Sketching a Sense of Place: Houses | Gillian McGee | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

Sketching a Sense of Place: Houses

teacher avatar Gillian McGee, Architect & Artist

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (21m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Tools & Materials

    • 3. Buildings & Climate

    • 4. Technique: Linework

    • 5. Technique: Seeing Shapes

    • 6. Exercise: House Facade

    • 7. Exercise: Entry Door

    • 8. Final Thoughts

  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels
  • Beg/Int level
  • Int/Adv level

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

What gives your city character, and what sets it apart from other regions? Your city has something to offer regardless of its size or where you are in the world. I'm an architect who will be using this background to help you sketch and explore your city with pencil and watercolor. This class is designed for the beginner skill level, but it will give anyone the opportunity to illustrate and appreciate the world around them regardless of your ability! 


  • Capture energy and movement through loose lines and watercolor washes.
  • Discover how your environment shapes your house's shape, form, and color.
  • Let go of perfection to create flowing sketches filled with character and expression. This class is about making space for progress while learning some fun techniques along the way!


As an architect, I will guide you through basic architectural elements and connect them with various environmental aspects. We will address how buildings in your city relate to their region and celebrate their culture. There are numerous factors and influences that shape cities so I will be distilling complex topics down into quickly recognizable components. I encourage to use what you learn in the class, apply it to your own city, and share your project with us on Skillshare!

NOTE: All photo references from this class can be found in the Project/Resources tab, and they can only be accessed from a computer.


Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Gillian McGee

Architect & Artist


Hi, I'm Gillian! I'm architect living on the Gulf Coast. I love creating thoughtfully crafted art that captures energy and atmosphere with a loose and dynamic quality. 

I'm inspired by my coastal city where mossy live oaks mingle with palms, balmy subtropical summer days last the majority of the year, and where endless character can be found in the fabric of historic neighborhoods.


Together, let's explore the watercolor and sketching process to represent a sense of place. I'll use my background as an architect to help you consider how cities are shaped by their e... See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • Exceeded!
  • Yes
  • Somewhat
  • Not really
Reviews Archive

In October 2018, we updated our review system to improve the way we collect feedback. Below are the reviews written before that update.

