Architectural Sketching: Teaching a Skill and Building a Business with David Drazil
This week’s interview is with David Drazil, the founder of Sketch Like an Architect, who, frustrated and dissatisfied with his prospects as a graduate architect, decided on a new direction when he took his advanced skills in architectural sketching and built upon them his business.
David’s story is an inspiring one and one which demonstrates that using one’s individual skill set to build a thriving, successful enterprise is entirely possible and achievable, even as a young architect at an early point in one’s career. And this, crucially, without the several years of hard graft that’s a common prerequisite for graduate architects prior to securing their first project or client.
In our interview, David explains how his architectural sketching endeavor, Sketch Like an Architect, initially came to be and how he later developed it into a business that is now his full-time job and primary source of income.
David talks informatively about how to use architectural sketching as a marketing tool and shares his thoughts about the profession through the lense of his millennial generation.
What made you decide to found Sketch Like an Architect? Was there a particular pivotal moment that sealed it for you?
Actually, there was. I can trace it back to a specific period in my life, when I was studying architecture at Aalborg University in Denmark. I’m originally from Prague, where I completed my bachelor’s degree. After finishing in Prague, my girlfriend and I decided to broaden our horizons and go abroad to do our master’s degree in architecture. We ended up in Denmark, at Aalborg University, or AAU. It’s a great school, but whilst there I also encountered some things that I found frustrating and dissatisfactory. So I guess you could say Sketch Like an Architect was actually created out of frustration.
What I experienced at AAU was that many of my peers really weren’t used to sketching things out by hand, or laying out their initial ideas through quick, pen-and-paper hand sketching. I initially thought, “That’s fine – they just use software and can jump straight in that way. It’s just a different approach.” But gradually I realized that when we discussed ideas together, the communication in general just wasn’t very smooth. And as architects, when you work in groups, it’s all about communication. Not just verbal communication, but also visual, right? Being able to visualize and communicate your ideas is integral to what we do as architects.
There would often be misunderstandings, not just because of the language barrier, but also because of the different ways we visually presented our ideas. It became very obvious very quickly just how clearly and effectively – or not – one was able to communicate their ideas.
This whole experience got me thinking and so, after I graduated, I thought, “Hey, I know a couple of tricks and really easy tips on how to get into the flow with architecture and sketching, on how to find your style, on how to get things down quickly on paper…”, and I’d always found that to be a really useful, valuable skill. I knew from experience that others valued it, too. I found myself wondering if perhaps others, even outside of the architecture profession, might also find it interesting, even in an era where the big focus is on technology and BIM, and all that awesome stuff. Which, don’t get me wrong, I’m also a huge fan of.
But I truly believe that there’s a huge amount of value in analogue, in hand sketching, and that it’s an important skill that we can still utilize and benefit from even today.
But I truly believe that there’s a huge amount of value in analogue, in hand sketching, and that it’s an important skill that we can still utilize and benefit from even today. So, Sketch Like an Architect initially came from this sense of frustration that architectural sketching, sketching by hand, was a skill that just didn’t seem to be being employed as widely and effectively as it could be, as a way of sharing and communicating ideas.
When did you discover your talent for architectural sketching for the first time?
I’m not a big believer in talent. If you define talent as something that comes naturally to you, and it’s a prerequisite that you’re just good at it naturally, then great, if you’re one of those people with that natural aptitude. But I don’t think I’m very talented when it comes to drawing or sketching, actually. I’m a big believer in putting in the effort and hard work, and really practicing to hone a skill. I think having that kind of commitment and discipline is much more important than, you know, the initial talent you may or may not start with, because either way, you still have to develop your skills. I think it’s really important to get into the habit of practicing every day, to keep in shape and continue improving as much as possible.
