Drawing from a Photograph
Using A Camera As A Tool For Drawing

Grab your digital camera; it's time for a road trip (you can simply walk outside). Take a few pictures of your house, apartment building or any subject that's not to complicated in design; start with something simple and box-like. Photograph your subject from different angles (Vantage Points) off to one side or the other. Even take one straight on, we'll use that later on. If you haven't checked out How to Photograph Architecture you might want to go there now. 

Download your photos and print out one or two on 8.5" x 11" (21.5 x 28mm)paper or 11" x 17'' (28 x 43.5mm) paper if you have a large format printer. You don't have to use photo paper, just white copy paper. You can print black and white or color.

Tape down a piece of tracing paper over your photo. You should be able to see the photo thru the tracing paper because of its transparency.

Using a 3B or 2B soft pencil, simply trace over the main outlines of your subject, you don't have to be exact or neat. You will discover the pencil has a tendency to smear and get on your hand. It washes off with soap and water. If this does freak you out place another small piece of tracing paper between your hand and the drawing surface as you work.

Don't get hung up on all the details, just work on the main shapes: roof, doors, windows, etc. If you have trees, bushes, or people in your shot, just loosely trace their outlines for now. Tip: when you draw lines that meet, over lap them a little where they intersect.

When you've finished, remove the photo or put a plain piece of copy paper between the photo and the tracing paper. Wow, your first drawing. As you'll see it's not perfect, but it has character and if you showed it to anyone, they would understand what they are looking at, an image of a building.

I told you this was easy!

Let's go a little further. Put the photo back under your tracing paper or uncover it. Now fill in the areas that appear to be shadows cast from the sun. You can do this by scribbling back and forth or up and down. Think about drawing with a crayon as a kid.

At this point you can add a few more details here and there.


Remove the photo for good. This is really coming to life. It has contrasting areas that pop out visually, bringing more focus on your subject.

Before we go on, you can make a copy of you masterpiece or scan it so you can show it off... Because we are about to mess it up.

Let's find your vanishing points and horizon line (from the Basic Perspective lesson).

I know you have been itching to bring out that ruler or straightedge. Pick one of the sides of the building and continue the lines you know to be horizontal to the ground (the top of the roof, overhangs, tops of doors and windows, or base the building). Converge them to its vanishing point. Now do the same for the other side. Connect your two vanishing points to find the horizon line.

If you picked a subject that you photographed more from the front, as in the next example, you may discover one of your vanishing points is so far away that you would run out of room on your drawing board to get the line to converge--DON'T PANIC. I will show you how to find the horizon line using one vanishing point.

Using the bottom of your photograph as a reference, draw a line parallel to the bottom of the photo thru the one vanishing point. Here's your horizon line.

Just so you know, the horizon line is the level your eye was as you looked thru the camera and snapped the picture. This will be significant later. For now just scratch your head.

What we have done thru the use of the camera is to reverse engineer a basic perspective rough sketch and this will be important when you learn to create a building that does not exist yet.

With more practice you can produce some great drawings you can use to frame and display. They will make great gifts (draw a freind's house-maybe Grandma's). Your artwork can be used for greeting cards as well. My website will have details on these subjects in future lessons.

Anyway, you are doing a terrific job (shameless self-esteem boost).

Do you want to learn some more awesome stuff? I knew it.

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