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Gillian. I'm an architect and artist living on the Gulf Coast, and I'll use this background to help you develop loose in lively watercolor sketches, create balance compositions, breakdown detailed scenes into basic geometric shapes and captured the energy and atmosphere with layer colors in flowing line work. The class is designed for beginners in mind. Since I walked through the drawing and watercolor process in depth, the class is not about drawing perfectly. Straight lines are creating precise architectural renderings. Our goal is to build a set of tools and techniques to capture the world around us. On paper, it's not about perfection. There will be two project demonstrations for you to follow. Along with the first will be a facade second and entry door. In these reference photos can be found in the project. In Resource is Tab, I'm captivated by the character of cities and emphasising these aspects. On paper. I go on regular walks through my neighborhood, and this is one of the houses I usually pass. I love the curve porch that offer shade in the summer and a casual spot to gather with neighbours on a Friday evening. We've lived in our neighborhood for about five years, and I grew up only a few blocks away. However, each walk seems to uncover detailed trend. Ironwork are a window, but I never noticed before. So this class is to encourage you to discover features about your city that you've never seen before with a fresh set of eyes and understand your sense of place. There are a lot of factors at play that give a particular region. It's personality, but I'll be simplifying it into three elements. Environment, culture and architecture. I'll be highlighting all climate types is they might relate to you, but I'll be focusing on my region of the Southeast United States is it's what I know bust. You'll be getting a taste of, ah, hot human climate, reflecting its varied French, Spanish and English past. But regardless of skill level, this class will give me the opportunity to appreciate an illustrate the world around you, whether it's your neighborhood or on your travels. So let's get started 2. Tools & Materials: Welcome back. I'll get you some suggestions on materials that I use but feel free. Teoh. Use whatever watercolor supplies you have on hand as it doesn't take much to get started and typically start with a pencil outline on watercolor paper and then build up my watercolor layers from there. Be sure using watercolor or mixed media paper to avoid warping. Amusing, An awkward journal with £140 paper that handles multiple washes. Well zero and number five, pointed spotter and a number eight round brush. I tend to hold the spotter similar to a pencil, since I used them for detailed lines and mark making. Whereas I hold the number eight brush towards the middle of the handle with the least script for flowing strokes and washes. I'm using Windsor Newton's professional watercolors and neutral green and blue hues. Thes colors represent my coastal environment. They form a recall quality and reflect a lifestyle that's unhurried and relaxed. The neutral shown here and warm to our sketches and will be used for the house beside a roof and window details. Our use Payne's gray as a substitute for black as it adds some depth and isn't so flat. I enjoy mixing blues with neutrals to create intriguing shadow colors. They add an uplifting quality and balance out the darker colors in the palette. The greens, air used for landscape and soften the composition pays great, can also be mixed in with olive and sap to create detailed marks. What I love so much about watercolors are their ease of use and portability. You can just as easily sketch at a local cafe is you can't at home with a reference photo. Here is my current watercolor set up in my sunroom, and as you can see, you don't need a lot of space. This room has excellent natural light, and I keep my supplies to my right side so I don't get paint or water on the surface. I'm working one now. Let's use this moment to consider our first key point. What color surround you and what emotions or feelings, too, they invoke. For me, the color palette is relaxed, unhurried and has a calm quality. We'll review this topic a bit more in the next lesson. When we dive into buildings and how they're shaped brother climates 3. Buildings & Climate: I'll quickly run through each climate type and its attributes so we can get sketching this lesson. It's useful regardless of where you are in the world, because it helps you understand your city and places you travel. It's crucial to understand how buildings adapt to their environment. We will focus on how the sun and when can be harnessed for our benefit and how these elements affect a building shape, form and color. First up is a temperate climate. You'll experience four distinct seasons throughout the year. And generally speaking, a rectangular building shape is ideal, especially when placed on the east west axis. When does that face south can capture sunlight in the winter, but shading during the summer months is recommended to cut down on the heat gain. These windows can provide cooling natural ventilation in the summer, but strong cold ones in the winter need to be blocked. Medium colors are best suited for the temperate region. Next up for cold climates, compact forms with small surface areas are ideal. Large south facing windows air highly beneficial to passively heat the interior during the winter months, and the openings can be shaded during the summer dark colors are an excellent choice to absorb the heat from the sun. Compact forms are also useful in a hot, arid climate, but opening should be kept to a minimum to reduce the impact of the sun. Courtyards are a common feature, and light colors are imperative. Lastly, a hot, humid region calls for tall openings and high ceilings to take advantage of natural cross ventilation. You can typically find buildings elevated off the ground and with as much shade as possible . Large overhangs and porches are often used for this purpose. This also helps reduce the amount of water that comes in contact with the side of a building. White exterior colors are advantageous in this tropical environment. Our second key point is to take the characteristics discussed in this class, determine which climate type relates to you and see how your house or neighbourhood reflect this environment. 