I’m not a big believer in talent. […] I’m a big believer in putting in the effort and hard work, and really practicing to hone a skill.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time drawing – mainly superheroes like Batman and Spiderman, the Ninja Turtles, stuff like that. And then, once I got to my teenage years, I stopped. I didn’t want to sketch because I was afraid it wouldn’t be as good as I imagined it. Then I started again at architecture school in Prague, and that’s where I really learned to sketch properly, through studying the basics of architecture, and learning architectural sketching, which is quite a specific style. It’s completely different from industrial design sketching, for example. Industrial is much more dynamic and often uses markers, and very confident, fast strokes. Those things aren’t necessarily present in architectural sketching.
But I really took to the style of architectural sketching – it felt good to me. Not everyone I studied with enjoyed it, but it felt right to me. So I started using it often, as a tool for both design process and presentation. It seemed like the natural choice, because it was fast. You could brainstorm, you could solve problems, you could ideate, and you could communicate quickly when you were discussing with your supervisors, for example, or your peers. That’s the beauty of architectural sketching.
And from there, I just continued practicing and honing my craft. It’s been much more about the process and journey of development than about any initial talent, for me.
And then you developed that skill into an actual business, sketchlikeanarchitect.com. So how did that go? What was your first idea for a product and your vision for it?
There was absolutely no vision at the beginning. I had no idea where I was going with it, really, and I certainly had no intention or ambition to make it an online business. It was really, if anything, just a side hustle, not really focused on earning any money. After we graduated in Aalborg, my girlfriend and I moved to Copenhagen to look for jobs, and there was a period of unemployment where I was very focused on getting a job and preparing and submitting applications, getting my portfolio together and networking, all that stuff. Looking for a job was almost like a full-time job in itself.
But during that time, I did also manage to set aside some time for my own personal project. I thought it would be cool to create a little guide on how to sketch like an architect, with tips that my peers, and maybe even some other people, might find useful. At that time I was really delving into online courses, and learning a lot from courses on different platforms. So I thought, “Maybe I can create an online course myself.” I find it a really nice medium because it’s mostly video, so it’s very engaging and interactive. I really liked the idea of sharing my architectural sketching skills with a wider audience in this way.
So I got to work creating that, and alongside that, I put together this little PDF handbook which summarized all the information, including all the tips and tricks and the worksheets. These two products – the online course (affiliate link*) and the PDF handbook, have actually, unexpectedly, turned out to be the most popular products I’ve created.
That’s how it started, and it’s the backbone of what it’s become and what it is today. The PDF handbook (affiliate link*), a 60-page PDF document, and the accompanying online architectural sketching course (affiliate link*). I was just scratching my own itch, in a way, not to mention learning a lot in the process. As they say, it’s the teachers who really learn the most, because as a teacher, you have to really dig deep, do lots of research and practice a lot so that you can pass on your knowledge and skills to others. It was a really enjoyable process for me, and a huge learning curve.
While I was creating these, I was still unemployed. Eventually I started using Instagram, which I’d been putting off for a long time… it wasn’t until early 2017 that I really started posting frequently on the platform. I had decided to use it as a gallery of my works in progress, to share what I was working on, to share my sketches. Over time I learned more and more about Instagram and how it works, what hashtags are for and which combinations were most effective, etc – all those little tactics and practicalities. I became really hooked, actually. I’m a very visual guy, so it was very visually satisfying and addictive both to consume and to produce that kind of content.
So, that’s how it went, during my unemployed phase after graduating. I started this little architectural sketching endeavor and the rest, as they say, is history.
Great, and today, are you living from Sketch Like an Architect, or are you still practicing architecture on the side?
As I say, I started Sketch like an Architect with no real long-term vision or plan. I eventually I got a job as an architect in Copenhagen, and I kept SLaA going as a side hustle. It generated a little income, but not the sort that I could really live on. But we recently moved back to the Czech Republic, Prague, and I can now say that it’s been what I do for a living for some time now.
You have over 100K followers on your Instagram channel. That’s an impressive number! Do you think that a good social media strategy can lead to new clients for architects? And how important is it for Sketch like an Architect?
