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5 Reasons you should keep a Sketchbook (For Architecture Students)

Keeping a sketchbook is one of many traits of an architect or architecture student, or any design student as a matter of fact. Your sketchbook is the go to outlet for any kind of ideas or notes. Similar to a diary, notebook or planner, your sketchbook also contains drawings or sketches that you may or may not develop into a fully fledged design.

At the end of the day, your sketchbook becomes your prized possesion. It differs from a notebook because it allows for sketching, drawing, scribbling, anything to do with designing elements or figuring out dimensions, shapes and all architecture related things.

Just like your mechanical pencils, scale rulers and roll of tracing paper, a sketchbook is an essential part of those tools. For architects, it will work great for client meetings, internal office meetings and eventually becomes a part of your daily life, so introducing it at the very start of your architecture journey just gets you used to the habit.

When starting out at university, you tend to quickly figure out that a sketchbook is a key part of every-day life from the moment you start your architecture career. In fact, we suggest a sketchbook is one of the must-haves to buy before even starting university.

Check out our post about Starting Architecture at University HERE.

In this article, we’ll give you 5 key reasons why a sketchbook is necessary and the things you can use it for. Additionally, your sketchbook can come in any shape and size of your choosing; A6, A5 or A4. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy or have special paper. If the pages aren’t enough for you, then a budget fix would be to staple more than one sketchbook together so that everything is in one place and you’re not carrying around 3 or 4 sketchbooks with you.

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Think of it as something that you can carry with you at all times or stash in your bag is ideal. Some universities will even stock a plain old A5 sketchbook in their print shop.

It can be helpful to split your sketchbooks for each project. For example, if you have a design project at the start of the year and another later on, keep them separate so you have more space to test out things and not get confused. Keeping a small notebook or online journal for your essays can be extremely helpful aswell. Personally, we would keep a sketchbook for each project, and then another planner just for organisation purposes. It doesn’t even have to be something physical, as long as you can make lists, whether it’s on your phone, tablet or computer (ideally offline) figure out what works best for you. Eventually, you get used to carrying your sketchbook around with you and pulling it out when you get a dose of inspiration.

Let’s get into the main purpose and uses of a sketchbook.

  1. To Take Notes
  2. Write To-Do Lists
  3. Sketching
  4. Test Elements of Your Design
  5. Submit as Part of Your Project

Taking Notes

During your time in architecture school, you will be essentially be guided by your tutor(s) and tutorials and ‘crits’ or critiques will also be a common practice. These are one-to-one sessions with your tutors or crits involving your unit and sometimes guest critics.

Where does a sketchbook fit into that? Well, when receiving feedback, it is so important to write down the things that your tutors are telling you. Your sketchbook is the place where you can visually figure out any changes you want to make or test out a new feature. Using this in conjunction with some great tracing paper means you’re being more proactive and using your time well figuring it out in the moment.

Writing down what to change in your design, a particular element or in your portfolio can lead to better organisation and lead to an increase in creativity. It can also be useful to use during design lectures, within your university or outside. Taking small notes when you have those brilliant ideas out of nowhere should be done in your sketchbook so you can look back at it.

Keeping everything together, even your rough sketches, helps keep track of your design process, so eventually, when putting together your portfolio you can understand how you came to a decision about the materials you want to use or the curvature in your design, for example.

Writing To-Do Lists

As well as writing in feedback you can also use your sketchbook as a sort of planner or a weekly to-do list. It helps you clear your mind on the next tasks you need to complete and can really help to manage your time. Of course, you could use a notebook for this too, but it depends how you work best. If you want to keep your general to-do lists separate then that’s fine.

We love using the small notes written in our sketchbooks to create lists. If you’re planning to stick around here, you need to understand that lists are your best friend and we might even say they are the key to organisation, and it all starts in your sketchbook. You can also use this to make a more ‘ordered’ sketchbook that is more legible for examiners to possibly submit at the end of the year.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy once again, just a simple numbered list with the dates of when you want to ideally complete it or even tick boxes so you can swiftly move on to the next task. Each task can be as detailed or vague as you want but try thinking about what you want to achieve specifically in that one day or week.

