Architecture as a discipline uses drawing as a way to describe buildings and structures. Architectural illustrators are employed by architects, heritage centres and property-based businesses. Illustration can do important things that photography cannot, and is used in two main ways:
- to draw up plans and diagrams. This uses technical language and techniques aimed to objectively and accurately represent the topography of a building and its parts.
- to visualise proposed projects and buildings – imagining the built environment.
Illustrators need to have an eye for detail, understand proportion and perspective, have good observational skills and a drawing style that can convey complex structures. However not all architectural illustration is technical and dry.
Different architectural illustrators approach the task of documenting visual space and the built environment in different ways. They differ in choice of drawing approach, and how the perspective and materials used relates to the architecture itself:
- some are driven by the ideas that drawing and illustration offers
- some by the ideas inherent in the architectural styles they’re representing.
They may produce very different effects supporting or contradicting the ideas underlying the buildings, for example:
- glossy images used by a developer to suggest the idea of luxury
- approaches may seem at odds with the spaces they’re representing.
Key Resources on architectural illustration
The Society of Architectural Illustrators
Represents ‘professionals who bring architecture to life’. Their illustrators / SAI members A–Z section shows a wide range of different approaches.
A group of architects influenced by avant-garde art movements who playfully challenged assumptions about modern architecture. All of their work was presented as proposals, through drawings and collage. A very different approach to representing and visualising architecture through drawing.
The Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA)
Has a series of online workshops, videos and other resources exploring architectural history, drawing and design. Useful to gain a broader perspective on architectural ideas.
Michael Blower archive
Examples of British architect Michael Blower’s sketchbooks are available via the website:
Photorealistic 3D and CGI imaging
Top of the list of Google Search for Architectural Illustration are companies doing photorealistic 3D and CGI imaging, some with animation. This is a very specialised field requiring a high level of 3D Digital skill – not something I could aspire to.
Watercolour/ink and wash/acrylic
Some of this merges into street/travel illustration.
He sets up perspective views on a drawing board in the traditional way and uses a range of stencils for ellipses and curves, working with pencils, brushes and paint. His watercolour images are usually more detailed and accurate than his acrylic paintings. He spends more time doing the drawing than the painting. He also paints in oils en plein air – he likes to work fast with the changing light.
Lucia often brings together lots of photographic references and creates a preliminary collage as well as doing some sketches. Her actual illustrations are created on paper using ink, watercolour, pastels, pens or acrylic – though not necessarily all together. However she does use Photoshop to tweak and perfect a piece. Also fashion.
Clean with some Photorealism. Hand-drawn imagery and coloured digitally. Sometimes he combines drawn print designs with digital elements to build up an image. Sometimes, he’ll also draw his map designs using vector graphics.
more stylised influenced by Pop Art. Drawn with pen and ink then scanned and coloured in Photoshop.
She works from a graphite or pen drawing, sometimes with a subtle watercolour background. This is scanned in and coloured digitally using Photoshop’s brushes or flat colours.
Uses different compositions, and bold colors in a limited palette, often creating patterns. Most of her work is done using Photoshop and Illustrator, but she also combines hand-made textures, screenprinting and collage work. Also does Fashion.
Tobias creates little worlds in bringing together digital and traditional techniques. He draws designs by hand and finishes them in 3D with the computer.