The 5 Food Groups

Armed with a bit more knowledge I was prepared for the next round in my pursuit of better architectural drawing. As work has been full on I haven’t been able to get out and sketch (not that the weather has been great for it either) so the only time available to draw is at night and at least in the comfort of my lounge chair. Again I have used The Commons flickr site for some reference material.

I decided to look at the key elements I believe really accentuate architecture and see how they work on their own.


Photo reference supplied via The Commons. Image owned by Cornell University Library.

It seems an obvious statement to say that shadows or shading a building adds greatly to your picture, but when I painted the shading in first before the line work, the building’s shape was already defined.

Shading study without line work (still drying)

My habit of late is to add the colour wash before line work and I was in two minds about putting it in as I liked it as is.  But one of those two minds said yes, do it.

I got a bit heavy handed with the main section of the building but I do like the right hand side of the page. Possibly as there is less line work and the ink isn’t as saturated.

Same sketch with line work added later with blue ink

I attempted the same drawing again but this time put the shading in after the line work. The problem with the first technique is that the washes might not match up with the lines so the shading might sit incorrectly. The result makes for a cool picture but can lack atmosphere or drama…? So I did another version where I added the shading after the pen work.

Washes added after line work

With this version you get a better sense of where the sunlight is falling and also a feeling of time and place. Well, that’s my opinion anyway…


Photo reference supplied via The Commons. Image owned by The Library of Congress.
Sometimes when you are about to sit down to draw a scene the composition can be quite immediate to you, while others are a bit of a struggle. If it’s the latter it might be fun to consider the shape and space of your page as a design factor. This can turn a very ordinary street scene into something with character and interest.


Not an exercise in composition but in keeping areas of your picture clean to allow for contrast and lift. Even though the photo I chose makes this exercise a little easier with its heavy set shadows, for those of you like me who don’t know when to stop it was a real test.  I wanted to concentrate on the busier areas of this photo, to retain the intricacies of the structures but not have them turn into a mess of lines. There is also great spatial depth in this photo so I had to be mindful of capturing that too.

Photo reference supplied via The Commons. Image owned by The Library of Congress.

I really had to fight temptation and not work on the buildings and tunnel-way in the centre of the page. By keeping it clean it helps lead your eye up to the tower, across to the chimney on the  left, then back down again to the middle of the picture. It was important for me to show the clutter of this scene, but not let my heavy-handed line work “be” the clutter of the picture, if that makes sense. You need to put in detail but not to the point where your lines overwhelm and confuse the scene.

As this was a monotone drawing I used light and dark tones to help create a sense of distance between the foreground and background. I allowed more white tones in the foreground to lift it out while darker tones were concentrated in the background.


I applied a diluted ink wash loosely with a thick brush to balance out the fine line work. I have to learn to pull back on applying too much wash as the line work can fight for attention with it.


Photo reference supplied via The Commons. Image owned by Cornell University Library.

I chose this photo for its obvious contrast between the foreground and background. It was tricky to capture it only with lines, even more so with a dip pen which can be quite unpredictable. To add contrast I tried varying the width of the lines – thicker lines in the foreground, finer in the back and more detail in the foreground too.  I also watered down the ink for the background to try and subdue the intensity of the colour.

Later on I added a wash using the same ink, again diluting it to create tonal variety. It’s not a bad result but not great either. Maybe bright red or pink wasn’t the best choice to use.


After my little analysis I ventured out once more and visited Sydney University. It is a treasure trove of buildings from different periods. I went there a year ago with my sketch club and it was great, especially on a Sunday when the place is virtually empty. The only external factor I had to deal with was that it was early winter. Although it was a lovely sunny day, sitting in the shadows of those large buildings and on cold steps was a bit trying (yes, I do need to buy a folding chair!).

Before I set off I wrote up a little post-it note of my five key elements and kept it on my drawing board as a constant reminder while I was drawing (see left image).

Manning Rd, Nicholson Museum entrance

Note to self: never start a wet drawing on the right hand side of the page unless you are left handed. It’s instinctive for me to start my drawing with the most striking part of the scene, but as that happened to be on the right hand side, it meant I had to be really careful when drawing in the rest not to smudge it. Doh!

Because I didn’t plan my layout, once I drew the middle section in (which was the last component) it started to draw too much attention away from the other sections. I didn’t “thin” out the linework to help make it recede. Overall I did not consider the composition or create good use of space.

This was a real test and eye opener. Again, I drew it too big that I left no room for the entrance arch below. I also wanted that middle section to be subtle but as the ink blobbed out on the first stroke, and I realised I positioned it too far to the right, it threw the rest of my composition off. Now it’s the area where your eye constantly returns too.