If you wanted to treat it as a proper planner, we’d suggest going for a notebook or a bullet journal to keep your daily and weekly tasks in one place. This way it won’t interfere with your architecture or university work.

Sketching

Sketching can be a vital part of an architect’s daily life. Not mindless, random scribbles, but sketching things that can inspire you later on or to just better your sketching skills can be great. It’s also seen as a great skill by employers because you need to be able to think creatively on your feet as well s communicate these ideas visually.

We would say you should definitely keep a separate daily sketchbook as it can boost your creativity and let you experiment with the kinds of styles of drawing you want to achieve. If you’re into hand-drawn detailed sketches, practice this as often as you can and even try incorporate it into your final pieces.

It’s all good using 3D modelling software in your architecture projects and we love those programmes because they sometimes make our lives easier. But, there is no better feeling than figuring out a form or an element on a piece of paper. This way, you can work in 3D without all the exact measurements or having to use a handful of tools.

You should also use a roll of tracing paper of course, but your sketchbook can be a place for you to stick some of your sketches and first draft drawings in so you can refer back to these. Encourage your tutors to sketch out the ideas they are explaining to you and keep those in your sketchbook as well.

Test Elements of Your Design

Your design needs to flow in and out of your sketchbook and eventually end up as proper drawings, renders or illustrations and come together in your portfolio, but this is where it starts out.

When getting down to the nitty-gritty details of the layers in a wall cavity perhaps, or the dimensions of your site, you can note all these down and keep a record of measurements. You can also start thinking about what kind of elements you want to design or to play with the composition of a space.

Use your sketchbook in conjunction with references; Pinterest and Tumblr can be great tools in this area. In you spare time, have your computer, phone or tablet open with Pinterest and a board of amphitheatres for examples. Copying something exactly might not be the best idea, so use some creative licence and figure out why you like that particular image and try apply those techniques to your own design.

Have a look at our Pinterest boards for inspiration HERE.

Then, use your sketchbook to figure out how it can work in your building, with the site and the small details you want to feature. Write down small notes to remind yourself later on why it matters.

And the biggest mistake you could do is erase things. Spending time erasing sketches or notes in your sketchbook is time lost. Even if it looks bad or amateur to begin with, its where you began. You will undoubtedly have some bad ideas but at least you’re getting ideas. Eventually, something will click and you’ll find that great idea or the last piece to the puzzle.

Keeping a track of your thought process can later be useful in crits or applying for jobs. You can understand the feedback you receive better and know where to apply it. For future roles, it can show you have great work ethic as well as communication skills. It lets other’s see how you turned your paper napkin sketch into a fully-fledged design and suggests that you have the ability to create ideas instantly rather than just through software.

Submit your Sketchbook

Not all universities may allow this but sometimes, and if your sketchbook is neat enough, you could be able to submit your sketchbook as a part of your project. Once again, it can highlight your design process and let the marker find out more about the project.

If you have no intention of doing this, it’s also fine. Your sketchbook is there as a tool to help you and doesn’t need to be the other way around.

Other ideas for when using a sketchbook include planning out models, portfolio pages and for creating plans of page layouts or photographs. It’s pretty simple and all you need is a pen or pencil to get started.

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So, if you’re starting architecture in university soon or just want to know the ins and outs of an architect’s tools, we hope this helped convince you why a sketchbook is necessary.

Your sketchbook doesn’t have to be the only resource when it comes to projects. Using note-taking apps or just having your laptop or MacBook with Word open can be great for those who prefer written up notes and you can even sync everything up to keep those precious lists everywhere!

Let us know how you use your sketchbook and whether you have any tips for university students who have just started. Tag a picture of your sketchbook, no matter how messy or neat, with the hashtag #toscale on Instagram to get featured in our story!

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