Yes. Our social media following has grown a lot. I actually put together a strategy, a vision, at the very beginning when I started using the platform, which I still stick to now. It’s basically just about providing valuable content on a very frequent, consistent basis. The question of what valuable content is is something that we talk about a lot these days. It’s well known that a valuable piece of content is either entertaining, educational, or inspirational/motivational, and ideally, you’d have a combination of these aspects in every piece of content that you put out.
I was always focused on providing tips on architectural sketching, tips and tricks, and showing not just “nice sketches”, but also to pose the question, what makes them nice? What makes an image work, and why does this particular image work well? I always try to break it down and translate it into tips that anyone could easily apply to their own illustrations.
That’s the kind of value I’ve always strived to provide. That’s my overarching, general strategy. Then, along the way, I’ve just learned more about the practicalities, about optimal frequency, about hashtag combinations, and so on. But it has both its advantages and disadvantages, a platform like Instagram. It can be very profitable in the sense that you can gain attention, which is basically the main goal of all businesses. The modern world we live in is a very hectic, very saturated one with lots of distractions, and everyone’s competing to get a little bit of your attention. Consumer attention is the most valuable commodity there is for businesses.
Instagram provides a great way to get attention if you know how to use it, and if you know how to provide valuable content on a sustainable and consistent basis. It’s really about thinking long term. It’s not about posting 10 posts a day, but, more importantly, about considering how long you’re able to sustain that. It’s about sustainable frequency – that’s really important. It’s an extremely useful platform for gaining attention, but at the same time, Instagram works on very instant basis, meaning that whatever you post has an extremely short shelf life.
If a post is three days old, no one really cares about it anymore. It’s that quick. It’s like a hamster wheel that you need to keep spinning in order to sustain or promote your growth, otherwise you run the risk of stagnating. So that’s a big downside of Instagram, because it can be really daunting and frustrating, and it requires a huge amount of very consistent work and upkeep. Particularly when you compare it to YouTube, for instance; you can make a video on YouTube, and it still gets views years after you originally posted it. With Instagram, it’s a different story.
It’s definitely a downside that I’m now more aware of than ever before, and I’m now trying to focus on something more long-term and more sustainable than just sprinting on the hamster wheel. In retrospect, knowing what I know now and what I’ve learned through experience, I have a sense that the time, effort and energy that that requires might be better invested elsewhere.
Instagram has also grown and developed since I started out on the platform. As a result, organic reach is decreasing hugely and I imagine it’s become much harder to grow in the way as I grew, for instance. As you said, we have over 100,000 followers now, and it’s been two and a half years of pretty much solid, daily work. But now, it would potentially be much harder than that.
So, of course, it always depends on your aims, your vision and what you’re trying to achieve, and it’s important to consider all of that in deciding whether Instagram is the right platform for you. It has its upsides and downsides, like anything else.
Would you say it’s an effective tool for architects, for example classical architects building buildings, to find new clients?
I still believe so, yes. I think it’s a good and sustainable strategy to share your process as you work as an architect, documenting your work, showing your work with clients. Stuff like: How’s the progress on that project? How was your site visit? How does an initial idea go from a sketch on paper to an actual physical realization?
I think that’s a very exciting process, and one that very few clients are actually aware of, or have an idea of how long it takes, what challenges it presents, the level of detailed preparation and thinking required. So I think it’s really interesting and exciting to share this kind of progress to educate your potential clients.
So if your aim is to get more leads and more clients, then you should put out content that is focused on and targeted at these clients. Not targeted at other architects.
So if your aim is to get more leads and more clients, then you should put out content that is focused on and targeted at these clients. Not targeted at other architects. That’s not the point, right? It’s about being approachable and about showing that you’re still human being behind the complex processes of your profession, and that you’re open to communication with potential clients. I think that could be a really solid starting strategy for many architects looking to make new professional connections and secure new clients.
How do you think architects can embrace their architectural sketching skills and use this as a communication tool in their marketing plans?
