How to Compose an Architectural Sketch – 6 Essential Tips

This week we are excited to share an article from our friend David Drazil from Sketch Like An Architect.


David Drazil is an architect who loves to sketch. Every day he shares his passion for the visual representation of architecture through drawings and tips on his website and on his popular Instagram account @david_drazil.

What makes a good sketch? How come some sketches & drawings grab your attention and some don’t? Why do we perceive certain drawings as more beautiful and appealing than others?

In this blog post, we’ll break down what makes a good architectural sketch and offer 6 essential tips on improving your own sketches, drawings, and illustrations.

01/ Composition Structure


Composition in image-making is the single most important attribute that can make or break your image, sketch, photo, presentation slide, or any other visual you create.

When it comes to sketching and drawing, composition deals with objects represented in a canvas, their placement and distribution in a format, and their mutual relationships.

Why is it so important? If done correctly, a well-composed image guides a viewer’s attention to the most important part of an image – the focal point. Moreover, such image is easy to understand and visually pleasing to our eyes. Thus, it’s the best way to communicate our ideas to an audience and actually be understood!


The Golden Ratio, Fibonacci spiral, or the Rule of Thirds – all of us have heard of it before, now, what does it all mean?

Let’s start with the Golden Ratio. It is also called the golden section, golden mean, divine proportion, and some other names. There are lots of discussions about its ‘magic’ and whether it is a construct of human mind seeking for patterns describing beauty or not.

Since Phi (Greek letter for the Golden Ratio) is an irrational number, it cannot be really found in the real physical world and cannot be precisely achieved in design.


However, this aesthetically appealing proportion (simplified to the number of 1.618) can be of a good use in design and architecture and it definitely helps with composing our images into more harmonious pieces.


These and other composition structures should be approached not as unbreakable rules but rather as visual guidelines that help us in the beginnings of our process. Of course, the composition structures are applicable to any visual area – drawing & painting, photography, film, 3D modeling, concept art, arch-viz, or other.


2/ Thumbnail Sketches

Thumbnail sketches are a very underrated and often-skipped tool in the process. They’re here to help us validate our ideas and first compositions. Start iterating your ideas and visions with thumbnail sketches – keep them small, fast, and without too much detail.

Try to focus on composition of your image in a sense of structure, depth, focal point(s), and balance. The great thing about thumbnailing is that it’s quick and without any pressure. If it doesn’t work out with the first, never mind, try again – iterate and improve.


Tips for thumbnail sketching:

  • work fast and in small size
  • focus on the biggest elements
  • test out composition structure
  • add contrast
  • suggest depth
  • avoid little details
  • iterate your ideas

03/ Selecting the View

Below, you can see two examples of the same building with the same lighting but in different views. Notice how basic structure of the compositions influences the potential and quality of an image. On top of the mentioned comparisons under the sketches below, pay also attention to the balance between lit and shaded surfaces. Which one works better?


04/ How to Place People

There are also certain composition rules to be followed when placing entourage, like trees and people, to complement a building in a drawing or a sketch. Note that these rules might change slightly according to a form of a building.

Here are Do’s and Dont’s with explanations for placing people in your architectural sketches and drawings. These recommendations are based on composition rules, avoiding visual tangents, and best practices in visual representation of architecture.

EXTRA TIP #01: Always try to use entourage or any secondary graphic elements of a drawing to complement your design‘s form and features.

EXTRA TIP #02: By intentional placement of people, you can direct the viewer’s attention towards important parts of a drawing to highlight the benefits of your design.

05/ Leading the Eye to the Focal Point

Before we start drawing, let’s ask ourselves ‘What do I want to tell with this sketch?’ or even better ‘What do I want the viewer to see in my sketch?’

Focal points or focal areas are here to help to show the viewer where to look. Position it strategically while keeping composition rules in mind and emphasize it with higher contrast and/or more detail.


What’s more, you can use secondary objects and leading lines to guide the viewer’s eye towards it. Pay attention to the positioning and shapes of secondary elements, perspective lines, and entourage to help guide the viewer’s attention towards the focal point of an image.


06/ Framing

Framing is another way how to not only make your image more visually interesting but also how to provide an extra layer of information to the viewer. You can frame the whole view by the foreground, work with the framing and proportions of your canvas, or frame (or mask out) a single object.

When framing a single object, keep in mind to avoid visual tangents so the lines of the frame don’t meet with the object in one intersection point, but support clear understanding of the object’s geometry.


Final Thoughts + Bonus

We’ve covered a lot of points in this article and I hope you’ve found them inspiring and useful. To make the application of all these tips easier for you, I’ve prepared a Composition Checklist — covering all the mentioned tips + a few more — free for you to download!

Download Free Composition Checklist!

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    If unsure or stuck with your image, use this Composition Checklist to go through various categories of composition and see what you can do to move forward and improve your image.

    Happy sketching!

    David’s new book Sketch Like An Architect – Advanced Techniques is out now!


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