April 13, 2021

Draw like an Architect – Essential Tips

Hey, Eric here with 30X40 Design Workshop, in this video, I’m going to walk through a few essential tips you can use to improveyour architectural drawing technique.

We’ll start with what I think is the mostimportant one: line weight.

Line weight is simply how thick or thin thelines on the page are.

Line weight in drawing actually exploits anatural phenomenon known as atmospheric perspective where objects which are closer to us are renderedin higher contrast and appear darker to our eyes.

The farther something is from you the moreatmosphere between you and the object which reduces contrast, reduces color saturationand detail; all which have the combined effect of lightening things in the background.

Architectural drawings, which are primarilytwo-dimensional, look more natural when we exploit this effect and using a variety ofline weights mimics it pretty convincingly.

Consider for a moment how you react to a lecturedelivered in a monotone voice.

It’s boring right? You stop listening because there’s no textureor color or interest; no emotion.

Line weights are like inflection in speaking, they create depth, hierarchy, and clarity in our drawings.

They signal what’s important, tell the viewerwhere to look and they organize the information on the page.

And this applies to both sketches and technicaldrawings alike.

So, how can you use them? Well, thick lines in a drawing carry a lotof weight.

They show what’s most important, typicallywhat the drawing is cutting through, what’s closest to the viewer in the foreground, silhouetteswe want to call attention to and they can also signify heavy materials like stone orconcrete for example.

Thin lines by contrast are fainter and appearfarther away – in the background.

Use thin line weights to render textures, lighter materials and generally highlight less important objects or supporting information.

In between the two are medium line weights, which make up the middle ground of the drawing.

If we simply distill drawings into foreground, middle ground and background this is a good basic starting point for selecting line weights.

For sketches I use three weights at a minimum:a lead pencil, an ultra fine point Sharpie, and a Sign pen.

So, a fine light grey, a medium black, anda thick, heavy black.

Each of these can be further varied by usingthicker or double strokes, or by varying the pressure applied in the case of the pencil.

Or, you might also use a harder or softerlead.

To add even more variety, we use dashed ordotted lines to represent hidden objects or to suggest special centerings, things likethat.

Now, a couple of quick tips.

Pay attention to how you move your pen orpencil.

You always want to pull the pen or pencilalong the page, not push it.

Larger, more fluid motions are preferableto small ones.

Move your arm in a fluid motion, don’t justpivot at the wrist.

Lock the wrist to your arm and move the penor pencil with your entire arm.

The best thing you can do is to be confidentin the stroke on the page, you can even add a little waver in it which gives it that imperfect, sketchy quality.

I recommend intentional longer strokes overshort dashes.

Corners are important to getting you the lookof architectural sketches right; corner lines should overlap just a bit.

Be careful not to cut them short as that justsort of looks sloppy.

Just a little overlap lends it a crisp, intentionalfeel.

And one last thing: for sketching media Iprefer trace to almost anything else unless I’m traveling or hiking and then I’lluse a sketchbook.

Architects use tracing paper because designis naturally an iterative process.

If you make a mistake on the base layer, simplyroll out another sheet and sketch over it.

Layer upon layer will help you refine yourideas and your sketching style and it should remind you that sketches don’t have to beperfect.

You want to optimize for results, rather thanperfection.

Now, I like to begin with the lightest linework in graphite and block everything in the drawing out first defining the compositionand major shapes.

The lightest lines serve as your layout linesand background information.

You can use these to set grid lines, drawperimeter outlines, basically anything in the background and places you may want tofill in with more detail later.

Keep these loose but intentional.

Once the light line work is done, begin layeringon your medium line weights.

These will make up most of the drawing andare closer to you than the background information you just sketched.

This is everything in the middle ground ofthe drawing.

I’ll usually outline the major window openingsshown in elevation, then the cuts through doors or windows.

Maybe floor planes or stairs and railingsin the distance, figures in section, sight lines, the trees outside, vegetation.

When that’s complete, I move on to the thickestlines.

Thick line weights outline the perimeter ofwhatever the drawing is cutting through.

I also use them for building outlines, andanything I want to emphasize.

In a plan sketch this would be the outer perimeterof the walls, in a section, the cut line of the walls, floors, ceiling and roof planes, and in a site plan the overall building outline or a silhouette in a perspective.

Once it’s looking like something, you cancome back and add in textures.

I’ll do this using the lead pencil for finerdetail and light accents, indicating fasteners or vegetation indications or furniture tooand the ultra fine point Sharpie I’ll use for concrete or heavier materials.

When you’re done, squint your eyes.

If you’re able to see different information- that is – darker lines jump out – you know you’re on the right track.

Now ask yourself, “Is it the right information?” “Is it saying the things I want it to say?” It should make sense to you and add clarityto the drawing not be confusing.

