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  • Writer's pictureChris Deboda

Character Building: Sketching Stylized Architecture

A question I often get from art students at conventions where I'll be tabling at is somewhere along the lines of: "How do you draw your stylized buildings and have them appear full of life and energy?" Many go on to explain that, whenever they draw buildings, it usually comes across as very stiff and lifeless. Well, this latest post below offers a couple of quick notes and things I think about whenever I draw stylized and whimsical buildings. Disclaimer: This isn't really a "how to draw" post, but just more about my personal approach as there are many ways to go about this topic.

The quick one-sentence answer I often give to the question above is to approach each architecture drawing as if it is a character in itself. And I don't mean turning it into a literal "character" with facial expressions and such (although that can be a fun exercise too). But mostly I just mean giving it a personality and life of it's own.

To help with this, I'll ask myself a series of questions. Such as, what's the history behind the building? Who used to live in the building and what do they do? Who lives in it now? Giving the building an intriguing backstory helps in making it even more interesting to look at. It also gives me a foundation in which to build from for how I would approach drawing, or in this case 'designing', the rest of the building. Since whatever I draw from here on out would be in support of this buildings story. I will then push these ideas even further with the set dressing and props that surrounds the overall structure.

"Approach each architecture drawing as if it is a character in itself."

As for the actual drawing part of it, first I have a confession, I am not an architect by trade. Maybe I wanted to be one once when I was kid (probably after wanting to be a marine biologist first, but I digress). I did, however, watch a lot of cartoons growing up (ie. Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, and of course Disney) and later admired a lot of the background art. And whenever I would draw anything, I naturally would take a more cartoonier and whimsy approach -- probably influenced by a lot of those shows. And as a result, I found that drawing things off-kilter as well as thinking more asymmetrical immediately gives the drawing more energy and dynamism.

One other important note I should point out is that I do not get too caught up with tight perspective grids and vanishing points right out of the gate. Doing so instantly makes any drawing feel stiff and it also feels too constraining to start a drawing in that way. Not to say that that approach won't work for others...but for me, it's usually not as fun. Instead, I'll loosely rough in graphic shapes and forms in space while exaggerating the buildings proportions -- often to an extreme. But not so much where it starts losing its structure and believability. And it's usually easier to scale things back down if I've gone too far. There's a certain sweet spot and balance that I like between stylized and representational and everyone is going to have their own different taste.

Despite the wonky nature of the building, I still want it to feel "real" like a person or character can walk around inside it and basically live in it. So while I'll still be thinking in terms of exaggerated forms, it's not really until later on into the drawing phase where I then start addressing any perspective issues. And lastly, for an extra whimsical look, I'll often flare out (or in) the drawn lines to certain degrees.

Study sketches done on location at Disneyland's Toon Town.
"I found that drawing things off-kilter as well as thinking more asymmetrical immediately gives the drawing more energy and dynamism."

For even more examples, I do also have a self published sketchbook that's devoted to stylized and whimsical architectural sketches that is now available at my online shop (shameless plug alert!).

Hopefully these few notes and ideas presented here are at least somewhat interesting and helpful for anyone looking to change up their approach a bit when it comes to sketching more stylized buildings. While I am sure there is more that can be covered on this subject, if there are any other specific questions or needs further clarification, feel free to reach out or even leave a comment below. And of course, I'm always open to chat at those art conventions!

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