That we pass through life without really perceiving our surroundings has long been a commonplace. How can we cure ourselves of this regrettable condition? Before we can learn to notice more of what’s around us, we must have a process to test how much we already notice. Many artists and all architects already have one: drawing, the process of recording one’s perceptions directly onto the page. But while artists may take their liberties with physical reality — it isn’t called “artistic license” by coincidence — architects draw with more representationally rigorous expectations in mind.
Though we can heighten our awareness of the built environment around us by practicing architectural drawing, we need not learn only from architects. In the video at the top of the post, a Youtuber named Shadya Campbell who deals with creativity more generally offers a primer on how to draw buildings — or, perhaps less intimidatingly, on “architectural doodles for beginners.” As an example, she works through a drawing of Paris’ Notre-Dame cathedral (mere weeks, incidentally, before the fire of last April so dramatically altered its appearance), using a simple head-on viewpoint that nevertheless provides plenty of opportunity to practice capturing its shapes and filling in its details.
Below that, architect Llyan Austria goes a step further by introducing a few drawing practices from the profession under the banner of his “top six architecture sketching techniques.” Much of his guidance has to do with drawing something as simple — or as seemingly simple — as a line: he recommends beginning with the most general outlines of a space or building and filling in the details later, emphasizing the start and end of each line, and letting the lines that meet overlap. To get slightly more technical, he also introduces the methods of perspective, used to make architectural drawings look more realistically three-dimensional.
When you introduce perspective to your drawings, you have three types to choose from, one-point, two-point, and three-point. A drawing in one-point perspective, the simplest of the three, has only a single “vanishing point,” the point at which all of its parallel lines seem to converge, and is most commonly used to render interiors (or to compose shots in Stanley Kubrick movies). In two-point perspective, two vanishing points make possible more angles of viewing, looking not just straight down a hall, for example, but at the corner of a building’s exterior. With the third vanishing point incorporated into three-point perspective, you can draw from a high angle, the “bird’s eye view,” or a low angle, the “worm’s eye view.”
You can learn how to draw from all three types of perspective in “How to Draw in Perspective for Beginners,” a video from Youtube channel Art of Wei. Below that comes the more specifically architecture-minded “How to Draw a House in Two Point Perspective” from Tom McPherson’s Circle Line Art School. After a little practice, you’ll soon be ready to enrich your architectural drawing skills, however rudimentary they may be, with advice both by and for architecture professionals. At his channel 30X40 Design Workshop, architect Eric Reinholdt has produced videos on all aspects of the practice, and below you’ll find his video of “essential tips” on how to draw like an architect.”
In this video and another on architectural sketching, Reinholdt offers such practical advice as pulling your pen or pencil instead of pushing it, moving your arm rather than just pivoting at the wrist, and making “single, continuous, confident strokes.” He also goes over the importance of line weight — that is, the relative darkness and thickness of lines — and how it can help viewers to feel what in a drawing is supposed to be where. But we can’t benefit from any of this if we don’t also do as he says and make drawing a habit, switching up our location and materials as necessary to keep our minds engaged. That goes whether we have a professional or educational interest in architecture or whether we just want to learn to see the ever-shifting mixture of manmade and natural forms that surrounds us in all its richness.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.