Ahh, the simple joys of sketching

As an architect and designer, the skill and/or talent of sketching is paramount. However, not all need this skill. I am reminded of so many positions within the profession of architecture and building for which the need for using a pen and paper is limited. To me, though, it is invaluable to be able to quickly sketch the essence of an interior, a change to an exterior under construction, or to take their idea of a fireplace detail, for instance, and translate my client’s words into a picture on paper. They appreciate this.


Contractors appreciate it, as well as the structural engineers with whom I work. The ability to take mental pictures or words from a discussion and create a three-dimensional image allows design solutions, construction details and challenging on-site situations to easily be understood by all.


It is with years of practice that I have come to a point where I feel totally at ease with my skill level when sketching in front of my clients. Take a look at a few sample sketches which are included in a flip-book toward the top of this page.


Yes, I drew a bit as a kid but it was in college that I really began practicing the art. While attending graduate school, my class of rag-tag co-eds would take a week each year and travel together to study architecture. One of the purposes of these trips, however, was merely to sketch…for hours. We traveled to Seattle and Portland, Chicago and the Yucatan. We called them “Sketching Safaris” – shooting architecture with pen and paper.


Between classes and on weekends throughout my college years, wherever I might have been, I’d take a sketchbook with me to document a building or a detail. I have sketches from all over North America. In fact, due to my practicing incessantly, I was awarded a traveling fellowship and was able to sketch in Italy for three months. My mother-in-law even made wonderful books of handmade paper and covers for my sketching safaris. In my office I continue to build upon my collection of sketchbooks, filling each one – sometimes two at a time.


The key to feeling at ease with sketching in front of clients, builders or engineers, as with nearly anything, is practice. Here are some tips that I found work well for me:


  • The more you do it, the more fluent you become. Practice.
  • Keep it simple. Go for the essence of the desired image.
  • Try to sketch this essence in just a few minutes so you do not make your clients or building crew wait too long for the result. I believe a sketch should take no longer than 2-4 minutes.
  • Don’t strive for perfection. Your client understands “it’s just a sketch” and will be thrilled with even a crummy sketch that gets the point across.
  • Purposefully give the pen a little jiggle so that the perfectly straight line (of which most people cannot achieve anyway) is never really a goal. Exploit and embrace your imperfect lines.
  • Run the lines a little long. Extend the ends of each line over the previous intersecting line.
  • Imagine what the image might be like on a bright, sunny day – used primarily for exterior images – and add a quick darkening scribble eluding to a shadow and giving some depth to the image. Try this idea with an interior sketch, too.
  • For parts of your image that would be closest to the viewer, run over the lines a few times to make them a bit heavier.
  • Don’t be afraid to add a little artistic license when sketching for pleasure. Have some fun and augment elements that make the composition better.


While there are books and schools devoted to drawing, with a little practice and an occasional encouraging word from a client or consultant, you too will experience the freedom to express ideas with just pen and paper. Now, off to try my new iPad sketching program, “Pen & Paper.” I think I can use it during my next presentation!