Do like materials have like renderings andsimilar line weights? Ultimately, you’ll have to experiment todevelop your own style but the goal is to begin adding depth to your drawing and lineweights are a real shortcut for doing this.

Now, when we transition to digital drawingon the computer, these techniques still apply.

I use a rudimentary form of AutoCAD, but itdoesn’t matter if you’re using REVIT, ArchiCAD, Draftsight, or SketchUp, or whetherthey’re never printed and only viewed on screen: your drawings need to utilize differentline weights.

If every line on the page has the same valueand weight you’re doing it wrong.

A drawing that looks good will communicateyour ideas better.

Begin by subdividing each drawing into foreground, middle ground and background, and use – at a minimum – three line weights to communicatedepth.

Next up is shade and shadow.

I use shading on nearly every drawing to indicatelayering of systems, glazing, and changes in surfaces or materials.

Shading two-dimensional drawings can aid insomeone’s understanding of the relationships between elements.

On floor plans, the shading that fills wallassemblies we refer to as: poche and it doesn’t always have to be black.

I use a gray tone, which not only conservesink, but – I think – is easier on the eyes.

I’ll use differing values of gray in allmy CAD drawings, generally ten percent for light toning, twenty percent for medium backgrounds, sixty percent for medium tones and eighty percent for the darkest for things like fillingin the walls on floor plans.

Shading works in conjunction with varyingline weights to add depth.

When you’re sketching, I find the best wayto shade is with a set of gray markers – either warm or cool gray.

I’ve put the ones I use in the info cardabove.

In CAD you’ll use hatches or built-in renderingeffects like ambient shadows to create shade and shadow or you can fake them in Photoshopusing adjustment layers and masks.

Scale and entourage.

Setting the building in proper context helpsthe viewer understand the overall size of your work in relation to something else ofknown size.

For scale, we all understand the human proportion, so people – in silhouette – are an easy first choice.

Vehicles are good too, especially if you’redesigning for them in let’s say a boat house, or a garage or site plan.

Entourage is basically anything you add toyour drawing to give it life, to set the stage or introduce action.

Furniture, equipment, vegetation, skies, animals, birds, foreground objects, and backgrounds.

For me, entourage can even help incite ideasabout how to move a design forward.

Backgrounds and foregrounds add depth to thedrawing.

Now, I’ve put a few links to the entourageresources that I like in the description below.

Now let’s look at a few of my architecturaldrawings to show you these techniques in practice.

The layout of the page is organized to correlatethe elevation views with the floor plan views.

So, at the top I have the elevation views, and you’ll notice that the line weights and types have all been selected to highlightwhat’s important.

The silhouette and the ground cut line getthe darkest weights, then there’s shadow on the wood storage area and eaves and theprojections like the barn doors.

The windows are all shaded too and I likedoing this as it accurately simulates the real-world experience of architecture in thedaytime where we perceive windows as dark planes.

Layered behind the elevations I’m usingthe atmospheric perspective technique to indicate the wooded context of the structure, whichhelps to set the building in three-dimensional space.

Notice the line weight at the roof for a second.

The front edge is thick and then at the rakeend, it tapers from being thick at the front eave edge to thin at the ridge.

Note too, the use of dashed lines for slidingdoors or pivot points on the awning window or the hidden foundation.

The base flashing is shaded a different tonethan the glass and I’ve added a scale Corbusier Modulor man too.

Together these effects make the building silhouettesstand out.

Moving over to the plans, we see that theouter wall edge which is the extent of what we’re cutting through is assigned the thickestline weight.

From there I’ll use lighter line weightsto indicate thicknesses of wall materials, like framing and finishes as well as windowsand doors.

On floor plans and elevations I’ll usuallyassign materials like wall shingles, floor boards, tile and decking very light line weights– usually a ten percent screened gray tone on a hatch layer.

And, furniture gets a place in most of myplans as it indicates use and scale, but I’ll use a lighter line weight for it.

Shading on the floor plan here indicates theconcrete finish and helps set off the furniture layout a little bit.

You’ll see that I like to separate the notationon my drawings from the line work using red as it’s another way of creating clarityand hierarchy in a drawing.

This could also be done using shades of grayif you’d like too.

I vary the line weight of the notations too, see the detail indicators? They have thicker lines in places as do thedoor and window tags.

It’s a slight difference, but it feeds intothe overall hierarchy of the drawing.

Does it pass the squint test? Now, I think it does, but see what you think.

What do you think could be improved? In the end, it’s not about copying my drawingstyle or anyone else’s.

It’s about developing your own and the bestway to do that is by seeking out the architectural drawings you like and try and replicate theirresults.

Study their commonalities, how do they differfrom the way you draw? Some of my favorites are found in the Detailin Contemporary Residential architecture books or Detail magazines; all the German stuff.

See the info card above.

If you found this video helpful, please tapthe thumbs up below, it helps me grow the channel and lets me know I’m making thethings you’re interested in.


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