Drawing buildings in your landscapes

Drawing buildings will often be necessary when creating a landscape in coloured pencils. However, it is easy to get carried away with detail. Learning some techniques which enable us to give the impression of buildings without having to draw every brick is well worth while. 

We will be looking at drawing buildings made from brick, stone and tiles, typical to rural UK areas and Europe. If you live elsewhere the building materials may differ.

Wall surfaces when drawing buildings

Below are examples of four brick walls. We will look at stone walls further down the page. 

Bricks and stones often vary in colour and are influenced by light and shade, which gives the building shape and solidity. 

Deep mortar lines showing dark shadows in the sunlight
Lines of sandy coloured mortar and sandy bricks. In some cases only the shadow shows where the mortar line runs
Mortar with only very shallow indentations, but very visible through the use of white mortar. Note the varied colour bricks.
Old stone wall partly rebuilt with modern brick

We will look at colour, shadow and construction in this section of the site, and will use a number of Peter's photographs. We recommend that you spend time looking at similar wall textures in your own environment, while taking photos yourself to build up a personal reference library. Wall types vary even in the same area, and when you go further afield they can look completely different.

Bricks and tiles are usually made from baked clay of many colours, and can contain impurities within both the surface and manufacturing method. This means that no two walls you will see match perfectly.

Modern bricklaying tends to show around 18% mortar, and this in turn can be darker or lighter than the general brick colour.

Older walls show much less mortar, with the accurately cut bricks or stone blocks fitting together tightly. About the only indication of stone shape can be in the shadowed areas in sunlight.

Quarried from the local area, the stones in this building have identical colour and weathering.
Where stones are imported from a wider area and cut to fit, we can get some quite interesting wall effect.

Points to observe in the walls when drawing buildings are

  • the general colour and how each brick differs in tone and hue
  • whether they were new bricks or re-used
  • how deep the mortar line is inset and what colour it is
  • how the shadows appear at the edge of each brick due to the ambient light

Look again at the first photos on this page, and see how some bricks are laid long edge showing and some end-on. This strengthens the wall by bridging two lines of brick. Most modern brick houses have walls two bricks deep with a cavity between to provide insulation and dry inner walls. This is not a treatise on bricklaying, but you do need a small amount of knowledge to understand and show brick walls correctly when drawing buildings. 

Bricklaying patterns can also vary a great deal, but virtually all depend on an overlap of brick or stone over joints to hold the wall together. 

Bear in mind that you do not have to show every brick in detail (unless you wish to, of course)! It is quite normal to lay down an overall colour layer and then define some areas of individual bricks. If you decide to take this approach, remember the use of the indented line technique to keep the image of the mortar line free of the general colour layer.

Drawing a brick archway

Let's look at an example drawing to show how the lines of bricks and areas of stone have been depicted. This first set of illustrations are from the step by step tutorial called Garden Arch

In this example, the brickwork is the frame to the picture - which is the view through the archway.  We don’t need to spend too much time on each brick, we merely need to get a believable impression of the brickwork.

In the first image (above) overall colour has been laid down with areas of mortar left white. You will note that in many cases the bricks will also have lighter areas on the surface where they have aged.  

Check which direction the sunlight is coming from and make sure that all your sunlit edges correspond. The lit edge of each brick will usually be the top edge where it stands proud of the mortar.  But some bricks will be uneven and have raised projections that will catch the light and cause shadows on the unlit side.

Check your reference carefully to see how the light hits the bricks as they turn a corner or slant, as in this example archway. 

Once you are sure that the lines of bricks are laid down correctly on your paper, you can build up the colour - as in the next image (above).

See how I have worked the bricks where they will be visible to the right and left of the arch behind the creeper. Doing this ensures that you keep your lines of mortar consistent.

Try to avoid using black coloured pencil to show the shadows. Instead use darker reds and violets, or the complimentary colour, (which in the case of red bricks would be green).  Other colours used in this example were sepia and indigo blue, especially where the creeper is leaving a deep shadow. 

When you are working an image with lines of bricks, there is no need to carefully complete each brick - unless that is your preferred style.  Generally an impression of bricks will suffice with just a few carefully completed at critical points in the area of maximum focus (where you expect your viewer to look most closely).  

If you are drawing buildings that have walls straight in front of the viewer, there will be no perspective involved as the lines of mortar will be exactly horizontal and usually evenly spaced.  

