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Architecture Sketch Tips and Techniques

Sketching is a rough and light drawing or an outline of a picture or painting that is not yet complete. Despite technological advancements making architectural design work easier, sketching remains highly relevant and plays a crucial role for architects. The design process for architectural projects typically begins with a sketch.


Sketching is one of the easiest, fastest, and most cost-effective ways for architects to communicate their ideas to clients or colleagues. Architects only need paper and a pencil to start. Often, crucial decisions are made based on sketches, such as when finding solutions to construction issues on-site. Given the importance of sketching, here are some tips to enhance architectural sketching skills.


Choosing Drawing Tools

Select sketching tools based on functionality, comfort, and price. Try not to use too many drawing tools. A pencil, eraser, pen or marker, and paper are basic tools for creating sketches. Some architects even use cement paper when sketching on-site. For presentation purposes, additional drawing tools that make sketches more appealing to clients may be necessary.

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Selection of architectural sketch tools. Image by Adityuwana

Choosing Paper

Paper comes in various types, colors, thicknesses, and sizes. Match the type of paper with the drawing tools used. For conceptual sketches, floor plans, and spatial arrangements, I almost always use tracing paper or vellum, either in sheet or roll form. Using tracing paper allows me to easily draw a floor plan or site plan on top of a site image I have printed earlier. Another advantage is the ability to trace over the previous floor plan in case of errors. The use of tracing paper also enables me to observe every step of the changes from the initial floor plan to the final one.

Tips Sketsa Arsitektur, Aditya Yuwana
Tips Sketsa Arsitektur, Aditya Yuwana
Tracing technique for creating a site plan concept. Image by Adityuwana

Alternatively, I use a B5-sized dot grid notebook that is easier to carry around. It resembles a spiral-bound notebook that lays flat when fully opened, providing more freedom of movement for hands compared to plastic-bound or stapled ones that leave creases. Another advantage of the dot grid is that sketches appear cleaner while maintaining scale.

Tips Sketsa Arsitektur, Aditya Yuwana
Dot grid notebook. Image by Adityuwana

Types of Lines

To clarify information in a sketch, use various types of lines. Continuous thick lines are used for most objects in the sketch, while dashed lines are used for objects that are obstructed and located behind other objects. Thin lines, as axis markers or for objects in motion (such as the direction of a door opening), are also used. Thin lines with dots are used as cutting lines.

Teknik Sketsa Arsitektur, Aditya Yuwana
Type of line. Image by Adityuwana

Variation in Line Thickness

Interesting presentation drawings can result from sketching techniques that involve various line thicknesses. Line thickness serves as intonation, akin to sound. Imagine listening to a speaker with a monotonous and emotionless voice—it can be dull. Similarly, line thickness can bring dimension and serve as an indicator of the main and additional objects in a sketch. Line thickness can be achieved by selecting different types of drawing tools, usually marked with numbers (0.3, 0.5, 0.8, etc.).

Tips Sketsa Arsitektur, Aditya Yuwana
Line thickness variations. Image by Adityuwana

I apply variation in line thickness using four tools, which I find sufficient to produce diverse line thicknesses.


Solid Lines

Create solid, definite lines in a single stroke. Avoid using dashed lines in multiple strokes. To make long solid lines, use a ruler or move the pencil and your hand along the desired line. Avoid relying on the wrist.

Tips Sketsa Arsitektur
Solid line. Image by Adityuwana

To produce an engaging sketch, start with thin lines. Thin lines are easier to correct using an eraser and can be covered by thicker lines later. Main or closer objects are typically drawn with thick lines, while additional or more distant objects (including the background) are drawn with thin lines. Thick lines are also created for larger elements, while thin lines are used for detailed features (such as floor lines, hatching, shadows, roof curves, etc.).

Tips Sketsa Arsitektur
Thin line with a pencil. Image by Adityuwana

Overlapping

Architectural sketches are easily recognized by the intersection of two lines or angles, commonly known as overlapping. At each angle or intersection of lines, create lines with slight overlap to produce an interesting and dynamic sketch.

Tips Sketsa Arsitektur
Overlapping lines in the sketch. Image by Adityuwana

Shading

In addition to line thickness, shading techniques can bring dimension to architectural sketches. Shading is used for objects affected by and reflecting light. In two-dimensional images or sketches, the direction of incoming light must be determined from the beginning to determine the direction of shadow fall. The thickness and thinness of shadows are adjusted based on the proximity of the object to the light source. Objects closest to the light source are depicted with a brighter color than those farther away, usually indicated by varying shades of gray (20%-80%). Light gray is used for the side facing the light, while dark gray is used for the side not affected by light.

Tips Sketsa Arsitektur
The final result of the architectural sketch. Image by Adityuwana

Coloring

For added artistic flair, architectural sketches can use various colors depending on the object. For floor plans, I usually use green for grass and light blue for water. In perspectives, you can use a wider range of colors. Personally, I prefer using derivative colors, such as shades of red or gray. Alternative tools include brush pens, marker pens, or colored pencils.


Digital Sketching

Currently, there are many applications that make it easy for individuals to create digital sketches. The alternative tools are also diverse, ranging from pen tablets to computer tablets. Digital sketches have the advantage of an undo feature for corrections, which is a notable advantage over manual sketches. I will discuss digital sketching specifically in a future article.


Sketching Tools I Use

To create architectural sketches, here are some tools that I use:

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Architecture sketch tools. Image by Adityuwana

A. Canson Calque Millimetre A4 - For creating to-scale floor plans by tracing.

B. Dot-grid Notebook - Easy-to-carry notebook.

C. Bienfang Tracing Roll - For creating site plan concepts by tracing over printed site images.

D. Uni Kuru Toga Mechanical Pencil - The pencil tip rotates for even sharpness, ensuring consistent line thickness.

E. Tombow Mono Zero - Small eraser tip allows for erasing details between lines.

F. Pentel Touch Sign Pen - For creating outlines with thick lines.

G. Pilot Hi-Tec-C - For creating outlines with thin lines.

H. Sakura Koi Brush Pen Set of 6 - A set of gray brushes for creating shadows. Ink does not bleed through the back of the paper.

I. Sakura Pigma Micron - For creating outlines with medium thickness.


In addition to the above tools, you can see other sketching tools I use on this page. If you want to practice perspective drawing techniques, whether one-point or two-point perspective, I have worksheets that you can use for free at this link. Simply download and print them, and use them as a guide for drawing.


Oh, by the way, you can watch my architectural sketching video on the Twitter link below.

I hope the above tips are useful in enhancing your sketching skills. One more thing, the most effective tip is continuous practice until mastery. Practice makes perfect.

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