I think it’s actually very aesthetically appealing and attractive to share the initial sketches as part of the communication process. It could just be at the table in a client meeting, sketching things out together. I think it’s so powerful; sketching is a tool that, for me, opens up a dialogue beyond verbal explanations and imaginings. It’s much more open, because when you see sketched out images, you don’t have the sense that it’s set in stone. Architectural sketching is flexible, a process, and you can make changes. You can interact, you can contribute with your own doodles or sketches, as well as your words.
So yeah, I think it’s extremely effective to invite clients to approach projects in this way, as a way of getting a clear idea of exactly what the client wants, as well as discussing outer constraints and legislation, and site analysis, and all the stuff that’s essential in shaping your concept together with the client. I think architectural sketching is just a great, very natural, fast tool, in getting started with the developing of that concept.
I think using architectural sketching as a tool for communication and a way of engaging with the client on a more human, relational level is very important.
Of course, there will be clients that may perceive sketches, hand sketches, as something amateur. I’ve experienced that. It’s just a matter of taste. Some people are much more used to shiny digital visualizations, CAD drawings and stuff like that. If you bring a sketch, some people, albeit a small minority, might find it unprofessional, because they’re expecting computer generated images or drawings. So it really depends on the client you work with. But I believe in really engaging them in the process, and solving problems together with their feedback and comments on the sketches is just one of an array of very valuable approaches in how to market yourself.
It’s all about the communication, and how the client feels. The client doesn’t just want, for example, a home they would love to live in, but they also want to feel assured that you, as an architect, will accompany them through the process safely and professionally, guiding them along the way, and that you’ll take care of any issues which need resolved in order to successfully make their vision a reality. For the client, it’s all about feeling safe and in good hands.
So I think using architectural sketching as a tool for communication and a way of engaging with the client on a more human, relational level is very important. Architectural projects are usually a very long process and can be very challenging, and I think we as architects need not only to educate our clients, but, just as importantly, to show that we are there for them. We are serving them. We are providing a service. So, in an ideal world, the proceedings and communication should be as smooth as possible.
You represent a new generation of young architects. What are your thoughts on the profession in general? How would you like to see change in the future?
It’s a very big question. From my perspective, and particularly with reference to where I live, in Prague, I think we should be focusing much more on sustainability, on having a very environmentally aware approach. There are three pillars – environmental, social and economic, and I think focusing on all three of these aspects is an approach that we should be taking today. We need to be thinking more about future generations and leaving the Earth in a better state than we found it.
So that’s one thing. I think the other, which is connected to that, is about how we approach building altogether. When I was in school, we were mostly focused on designing new buildings, but what’s really in demand right now is reconstructions, refurbishments, taking care of old buildings and doing conversions and adapting them. I think this is a very healthy approach – taking what we already have and thinking about how best to work with it, because demolition is not always the answer. I feel that that’s a very necessary approach, and a healthy kind of architectural practice in the modern world.
Do you have any advice for Archipreneurs who want to start and build their own business?
It might be a little cliché, but clichés are based upon some truths, after all. I’d say that self-awareness is key: knowing what you are, who you are, what and who you want to be, what your weaknesses and strengths are, and where you can help other people, how you can be valuable to the world. Zone in on those things and find your niche, and be very specific about your target audience, the people that you want to serve.
What I’ve found along the way is that it’s always an ongoing process. I really want to help architects, designers and hobby sketchers, so those are the main groups I try to serve. These can be split into two rough groups: on the one hand, there’s a professional element to it, architecture students and professional architects, and professionals in neighboring areas such as interior design, landscape architecture or even civil engineering. Then there are the hobby sketchers, which is the non-professional group. Urban sketching is actually a hugely popular pastime. So upon discovering that, I realized I could potentially really help those people, too.
I didn’t realize how lucky I was in the beginning to have found my niche, and that this niche, architectural sketching, is kind of a mixture of architecture and drawing, and it’s actually quite narrow, as is, of course, the nature of a niche. It’s focused. But, at the same time, this particular niche is very fruitful, and there are plenty of people engaging with it. So in terms of business, it’s actually very sustainable, and this concept, this model, can work.
