead of the time and deeper into how architecture influences socio-culture, norms and behavior.