Freehand Drawing and Discovery: Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers


Arlington, TX | James Richards, FASLA | Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Freehand Drawing and Discovery is a 286-page, full-color book conceived to bridge the gap between photo-realistic digital representation and spontaneous, rapid freehand sketching that can effectively capture a flow of ideas at the beginning of the creative process. Taking a “both/and” attitude, the book introduces fresh, updated techniques for rapidly sketching ideas, champions location sketching as creative fuel, and demonstrates the merging of timeless freehand skills with new technology through creative digital tablet sketching.


Freehand Drawing and Discovery: Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers is intended to reconcile the illustrative advantages and efficiencies of current digital landscape representation techniques with the creative advantages of rapid freehand concept sketching. The book makes a strong argument that digital technologies don’t eliminate the need for drawing; they free drawing to be a more creative, exploratory medium, used to capture and develop a flow of creative ideas as they occur. It demonstrates that, across allied creative fields, the design process is best served by engaging both exploratory freehand drawing and digital technologies at their appropriate place in the creative process…not “either/or,” but “both/and.”

The book is comprised of three parts. The first, “Learning a Language,” takes the reader on a journey beyond outdated notions of traditional “hand graphics” and “rendering” through learning a less rigid and more accessible style of concept sketching. It demystifies concepts such as perspective and creating a sense of depth, and demonstrates how to work through a greater volume of creative ideas through rapid sketching techniques.The aim of these techniques is not to produce beautiful imagery at the end of the creative process, but to generate more and better ideas at the beginning.

The second part, “Urban Sketching,” is intended to reposition traditional on-location sketching for designers from a vacation activity to a daily creative discipline that develops skills in seeing and confidence in drawing while fueling the imagination. It uses the author’s experiences sketching across 40 countries and teaching workshops in the U.S. and abroad to make urban sketching more accessible, and uses step-by-step demonstrations to break down complex visual environments into achievable compositions.

The third part, “Concept Sketching,” demonstrates how to merge the rapid freehand skills with timesaving techniques using digital photography and 3-D SketchUp modeling. It offers scores of examples of using rapid concept sketching to conceive and develop the story, and to provide an early road map to guide more detailed digital explorations throughout the design process. It concludes with an entire chapter devoted to freehand digital concept sketching on pen-interactive computers, an exciting and promising technique that merges the best qualities of exploratory freehand sketching with the myriad advantages of computer technology.

The book features contributions by an international group of award-winning professionals, each of whom keep freehand sketching at the center of their creative process. The contributors exhibit different personal philosophies, subject matter and drawing styles, allowing the reader to experience a range of excellent drawing expressions that crosses disciplinary bounds.

The book is accompanied by access to 90 minutes of online video tutorials by the author, which demonstrate a range of sketching techniques for the design studio, for urban sketching on-location, and for digital freehand sketching with tablets and pen-interactive computers. The videos allow the reader to literally watch over the author’s shoulder while discussing drawing philosophy and tools, and visually demonstrating an array of freehand sketching techniques in real time.

Since its publication in February of 2013, Freehand Drawing and Discovery has found a global interdisciplinary audience among landscape architects, architects, planners and urban designers, as well as the international Urban Sketchers community of artists, illustrators, graphic designers and other creative professionals. A commercial and critical success, it has gone into its second printing, has been translated into Modern and Orthodox Chinese, and has been adopted by seven universities and the Philippines Department of Education as a standard text. At this writing it has garnered forty-three 5-star reviews on Amazon, and has received positive reviews in Landscape Architecture Magazine, Columns Magazine by AIA/Dallas, and in numerous art and design blogs. It is distributed globally by the publisher, John Wiley and Sons, through their own outlets, brick and mortar bookstores, and numerous other online retailers.

"Written in a cohesive style, the book offers an enthusiastic look at utilizing freehand graphics in the representation and presentation of landscape. Clear and colorful graphics by the author and a number of other talented practitioners keep the content fresh. Noteworthy is the integration of digital formats within the context of freehand drawing. This is a valuable resource for students and professionals."

- 2014 Awards Jury



Author/Illustrator: James Richards FASLA
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.