So, yeah, I think those are the two most important things to focus on: knowing who you want to serve and providing those people with value. And it’s important to remember, of course, that providing value usually involves providing useful, interesting content for free, on a consistent, regular basis.
You have to put yourself out there. I recently read a quote. I don’t know the author, but it stuck with me: “It’s not about being the best. It’s about being the best-known.” So you have to really market yourself and put yourself out there, which can be a daunting thing at first. But you have to take the plunge and go for it, because you never know what might come in return.
How do you see the future of the architectural profession? In which areas (outside of traditional practice) can you see major opportunities for up and coming architects?
I think it actually depends on how society perceives the role of an architect. It differs from country to country. What I really love about this profession is the very universal skill set that you have when you graduate from school. As an architect, you are capable of much more than just the production of architecture, producing drawings and bringing them to life in the physical world.
Our skills are, in part, very artistic, which lend themselves to areas like graphic design, video production, 3D modeling and rendering, and so on. We also have a wealth of very technical knowledge in terms of things like civil engineering. I thought about this myself a lot when I was looking for a job and trying to build my professional profile. I personally found myself much more interested in visual communication and visual presentation of architecture beyond just producing some drawings in AutoCAD.
That’s also the reason why I left my first job. I left shortly after my probation period was over, because I felt like it just wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in. I spent all day drawing in AutoCAD, clicking away on my computer, and I felt very unfulfilled. After leaving this first job, I decided to focus my professional profile even more on visual presentation of architecture, and I learned that there are actually at least three areas of architecture, in a broad sense. I’ll explain:
What I mean is that there’s the production phase, production area, which we’re trained to do at university. But there are at least two more equally important areas, which come at the beginning and at the end of that process. At the beginning there is inspirational phase, where the initial ideas and visions are born. So, there’s inspiration, there’s production, and afterwards, when production is completed, there’s the marketing and promotion. This means thinking about how you promote existing and new architecture, and the new developments of architecture, the urban themes of cities, stuff like that. And actually, in these two areas, the initial inspiration and the promotion at the end… there aren’t many people specializing in this kind of work.
I feel I can bring more value to those two areas than to the production, because the production is already somewhat oversaturated with architects. There are plenty of people producing architecture. But there are not that many people who provide inspiration at the initial stages of the process, and also who promote and celebrate what has been done following its completion.
I’m trying to talk quite broadly about the many different options and possibilities for architects, because as I’ve said, these are the areas where architects have the very broad skill sets required, but aren’t necessarily using them to their full potential.
I myself am still very young for an architect, so I can’t speak from decades of experience, as I don’t have that yet… so I can only speak from where I stand right now. And what I can say is that, when I was studying architecture, I only saw one path: to become an architect and to produce architecture, to design, to do the drawings, to see it through to realization. But there are so many more paths you can go down as a trained architect. That’s been a huge relief for me. I think it’s fantastic that I can take my skills as an architect and use them in other, neighboring areas, and not just directly in architectural production. I truly believe that the career possibilities for architects in the modern day and age are richly varied and that young architects today have, in many ways, broader horizons than ever before.
David Drazil is a young architect, who loves to sketch. With passion for visual presentation of architecture, he’s sharing freebies and educational resources on how to #SketchLikeAnArchitect.
During his architectural studies, both in the Czech Republic and Denmark, David found his passion in the visual presentation of architecture – namely architectural sketching, visualisations, animation, and virtual reality.
In 2016, David graduated from Aalborg University in Denmark with a Master of Science (MSc.) degree in Architecture and Design. David has gained working experience from both Czech and Danish studios, such as Cigler Marani Architects, KHR Architecture, and Danielsen Architecture.
David has a successful online presence on his website SketchLikeAnArchitect.com and on Instagram – by sharing daily tips & tricks on architectural sketching, David has built a community of over 100k fans.
Today, his work includes online and live teaching, speaking at universities and conferences, architectural and graphic design projects, and multiple collaborations including sketching apps for iPad called Morpholio and ShadowDraw.
*Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, we will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. We are a participant in the Gumroad and Teachable affiliate program, affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to affiliated sites and products.
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