Sketching Architecture: Jerónimos Monastery

See how to sketch architecture in watercolor, you don’t need linear perspective and rulers when sketching on site!

Tips for how to capture the impression of the building instead of measuring every line in the building are provided.

4 min. video

This architectural sketch is done on site at the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal. Demo by Art Prof Clara Lieu with commentary by Teaching Artist Cat Huang.

Video Walkthrough

  • People are often very intimidated about sketching architecture plein air.
  • In general, people often assume that in order to draw architecture well, the drawing has to be very precise, measured with a ruler, and have accurate linear perspective.
  • Frank Gehry is an architect whose designs for buildings often began with quick gesture drawings of the building.
  • There’s no chance you can draw a measured, precise drawing of architecture when working on site, there isn’t enough time.
  • A gesture drawing of the building provides the impression of the building, instead of trying to draw every single arch, brick, and window.
  • A big part of sketching a building is to capture the mood of that building.
  • The Jerónimos Monastery had a rather somber mood due to the lack of color and grandeur of the building.
  • Most people wouldn’t think that watercolor would be a good art media for sketching architecture, but it’s great for quickly knocking in the impression of the building.
  • Every village and city in Portugal had it’s own color palette.
  • The colors on buildings in Portugal are so much brighter and more saturated than most buildings in the USA.
  • Lisbon had a notable range of greens: in the buildings, the taxis, the scooters, and more.
  • For example, Óbidos’ color palette was blue and yellow stripes.
Sketching Architecture: Jerónimos Monastery

Prof Lieu’s Tips

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I was so frustrated with WC for so long, and some of the things that really helped me were:

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  • Paint much much slower than I think I should; often times the paint “gets ahead” of me.
  • work reductively with a wet paper towel, you’d be amazed how much you can fix!
  • Dry brushing, where you can make more coarse brittle strokes, good so things don’t get so mushy
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