In most cases, however, the view will involve a building or wall at an angle to the viewer and life gets a little more complicated . when perspective comes into play.  You DO need to have a basic understanding of how lines converge as they recede and how the angles work.  There is a section on Perspective on the site.  If you are not totally clear about vanishing points and perspective, then please read through that section - it should help a great deal with you getting convincing brickwork.

The image below gives a simplified view of a line of bricks.  Firstly note that the ‘horizontal’ mortar lines  are not horizontal. They are shown at different angles converging on a point to the left (about 18 inches away on my original).

This point will be at eye level in the distance and may be way off the paper - it depends on the angle the wall is sited to the viewer. This is called the ‘vanishing point’  - where the wall would vanish if it were completed for as far as it could be seen.  The horizontal length of each brick gets greater as it gets nearer. There is a way of calculating this exactly, and it is shown in the section on perspective, but for the present, I have merely drawn the spacing by eye.

The point of this drawing is to highlight the fact that you need to sketch light lines on to the working surface to get your perspective right before you work the bricks.  The next step is to ensure that you leave the light edges (above and to the right in my example) in either white or light coloured pigment and - after shading in the mid tone, apply the shadow (to the bottom and left edges in my example).  This gives the impression of the inset mortar and the raised edges of brick.

Drawing a dry stone wall

Let's now look at the process of drawing a dry stone wall, such as may be found in the landscape when drawing buildings situated in the North of England or in Scotland. 

Dry stone walls are made with no cement and rely entirely on the skill of the craftsman to use local materials found in and around the farm. Larger stones are used as the base and then progressive layers of stones are fitted into the wall to make a solid structure to keep animals in designated areas.

On land where the only natural resource is the stone lying around, this makes a good 'fence' which can last for 100 years or more with occasional maintenance. 

As you will see from these examples from the Yorkshire Dales near Richmond, the stones ‘weather’ and show areas of light and dark stone - but all very much in keeping with the landscape.

There is no mortar and the wall is a uniform colour, highlighted against the landscape behind it, but given form by the dark areas of shadow within the wall.  

This makes it much easier to reproduce as the technique is to first apply the lightest colour, then apply successively darker tones finishing off with a final layer of your darkest grey/brown - often Sepia.

Again, try to avoid using Black. The colour is too ‘dead'.

Note how the wall is constructed in layers with a final topping of stones laid vertically.  In the photo (top)  above there has been some aging of the wall with some loss of stone to the near right. The wall may have been lightly repaired but the lines of stone as originally laid are now disrupted and this gives some foreground interest.

Here is an example of a dry stone wall worked in coloured pencil on a Hot Pressed Watercolour paper.

The paper has  some grain to it, so the effect is to duplicate the gritty effect of the stone where the pigment hits and misses the surface. 

Note how the lower portion of the wall is shadowed to highlight the long green grass. There is also deep shadow in the lower parts of the grass which brings up the light catching the long grass tops.

The grass is drawn in with long vertical strokes, the wall stones are generally (but not always) horizontal and follow the line of the wall

The top of the wall is lit by the sunlight and the areas of shadow give shape to the individual stones within the wall.

The last image shows the detail larger than it is on the actual painting.

Try to select a reference that has good areas of contrasting light. Here, the foreground shadow emphasises the sunlit grass in the field beyond.

Drawing buildings - roof surfaces

In this section we will be looking at roof surfaces in general.  This includes, thatch (roofs covered with reeds or straw), stone and tiles of many different types - many of them giving challenges to the artist.

Tiles

Tiles can be tricky. Perspective comes into play a lot as the tiles on an average roof appear to reduce in size as they get further away, through normal perspective. in addition the roof is usually sloping, introducing a further perspective into the equation.

Let us look first at a particular roof covered in interlocking tiles  and compare this with a roof covered in old traditional tiles and finally one covered with slates.

Modern concrete interlocking tiles
Traditional clay baked tiles

Hand cut quarried stone tiles

Clay tiles from Mediterraean countries

You will see from these illustrations that roofing surfaces can vary a great deal and getting those lines of tiles correctly shown can be a challenge.  

I can’t give you a simple way of portraying the different tile types - there would be no point in filling pages of the website with information that will have very little use.  What I can do, is give you a guide on how to approach the drawing of the lines of tiles in correct proportion and perspective.

Firstly consider that our roof has tiles which appear larger the closer they are to the viewer and smaller the further they are away.  This is a natural law of perspective.    Tiles therefore obey perspective in two directions.

