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10 Tips for Urban Sketching Buildings

Urban sketching is an art form that holds a special place in my heart, especially when it comes to capturing the beauty of architecture. As I wandered the streets of London, on the hunt for my next subject, I couldn’t help but feel spoiled by the abundance of stunning buildings. However, now that I find myself in Johannesburg, where old architecture is not as prominent, I’ve come to realize just how much I took for granted.

Before I delved into the world of urban sketching, buildings and architectural styles didn’t even register on my radar. It wasn’t until I discovered this art form in 2012 that I started to truly appreciate the structures that surround us. By meticulously sketching the details of a building, I found myself gaining a newfound understanding and appreciation for the world around me.

While there are no shortcuts when it comes to learning to sketch, I’ve picked up some valuable tips over the years that have helped me improve my sketches of buildings. These tips are the result of trial and error, and I hope they can help you fast-track your sketching journey.

1. Start with the Big Shapes

It may seem obvious, but it’s easy to overlook this step in the eagerness to dive right into the details. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of your sketch, take a step back and map out the tallest and most prominent shape of the building. This will ensure that your sketch fits on the page and prevent any unfortunate cropping mishaps.

2. Pay Attention to Proportions

Once you have the largest shape in place, use it as a reference point to sketch the other elements of the building. Look for natural dividing lines or landmarks that can help you determine the proportions of different sections. Windows and ornamentation can be particularly useful in this regard.

3. Embrace Wonkiness

Straight lines are not a requirement for successful architectural sketches. In fact, some of the most captivating sketches are the ones that embrace a sense of wonkiness. Crooked lines bring character and dynamism to your sketch, making it more engaging and visually interesting.

4. Grasp the Basics of Perspective

While perspective may seem like a daunting concept, having a basic understanding of it can greatly enhance your architectural sketches. You don’t need rulers or complicated formulas; simply knowing where the horizon line and vanishing points are can make a world of difference. Let your eyes guide you and trust your instincts.

5. Capture Texture

Instead of obsessing over drawing perfect straight lines, focus on capturing the texture of the building. Whether it’s brick, rough stone, or another material, indicate the texture through the quality of your lines. This not only takes the pressure off trying to achieve perfection but also adds depth and visual interest to your sketch.

6. Play with Light and Shadow

Light and shadow are essential elements in making a two-dimensional sketch of a three-dimensional object come to life. Look for scenes or reference photos with high contrast, where the difference between the darkest darks and the lightest lights is pronounced. If the scene lacks contrast, you can use your artistic license to invent light and shadows to create a more dramatic effect.

7. Simplify Complex Details

Learning to simplify complex architectural elements is a valuable skill that can save you time and frustration. Instead of getting caught up in every intricate detail, focus on capturing the essence of what you see through basic shapes. Indicating tricky features with simple squiggles can yield impressive results.

8. Experiment with Perspective and Scale

Unless you’re aiming for a realistic rendering, give yourself the freedom to play and experiment with the buildings you sketch. Exaggerate perspective to create a caricature-like effect or bend the tops of buildings to fit your composition. Let your imagination run wild and have fun with it.

9. Create Depth and Emphasis

Bringing depth and emphasis to your sketches is essential for capturing the viewer’s attention. Use a variety of line weights and tones to differentiate between foreground and background elements. Add more details, thicker lines, and stronger colors to highlight important features, while using lighter lines and fainter tones for background elements.

10. Find the Character of the Building

Take a step back and truly observe the building you’re sketching. What drew you to it in the first place? What are its unique features and characteristics? Even if you don’t have time to capture every detail, focus on the elements that speak to you and tell a story. By capturing the essence of the building, your sketch will have a powerful impact.

Remember, there’s no pressure to sketch an entire building if you don’t want to. Sometimes, leaving parts unfinished can be a deliberate and pleasing design choice. Embrace your artistic license and experiment with different approaches.

In conclusion, I hope these tips have given you some valuable insights into the art of sketching buildings. Practice, patience, and a willingness to experiment are key to honing your skills. So grab your sketchbook, wander the streets, and let the buildings inspire your creativity.

Keep in touch!

If you’re interested in learning more about sketching buildings, I recommend checking out the following online classes:

  • Urban Sketching in Mixed Media by Jenny Adam
  • Urban Sketching: Capture Your City in Motion by Inma Serrano
  • Urban Sketching: Create Expressive Cityscapes by Eleanor Doughty
  • Urban Sketching: Express Your World in a New Perspective by Lapin

Feel free to follow me on social media to stay updated on my latest sketches and adventures:

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  • Patreon

Alexia Young

Hello and welcome to the world of Alexia. I am a passionate and dedicated artist who loves to create beautiful, mesmerizing art for everyone's walls. I believe in the importance of encouraging people to express their creativity and be happy.

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