The MacLaurin Hall

This was my second attempt, the first was appalling. Again I started off on the right hand side!!! What’s wrong with me?! I think initially I only wanted to draw the building on the right but realised the other buildings would compliment it more.

Admittedly I got so lost in the details of the hall that my building became too long and I omitted an entire level of it. Worse than that it lacks the long flowing lines that I like in my drawings, and has instead a real choppy jaggedness. I don’t mind my “shadow” wash, I think it could have been stronger or with more tonal variation but I’m finding it hard to assess the dilution of my colour inks before applying it. To top it all off my favourite part of this drawing is the left hand side, HA!

Holme Building, Science Rd

I choose this scene because I was running out of sunlight – not to see things better, but to keep warm. This drawing could have benefitted from a colour wash especially beyond the arch. But I liked the clean spaces so I decided to leave it. I was also conscious of not overdoing the details on the trees and shrubs so the building would stand out more.

Law School & Fisher Stack, Eastern Avenue

This building was really tricky. My first attempt at modern architecture. They are devoid of anything figurative like gargoyles or grotesques to help distract me. It was pure vertical and horizontal lines with reflective surfaces.

By the time I sorted out all my inks and paper a couple sat down right in front of that spherical building so I couldn’t see the base of it. It totally threw me off as it didn’t allow me to get a sense of how deep it sat or the space around it in relation to the other buildings. I tried to compensate by putting in a base where I thought it would be, but I lost its grandeur as a result. It should really dominate this picture but it looks like a really fancy industrial air vent instead.

I am patting myself on the back for my use of colour. I was scared that all the lines would make my drawing look too bulky and busy. This is something I have learnt about buildings – although they are solid structures they don’t “feel” or look heavy. There is a lightness or upward movement which they have, and I want to try and capture that.

By using orange ink for the vertical lines it stopped the drawing from being too crowded. The same applied for the reflections of the clouds on the far right windows. I wanted to include them so I used a light colour to stop the picture from being too confusing.

My drawing board with my post it note that kept flying away.

Phew! Writing up this entry was almost as time consuming as the study itself. If you have reached this point I congratulate you for your staying power and thank you for your time.

This will be an on-going work in progress. A lot to discover and practice. I can’t wait. I have started to see changes in my work, and I am making more of an effort to lift my drawings of buildings to be more than landscape filler.

I know I could read up about how to draw architecture, and that there are loads of good books everyone could recommend to me, but I still prefer to find out my own way – through trial and error, experimenting and observing. Everyone sees and responds to things differently and that has always been the most exciting aspect of being able to draw – challenging yourself to understand and value something new.


Over the last couple of months of attempting this I realised I need to spend the first five minutes  just looking and deciding how I want to approach each drawing before carrying it out. If I’m not going to pencil in I need to at least plan it in my head a little better. A fellow Sydney Sketcher, **gasp**, has inspired me to draw up a page of thumbnails next time. As part of a course, he did 30sec gestures of the one building. This is great in helping you cut through all the details and see the main elements.

With all my good intentions and analysis I still rush into it. Like when you’re really hungry and gorge yourself without properly digesting or savouring the food. So I need to pay more heed to my five “food” groups and not pig out. But I will persevere with great pleasure.

Cheers, everyone!

15 thoughts on “The 5 Food Groups

  1. This is a wonderful post. Besides being a good description of the challenges of drawing architecture on site, it also brought back delightful memories for me of doing so when I was a young artist out in the American Midwest … drawing brownstone architecture. I will recommend this post to my students … if you don’t mind?

    1. Hi john,
      Thanks for dropping by and the comments. Of course I dont mind, I’m very honoured for you to share my thoughts with your students. I checked out brownstone architecture and your blog – really like both and will be back for more. your quick watercolour landscapes are wonderful.

  2. Hello Meegan. Another really great and informative post.
    I know this is such a boring comment but really, I love every one of your drawings!
    Incredibly inspiring!

  3. Hey thanks for commenting on my blog! I peeped this blog post yesterday and it’s encouraged me to keep practicing multiple perspective sketches which I’ve been struggling with. Your drawings are inspiring!

  4. brilliant brillian brilliant… I am not sure that there are that many good books out there…and you are doing it the right way… I have so much I want to say about this post but don’t have time tonight. Keep going, you are on fire!
    Especially love your coloured lines!!

  5. Wow what great work! What a workout this must have been. I love the really loose drawings, personal preference. They seem more organic somehow. But all of this work is awesome.

    1. Thanks Revelle. I enjoy the loose stuff as well, it’s a lot more fun. Love your corgi, i love the thick furry coat.
      Thanks for stopping by.

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