5 Ways to Improve Hand Sketches

In the age of computers, a recurring theme presents itself about whether architects and others in the graphic realm should also acquire or hone their hand-sketching abilities. The simple answer is absolutely yes! It is understandable, and even necessary, to be more proficient in computers, but having some confidence with a pen or pencil will serve an architect well.

Each method is a tool, and can be appropriate in different ways. Obviously, computers have forever changed everything, and they have long-dominated the profession of architecture. Whether CAD or 3D, the capabilities are remarkable, and the results often stunning. But there is a tangible connection between the mind and the hand that produces an immediacy of expression on paper that cannot quite be equaled by a computer. That said, tablets like the iPad Pro are outstanding, and can produce impressive results with an overall work-flow efficiency that conventional hand sketching cannot.

But, sometimes one just needs a quick sketch, and there isn’t the luxury of an iPad Pro nearby or the time to turn it on, go to the app and select various tools. By the time that is done, someone else has already finished a hand sketch on a roll of trace paper.

So, it would be wise to develop at least a modest comfort level with sketching on paper.

However, the thought of hand drawing can be a source of anxiety for those who don’t consider themselves artistically inclined when it comes to pen and paper. Much of that may come from a self-imposed standard of perfection, or magically expecting that you should instantly be able to draw like a seasoned artist, even though logically you know that isn’t realistic. In short, you are being too hard on yourself, expecting too much too soon. Learning to draw, like so many skills, is developed over time. Admittedly, architects and designers have a hard time with this, as we are usually so driven to produce something great, that when immediate success doesn’t happen, we get discouraged. That leads to the inevitable result of our good intentions fading back to the comfort level of a computer mouse. That isn’t a criticism…it is merely a human reaction to the pushback of learning something new.

So how does one break this cycle of false starts? This may be oversimplifying, but I would offer the following tips in handy bullet point form:

1. Hold the pen correctly. It will make your sketches better. It allows you to use not only the tip, but the sides as well, giving your lines more character.


2. When you draw, pivot with your elbow, not your wrist. You get much straighter lines, and your lines will look more confident. Try it!

3.)Doodle. Nobody cares what a doodle looks like, and nobody has to see it. It’s like preschool for sketching. Get comfortable with the idea of expressing a thought on paper, even if it’s just a scribble. I do this on the phone (not with you, of course!) Let your hand be an extension of your mind and see what flows out.

 4.) Stop thinking that every sketch has to be perfect. We are imperfect by nature, so why expect more from a piece of paper?

5.) Early on, choose a felt tip or fat pen over a ballpoint. If you use a fine point, you’ll be tempted to add unnecessary detail, and you’ll lose the spontaneity that defines a sketch. Using a fat pen covers more area quicker, and your mind will be forced to simplify your idea into a looser expression…in other words, a sketch!

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