4. Technique: Linework: take a look at our first technique, which is line work. I'll be using a black marker or regular sketchbook paper intended for a pencil and ink, as Do not use up my nice watercolor paper. So feel free to grab any scratch paper that you have on hand and let's get started. I lines do not need to be perfectly straight, and in fact, the uneven quality gives the movement and energy. It's a way to help capture character. I'm doing a hop, skip and jump while moving my entire arm across the page and not simply drawing with my wrist. Make an adjustment in your arms location if needed. Adding a skip or dash achieves the same effect while connecting to longer lines. The Joan prefers to the vertical movement while drawing the line so it doesn't appear perfectly straight. This is my preferred way to add energy. While laying out a sketch, you're able to transfer the motion or highlight a visual aspect of your subject that might be difficult to put into words. I also want to note that when I sketch, I try to put one line on the page and not go over it in a sketchy or scratchy manner. If the angle or length are considerably off, you can erase it and make any necessary adjustments. The's aspects add charm to a handmade product, and I try to embrace them as much as possible. We can now take these lines and drawl to interlocking Els to former rectangle. Our lines have the movement we just practiced and missed. Importantly, they have corners that overlap these air key points that should be practiced a form of fluid appearance and serve as a strong foundation. Prior to adding any color, a building's facade can typically be broken down into a series of rectangles. So let's apply this concept to our first exercise of drawing a facade millions divine windows into multiple units. You can see in the photo here that the horizontal 1,000,000 separates the top and the bottom portions. Mountains are the small bars that separate individual pieces of glass. I typically draw two rectangles to represent a center horizontal milion if I'm drawing a window that doesn't have a lot of detail or is in the distance, I drove the mountains. A single lines is shown here. If the window is seemed in an a focal point. I will draw individual rectangles to depict the mountains. Our first exercise for this lesson is to take the line techniques we just reviewed and draw a contour outline of a door knob found in the project. And resource is tab for this drawing. Let's focus on the light, medium and dark value shapes is shown here. I snapped a photo of this door not in my house, because I think the brass with the patina and highlighted reflections are appropriate for this class. I will typically dio a small thumbnail sketch of my subject to quickly evaluate the lighting and make a roadmap before I start painting. This allows me to move through the water color process medley by focusing on one aspect at a time. It's useful if you're sketching outside with changing light or have a limited amount of time to capture a particular scene, you can see I'm moving my pen across the paper, starting with the back plate at the top and outlining the darker shapes without lifting my pen, I began outlining the highlights of the knob itself and working in a circular fashion toe, locate the darker and lighter areas at the center of the knob. Lastly, I moved to the bottom of the plate to repeat the process that I started at the beginning. Now we have our hand eye coordination warmed up with this tactile experience, which is probably my second favorite aspect of watercolor and sketching. You get to take a break from all the scrolling and swiping of electronic devices and feel how your pen or pencil moves across the paper. Now we have lines under our belt. Let's move one Teoh colors and shapes. 5. Technique: Seeing Shapes: Our second technique is sketching shapes. As an architect, I have to remind myself that energy and character can't be measured with a ruler. When I usually look in the building, I see how it's constructed. Was it structure? How does it fit together and abstracting shapes? Is seeing the lights and the darks and not the actual object that you are receiving. This technique will allow us to simplify complex scenes because of its abstract nature and get a large amount on paper very quickly. In our second demonstration, we will approach sketching an entry door with watercolor only, and not using pencil lines is a set up. Now let's take the shapes from the contour drawing and apply it to the watercolor process. I'm starting off of the top of the knob with the lightest color, which is yellow ogre to match the brightest brass, and I move in a circle similar to the contour drawing. This is a wet on dry technique. I come in with a darker brown, which is burnt sienna and Payne's gray. I laid this on top of the white yellow joker, and this is our what on what technique I feel in these mid values where I see them on the rest of the knob and then start adding darker brown mixes with a bit more Payne's gray to really pull out those darker colors way. As you can see here, I'm maintaining the highlights and letting the white of the paper show through. I follow with the same process for the back plate in the knobs, cash shadow on the plate itself and off to the left. The shadow on the plate really makes a knob pop forward, and at this point I can see that the darker colors on the knob need to be pushed a bit darker. I tend to start off light handed, since you can always add more pigment and make something darker, but it's much more difficult to make it lighter. Now let's compare the contour and the water color images. Now let's line up our exercises so far and see how the watercolor relates to our first contour line drawing. Be patient with yourself is your accuracy will improve with lots of practice safe. For now, relax, put on