Architectural Rendering Technique: The Art Of The Pen and Ink Sketch

Pen and ink is the youngest Kardashian sister of architectural rendering techniques: she's the most beautiful, but the one you're least likely to know how she'll turn out. Pen and ink is a bit of a high wire act for obvious reasons: you can't erase. On the other hand, there is nothing so rewarding as sitting for 45 minutes in a beautiful place and producing a classic looking pen and ink sketch, and this tutorial will show you some tricks for how to do it.

Pen and ink sketch made in Chautauqua, NY by James Akers, a licensed architect and architectural renderer based in New York City

1) limit your subject matter to something you can capture in 45 minutes. I made the pen and ink sketches below while traveling, finding a simple subject and sticking to it until I was done.

Pen and ink sketch made in Chautauqua, NY by James Akers, a licensed architect and architectural renderer based in New York City

2) use pencil to compose the sketch. You will erase it later so don't worry about being called out.

Pen and ink sketch made in Montepulciano, Italy by James Akers, a licensed architect and architectural renderer based in New York City

3) have a plan for lights and darks. These will animate your composition, and so this is the trick that seems most like hard work.

Pen and ink sketch made in San Leonino, Italy by James Akers, a licensed architect and architectural renderer based in New York City

4) model the three-dimensional planes of your composition with the direction of the strokes and hatchmarks you use to create those lights and darks. (Note the difference between the strokes used for water and the strokes used for the poplar trees in the sketch above) When you study the work of the masters, this is one of the most astonishing aspects of their technique: the diversity and density of their hatch work.

Pen and ink sketch made in San Gimigniano, Italy by James Akers, a licensed architect and architectural renderer based in New York City. Look closely: weren't you the person at the last cafe table?

5) don't worry about sucking. This should really be the golden rule. Maybe even one of the 10 Commandments. Thou shalt never fear sucking, because that fear will prevent you from trying something new. For what is art if not something new? If you needed any more proof, this is it: that little sketch you just sat down to make? No one has ever made it before.

Pen and ink sketch made in Chautauqua, NY by James Akers, a licensed architect and architectural renderer based in New York City

Pen and ink sketch made in Lucca, Italy by James Akers, a licensed architect and architectural renderer based in New York City

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(Author James Akers is a registered architect and architectural illustrator with years of experience helping architects and interior designers develop and present their ideas in dramatic and cost-effective ways. From concept design to final presentation. Pencil, pen and ink, photoshop and watercolor. We work in your office or from our NYC studio. 413-250-8800.)