It’s easy to assume that it would take hours to draw intricate historical architecture because of how elaborate it is. However, if you reduce your subject down to the basics of light, shadow, and minimal lines, you can paint it outside in time before the light changes.

Adrianna Johnston has a good method for quick architecture sketching, so let’s follow her 30-minute art class! All you need are watercolours, waterproof ink, and good heavy paper.

Step 1: Observing the Form

To save time with this picture, we’re going straight to using ink instead of starting with a pencil. Don’t worry, this isn’t an overly technical style. Start at a point that’s easy for you (in my case, it was the top) and work one piece at a time, drawing each part in proportion to the previous.

If you have to go over lines multiple times, go ahead! The casual sketch effect is what we’re going for here. Don’t obsess over one area too much because that would throw the picture off balance.

Since we’re using watercolour in this project, you’ll want to use pigment-based waterproof ink. This comes in various forms; Adrianna had some in a fountain pen and I had a felt tip pen.

The pen itself doesn’t matter so much as remembering to hold it loosely and not go too slowly. You want casual lines. For extra texture, you might consider a dip pen!

Step 2: The First Wash

Make sure the ink is fully dry before adding water because even waterproof ink will run if it doesn't dry. Once you’ve added water, add a layer of yellow.

Adrianna has some specific colours in her palette, like Titanium Buff, but all you need are primaries. I used Just Yellow from the 24 Half Pan Set.

Step 3: Building Up the Contrast

Start adding other colours to build the dimension of the building. I used ultramarine, some cool browns, and a touch of Soft Orange.

There’s no need to be overly precise here because the lines aren’t overly precise either. Feel free to paint outside the lines, and focus on the mood the colours are creating.

Step 4: Shadows

Get out some ultramarine and add contrast to the shadow areas on the building. If the wet layer you’ve been working on won’t accept any more pigment, just wait for it to dry then make this layer separate.

In my painting, the little details on the roof turned out much more blue than the other areas, and that wasn’t what I was going for, so I balanced things out again in the second layer once this was a little dryer.

Step 5: Tying it All Together

Once you have the building mostly finished, it’s time to balance out any colour inconsistencies you’re not fond of and add some personality to it. I decided to add some red as my overarching colour to hide the inconsistencies, so I added it in some thin washes.

I focused especially on the areas that turned out too blue in my previous step. I used dry paper so that the colour would sit on top of the blue more strongly.

For the last finishing touch, Adrianna likes to add a splatter of paint for ambience. Load the brush with water and paint, then tap the brush over the paper to make it drop colour around.

First I used a faint blue, then used red. The finished result is this nice textured effect where the colours in the painting are reflected in the atmosphere.

If you are overly critical of your art, it might be hard to loosen up and relax with this style of painting. The key to success with Adrianna’s method is to embrace imperfections and not spend too long on one detail.

With practice, you’ll find that you can quickly draw entire buildings while you’re out in the city! Adrianna Johnston has a 90-minute art class where you’ll learn how to paint a more intricate building in this same style!

If you’d like updates on more demos and classes, you can sign up for our email newsletter. Also, be sure to show us your creations on social media!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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