In the sketch here, you will see that there are two ‘vanishing points’ ...

  • a horizontal on to the right at ‘A’ where the horizontal lines of the roof would vanish if they continued to the distance,
  • and the much further away vanishing point at B, up in the sky, where the sloping surfaces would similarly disappear from sight if they went high enough.

As you will see, I have halved the vertical height of the roof and then marked the quarter points. I have then sketched in a single tile at each corner - upper right at C and lower left at D.  These are in proportion to the scale of the roof and you can readily see how much larger the left hand and nearer tile is compared to the upper right hand one.

So how on earth do we make sure that we have correctly drawn in all the tiles when drawing buildings with tiled roofs?

In a couple of words……. We don’t.  

We give an impression of the tiles, making sure that they obey the basic laws of perspective.

Depending on the type of tiles and the height and slope of the roof, there will be a given number of rows of tiles, but we don’t need to go there.  Our picture simply needs to give a close approximation of those rows.

Provided we get the shape of the roof correct, and observe the way the lines of tiles run, we can take a section of roof, and mark half way spots along the roof edge, then halve those sections and then halve again.  As in the sketch below, the tiles will then observe correct proportion.

Have a rough count of the actual number of rows of tiles and judge how to approach the task.

In the study above, I have shown there to be 8 rows of tiles.  In fact there were many more, so your next option here would be 16 rows ( by halving the spaces shown above).

If you measure 3 equal spaces at each end of the roof when you start - instead of two - and then halve those spaces and halve again, you will finish up with 12 rows (or 24).  In fact you will probably only need to show an overall indication of the individual tiles so the essential ones are those nearer to the viewer - in the bottom right hand corner.  Horizontal shadow lines and the colour and shading will then tell the viewer that he ( or she ) is looking at a tiled roof.

If we are looking at shaped tiles - as in this tiled barn in Somerset UK (above), then there will be clearer shadow lines which in the case of the image (below), will show a ripple effect where they overlap.  Make sure that your colours show the vertical shapes as well as you can see here the whites and reds.

In French Provence and other warmer climates, more unique shapes to tiles can mean that your shadow lines can run in both directions …..see the pictures  below.

In more northern countries, such as Talinn in Estonia  (below) the hard winters mean that roofs need to be steeper to shed snow more easily, so they tend to have more rows of tiles which are similarly ‘U’ shaped to provide a double layer of protection - this time from the cold rather than the heat.

To sum up, when drawing buildings with tiled roofs, take some care in working out the number of rows of tiles you need (approximately) and give an impression of the shape of the nearest tiles and the way the sizes and shapes change with perspective.

Put down a pattern in a dark/cool  colour to show the shadow areas, then look at the overall colour the roof will display.  That colour is important, so get a base coat down over the shadow pattern.

Then work with the roof in a similar way to the approach you would use with fur on an animal. Keep your strokes going in the direction the tiles are laid.  Keep the pencil strokes light and observe any areas where the roof shows up as being much lighter - as in that picture of the Somerset barn.

And above all … don’t get stressed about doing every tile.

Other types of roofs

Now let us have a quick look at other roof types you may encounter when drawing buildings in your landscapes. 

We will start with thatch. 

Thatch can be created with reed or straw and the finished roof can look superb, keeping the occupants warm in winter and cool in summer.  If not maintained, it can be attacked by birds and vermin for building materials. 

Thatcher at work

For those of you who are outside the UK, thatch used to be common in England as well as in Brittany and Normandy in France. I have also seen thatch used in Scandinavia.

Thatch can still be seen on old cottage properties in rural England, although many thatched roofs have been replaced with modern roofing materials due to the fire risk. 

As you will see from the above images, thatch changes colour over time. 

Be careful when drawing buildings with thatched roofs to ensure that the grain of the fibres is observed. Also note that thatch often overhangs windows and gives a much darker edge to your roofline. 

Thatch is laid in layers and the top layer is laid to shed rain, with a top line along the crown of the roof often laid in a pattern.  Thatched cottages often have chimneys separated from the roof to keep the risk of fire down.  Irish and Scottish thatch is often seen with solid end walls as shown below.

Our final image is of a wooden tiled roof. 

I have seen these in Canada and also in Scandinavia where reed/straw is in short supply and timber is in abundance.   You get some lovely colours in the old wood surfaces where algae has grown.

I hope this page has helped you to observe the differences in the materials used for walls and roofs when drawing buildings in your own landscapes. 

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