Artful Thinking: (Creative!) Freehand Drawing by Architects

Put a crayon in a child’s hand, and they will soon start to draw. While they are drawing, they are explaining what they are thinking.

Drawing for children is a social activity where they put their ideas on paper and show you the way their mind works. Making marks unleashes a part of the mind that you can’t reach in any other way.

The creative inspiration of one half of the brain messaging the other results in committed doodler and scribblers in every office, business, and home.

To draw is to think!

Do all architects know how to draw?

Surely in the digital age, that has gone the way of all hand tools? An interesting hobby for some but of no practical benefit.

Drawing persists despite digital tools.

do architects still draw by hand

Why Freehand Sketch with Pencil and Paper?

There are many reasons why people (architects included) put a pencil, pen, and brush to paper rather than confining their drawings to a computer program.


If you want to see, really see a place, draw it. When you draw a square or the inside of a room, you must look at it – in detail.

A photograph captures the scene, but you do not take it in.

Trying to sketch the details of a building means you look at form, shape, texture, and its relationship to everything around it. You look for and remember the elements rather than allowing your brain to skip over them.

It is one of the chief benefits of freehand drawing for architects, designers, and visionaries alike.

When they are capturing a scene, artists look at it with a more analytical mind than the snap-happy glance of the passer-by.

Freehand drawing helps an architect to observe, capture, and retain details of old buildings, different cities, and landscapes.


Walt Disney kept the drawing habit his whole life because he understood that a pencil and paper is a way of getting your dreams out of your head and in front of other people.

A sketch is not a technical drawing. A sketch gives you the freedom to imagine the impossible – turrets, spires, and impossibly slender bridges.

An architect can sketch improbable buildings and features while their mind plays around with ideas.

That dreaming creative space is invaluable in catching flickering, fleeting thoughts, some of which become impressive buildings with innovative new designs.


A computer drawing printed out or on screen is like the printed word – it looks finished even though it is only a draft.

On the other hand, a sketch is clearly an unfinished idea – there is room for change and modification.

Sketches are less threatening, and clients can feel free to add their ideas because a drawing indicates the beginning of the planning stage.

Sketching while talking to clients also helps pull out their dreams onto the page by encouraging them to see how the sketch shapes up if you add an extension or an eyebrow window to the roof.

Sketching while designing speeds up decision making because everyone in the room can see the ideas without having to visualize them. When you are wondering why sketching is an effective communication tool, remember that drawing is a universal language.

Your brain works on symbols and sketches and doodles cut across cultural barriers effortlessly. People use drawings to communicate instinctively, and it’s been going on since our cave painting days.


All architects will make the final technical drawing on the computer, but freehand drawing is quick and flexible when exploring or playing with an idea.

You can scribble down five or ten ideas on paper in a fraction of the time it takes to realize one on the computer.

The sketch is a memory jogger for the brain while the architect puts as many ideas down as they can think off – brainstorming on the page.


Sketching while talking to another craftsman is the quickest way of communicating an idea because you can both see what you are talking about.

The drawn structure is different from the technical drawing because it produces an “aha” moment of insight rather than an instructional diagram.

Sketches are dynamic and engaging, and they explain concepts better than a photograph or a technical drawing because they focus on the relevant detail and not the entire project.


Many architects still draw because it is a relaxing activity. It has focus and business reasons, but it is also relaxing.

The act of drawing allows the analytical brain to relax, and that break from one form of concentration to another is refreshing.

Not everything you do during the day needs to be hard and driven work – an hour out sketching some design ideas while you wonder how to solve that problem yields results.


All parts of the brain process information in different ways. Drawing by hand allows you to access another way of thinking.

You can draw your way to a new solution – the artistic equivalent of a mind map.

This visual, practical thinking approach is the reason why sketching is an integral part of the design from the first seed of an idea to a final image.

It is also why architects are versatile designers of many things besides buildings.


The sketchbook habit means you have books full of inspiration when you are looking for new ideas.

Most architects and other creative professionals use a sketchbook like a visual notebook – spot some attractive ironwork?

A quick sketch lets you remember the detail and add notes about what impressed you about that balcony for future reference.


A sketch drawing of the design of a building, room, or feature is more reassuring to a client than a computer-generated, photorealistic picture.


A hand drawing feels less “fake” than a computer drawing – you see the wobbles, the overdrawing, and the amendments. It looks like someone has worked the design rather than pulling it out of a template bank.

The importance of freehand drawing in architecture is that it shows creative intent and reassures a client that the work is for them and not an off-the-shelf product stored on the cloud.


Sketches allow development on many levels – developing ideas, spatial awareness, and perspective.

Sketching a building or an interior and relating them to their surroundings develops an awareness of how objects relate to each other in space – a practical knowledge instead of a theoretical understanding.

You also get to judge scale more accurately because drawing is all about comparing one item with another as you scale it down to fit on the page.

An urban architect creates sightlines or viewpoints within a city or town. The sense of spatial awareness and perspective developed through drawing lets an architect visualize how the buildings set the scene in a cityscape.

You can create a similar effect in 3D rendering, but drawing establishes an understanding of how all the buildings relate to each other uniquely – much like what model-making does for architecture.

Muscle Memory

Drawing is part of the portfolio of skills accessible to everyone in their development – learning to dress, use cutlery, mathematics, writing, and drawing.

Architects retain that ability into their working lives in the same way that they remember how to sign their name and read – it is a useful fundamental skill in their toolbox.

The staying power of drawing in an architect’s life is down to the immediacy of the link between brain, hand, and eye. The physical act of drawing is different from creating something on a computer.

Many writers jot down their novel ideas in handwriting to work out their creative spark before committing to the book.

The act of writing or drawing allows muscle memory to come into play. It unlocks the unconscious that “knows” how to draw and enables ideas to flood out onto the page, whether those are words or designs.

The act of drawing is a journey of discovery and produces surprises that transform half-glimpsed dreams into reality. An architect draws to free their brains to think without limits and constraints.


Drawing and creating images feed the creative soul. Sometimes architects draw simply because they enjoy creating art.

Exercising drawing and freehand sketching skills is a creative outlet that has the benefit of being useful in work as well as in a personal sense.

Technical Drawing

Before computer-aided design, engineers, designers, and architects learned technical drawings with boards, rulers, angles, and other drafting equipment; they also learned how to choose the right drafting table because it benefits the drafting process.

The technical drawing is the stage between sketch and building the structure or object. It is precise, includes measurements, angles, scale, and all the information necessary to create the subject of the plan.

Most technical drawing takes place digitally because many of the drawing-generation processes are automated, and you can make drawing in a fraction of the time.

Plus, it is easier to share and store digital drawings.

Freehand sketching is different from the computer-generated technical drawing – but both are essential in an architect’s arsenal of skills.

Why Do Architects Still Draw by Hand?

Architects draw and sketch designs and ideas, but they reach for the computer when it comes to presenting those ideas to clients and colleagues.

Computer-generated images and drawings are consistent and formatted in line with expectations.

In the same way that nobody expects a handwritten business letter, no one expects a hand-drawn architect’s presentation of building design in the corporate world.

But architects are creative people, and part of their studying involves the ability to sketch.

Despite the technical presentation and digital tools, drawing and sketching are not obsolete because they start and maintain the creative process. Hand drawing skills still provide architects with a host of benefits for creating, thinking, designing, and capturing ideas and reference material.

(P/S – Losing touch with the freehand drawing skill is one among many issues facing the architecture field today)