The Art of Sketching at SERA

by | September 8, 2015 4 Ideas

Earlier this year, SERA hosted its second employee-led sketching series. As co-instructor Jeff Roberts explained it, “Our goals were to engage staff across each of our studios, to help them improve how they convey design solutions, and to get outside and have fun.”

Each class in the series built on lessons of the prior, requiring ‘students’ to rapidly transfer a scene to paper and observe their progress. In this entry, we look at a few of our talented sketch artists, who see sketching as a first step in design, and as a way of life.

Travis Dang

Travis_Dang“I sketch more for personal pleasure, so it’s a bonus when there are opportunities to sketch for work. I find it to be a meditative process. It’s a fun challenge to break something down and capture it with just lines and some shading in a short amount of time. Sketching is the primary way for me to quickly communicate design ideas and work through design problems. Sometimes there isn’t enough time for a straight edge.

With pen and ink, the permanence of the medium forces you to be OK with mistakes, a drawing doesn’t have to be perfect – it’s just a sketch.

I’d always liked to draw and paint since I was a kid. I took art classes and learned how to draw bowls of fruit, portraits, and really formally-composed sorts of things. It wasn’t until college that I discovered a style of drawing that was looser and more appropriate for design and observing the built environment. My breakthrough was during a landscape architecture design studio. My instructor suggested that I swap my pencil for a pen. Before that suggestion, I would draw so tentatively and lightly and get bogged down erasing errant marks. With pen and ink, the permanence of the medium forces you to be OK with mistakes, a drawing doesn’t have to be perfect – it’s just a sketch.

I definitely like to be outside sketching. Urban settings like streetscapes and plazas with interesting details and unusual forms. I like to layout the basic framework of the space and then layer in things like different modes of transportation, trees, and people to really capture that moment.”


Gauri Rajbaidya

Gauri_Rajbaidya“I started sketching since I was a kid inspired by the artists around me. There is a lot of interesting architecture and beautiful mountains in Nepal to derive inspiration from. My dad, who was an artist himself used to take me to all the great architectural sites. I’d try to capture as much in my mind since we did not have a camera. Once I got home, I would try to draw out of memory.

For me, sketching is a spiritual experience. I become aware of my emotions and thought process. There is also tension sometimes in what I already visualize the final sketch to be and realizing the way my sketch is progressing is not going to get me there. The more I practice the better I get. There is always a sense of achievement when you finish a sketch.

My advice for young architects is just start sketching. I have learned some classic theories on drawing from renowned artists in Nepal, but at the end of the day none of that matters. What matters is the expressive emotions you bring to your sketch and anyone can do that – you just have to start. I read in a Michael Graves interview that he used to trace the drawings of the designers that he liked. I have done that and I think that is also a great method. It’s like learning to sing. We sing along with the artist we admire and play the instruments like they play. However, you always bring your own interpretation and expression to the table.”


Brian Lin

Brian Lin“I’ve been drawing all my life, so there’s a very fine line between sketching for work and for pleasure. I would say it’s pretty balanced. I communicate through sketching and sometimes I’ll find myself drawing on napkins at a bar as a way of talking. I’m a very graphic-oriented person, so I always have a pen with me wherever I go.

My father was a professor of architecture and landscape architecture at Kansas State University, so I was surrounded by drawings, renderings, physical models, and mountains of trace sketches from a very early age. I think my father sensed a latent ability of sketching (or desire for anything architectural) in me, so he would leave out these really gorgeous and detailed sketches in the kitchen and on my piano where I usually spent most of my time. My parents didn’t believe in daycare, so after-school activities were spent with him in design studio at Kansas State, where I watched him demonstrate the skills and techniques of drawing and sketching. His teaching style and how he engaged with students through sketching was how I got interested in drawing and teaching.

My son, who just turned 13, has shown some interest in drawing and is quite talented. He sees me draw at home and loves my color pencil drawings and sketches. So sketching at some level has become this thing that I can share with him, and hopefully he can develop that into a skill should he choose a career in the design profession. Of course, his mother is hoping that he becomes a doctor.”


Jeff Roberts

Jeff-Roberts-web“I find that sketching has opened up my ability to view the world from a different lens. I tend to slow down, become more peaceful, reflective and try to read the place for it is.

Each line of my sketch should have a purpose and tell a story. I consider sketching to be one of my best skill sets, and a big part of how I got my first architecture job. It continues to be a critical piece in my work; rarely does I a day go by where I am not using it to illustrate an idea.

I have always enjoyed drawing and sketching from a young age. My mother was an artist and a role model for my drawing and painting opportunities. During my high school days, I took mechanical drafting and numerous arts classes, and had a very influential art teacher by the name of Ron Jenson. Mr. Jenson was an amazing educator on composition, but took a disciplinarian approach on sketching concepts prior to starting any piece of artwork.

His lessons shaped my art and architecture career from that point on.

During my college years at Oklahoma State, we were grounded in the teachings of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and presentation graphics/sketching where critical tools in conveying conceptual ideas. My sketching skills and graphics took a huge leap forward after an intensive summer program at Kansas State under renowned graphics teacher Mike Lin (father of Brian Lin, above) and work completed in this session got me my first job in an architecture firm.”


  1. What a great way to share our art side. And the drawings are wonderful!

  2. Hand drawing in architecture is a valuable trait. When an idea is too complex to describe with words, or the group is struggling to grasp the issue in a meeting, having paper and pen at hand can resolve almost any confusion. Travis, Gauri, Brian and Jeff use their drawing skills daily at SERA. Their drawing dexterity speaks more than 1000 words.

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