some good music and just be present. Let your right brain warm up And, miss importantly, have fun 6. Exercise: House Facade: setting up a composition begs the question. How and why are you painting a particular subject? So in this lesson will begin to set up our house Hassan's step by step, to help us move quickly through the project process. Here's a house in my neighborhood that's relevant to the class and overall discussion on how buildings adapt to their environment. It's painted a bright white, has large windows and a tall door, and it's elevated off the ground. I'll begin by laying out the composition and determining a focal point. I decided to only paint the porch, since it's a common feature in our region and has great play between lights and darks. I'm going to draw the facade as if I'm viewing it head on an elevation without a perspective, you to eliminate any turkey angles. There's a lot of detail for such a small area, especially in the columns, brackets and scalloped trim at the top. I'll start with a thumbnail sketch, so I keep the large light, medium and dark shapes in mine and not get distracted with all the parts and pieces. I'm using a gray and black marker, and I quickly laid down dark and light shapes. This is to start abstracting the house, so I think, in shapes instead of precisely rendered pieces. The line work exercise will be useful in the pencil outline, and I now see the dark shadow shapes and how they really push the house back from the front face of the porch, the overhang of the top of the porches. Gable stands out with its dark shadows, the one desert blocked in, and now we can start to think about proportions. We can start to break down the house into a triangle and rectangle to see how it will fit on the page. This is the most important part, so you don't end up with a sketch that's falling off the page when you're done. Then we can add a few lines for term at the triangle to start to define the basic shapes we see. We don't need to add every detail line we see in pencil. Since we're going for a loose, layered watercolor effect. Let's take a moment to look at the columns closer, since they have a lot of detail that can be overwhelming to draw so far away. A break the column into thirds with the top and bottom portions represented by rectangles. The center is where all the detail occurs, so I want to capture the darkest lines and shapes. Ah quickly sketch out a larger version of the column, so I can easily translate this into smaller virgins while in laying out the pencil sketch. Let's start with the lightest shadow washed that will have darker layers added onto it. Once the first is dry, I'm using a number eight brush and keep in mind. If you're using larger paper, you may want to select a larger brush toe, have looser flowing effects. The doors and shutters air black in the photo, but I want to make them brown toe. Add some warmth. I choose the Paynes grey and Burnt Sienna mix. The landscaping adds interest and softness to break up all the neutrals I had in Davies Gray for the stairs and porch. This is also useful when you have a white subject and you need to make parts of it stand out. At this point, I go off to the side to practice, layering the blue with the Paynes grey for the windows, an abstract, the scallop shingles at the top of the gable with Davies, gray and blue, the Davies gray, an ultra marine blue or used for shadows in the horizontal and scalloped trim at the top. Yellow ogres used to highlight where the sun is hitting the white trim, citing and columns, and this brightens it up a bit. I make the dark starker, since we simply mapped them out with a whitewash. It first. And here is the completed sketch. I'm pleased with how it turned out with the overlapping layers, and I don't mind seeing the pencil marks, since they complete the water colors, shapes the loose effects of the color, make it out of focus and almost dreamlike. Let's take these techniques into our next exercise to sketch an entry door, And our key point for this lesson is what features air significant. And how did they shave your composition? How can you make them pop off the page? But the contrast between light and dark 7. Exercise: Entry Door: Let's start with a thumbnail sketch to locate. Trim the transom window and door. We can then pull out smaller details of the door panels and shadows. I want to add tall planners with landscaping to soften and balance out the door. I want the door to be the focus of the sketch, and I'm ignoring the remainder of the photo, including citing columns and spindles. Let's use watercolor only to complete this exercise and embrace the uncertainty of not having a pencil outline. The colors flowing together will create an interesting effect, and it will make you intentionally pullout shapes before you put them down. On paper, we will use the thumbnail sketches, a roadmap. So let's start laying out the general shape of the door with a light yellow ogre wash layered with the darker brown. This is the Paynes grey and burnt sienna mix with a wet on wet technique. The transom window, which is the darkest shape in the composition, will help us locate the surrounding trim. I'm using a number eight brush toe, pull out the door panels and block in planters. I first laid down an olive wash and then add sap green with a smaller brush once this is dry. At this point, I like to start a new page off to the side to practice this technique way. As you can see, it's all about a play between the lights and the darks. The layers of the washes come together to help the door read as a whole, and I think the overall effect is successful. 8. Final Thoughts: I want you to take away that you're watercolor process can be meditative and mindful and create a sense of place on paper. We've explored drawing basics in various ways to apply watercolor to paper. Such as What? On what? Why don't dry and pulling out details with watercolor lines on Lee, You now have an approach to sketching houses in your own city, and I'd love to see what you come up with in the Project gallery. Thanks for being a part of this class, and I can't wait to see what you create.