Drawing buildings: symmetry & proportions

November 16, 2013

6 bolton st st peters

A4 Milini 150gsm, graphite pencil H, early morning

I dashed off sketches of two building facades the other day, based on old photos. I was trying to get general proportions right, then infilling with details. One was strictly symmetrical, the other very slightly asymmetrical. As complex, elaborately modeled facades, I decided I needed more practice with simpler buildings. It’s a bit like going to a life drawing class followed by some anatomical study.

newcastle 1

newcastle 2

A4 Milini 150gsm sketchbook, graphite pencil H, half a page each. 

Two sketches today, the first (right) on location and the second (left) later at home. For color scheme, see Google Streetview for 6 Bolton Street St Peters NSW 2044. There was no tone to speak of because the weather was overcast and the facade faced west. I would like to return to sketch both the patchy paintwork on the brick facade as well as the massive tree in front.

I chose as simple a facade as I could possibly find in my local area. I wanted to get the symmetry and proportions accurate, which led to ever closer observation of architectural detail. Normally I don’t view building facades perpendicularly “head on” but I need the practice, the mind-training. There’s a parallel with figure drawing: one draws the figure head-on before tackling the three-quarter view.

I ignored the parked car and large tree in front of the building. The level of concentration in closely observing a building facade is not unlike the focus on anatomical structure and detail when observing the figure.

At left, the purple is the field of vision delineated by a 5×4″ Albertian veil, making sure the whole facade fitted on to the page. Green is the eye line (and assumed horizon line) but the only hints of linear perspective were in the parapets on the roof line.


In terms of proportions, the liver-red brick facade is broken into three. There are areas of decorative brickwork of identical size at the roof line. The original sash windows have been replaced by aluminium ones. These in turn have been overlaid with security steel grills. Lastly, I paid attention to the position of the Art Deco terracotta brick finials, glazed and colored vermilion, and their relative size.


With more practice of this sort in mind, I spent some time today photographing other buildings ” head on” in my local area which would be impossible to sketch on-site – either because I’d have to position myself in the middle of a road, on a busy footpath or on private property.




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