There is just something about a populated drawing compared to an empty one, when you can see just how big that room is or how people would use that particular space. People give life to the section, elevation and perspective, and really, architecture should be made for people at the human scale.

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The above is a perfect example of what NOT to do with people. DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT, use ‘stick figures’ as a way to express people in your section, elevation, perspectives, well everything. I did this once (take note of ‘once’) after showing the sketch to some architects on a discussion forum and they absolutely slammed me, and rightly so. Now that we know what to do, let’s look at why we do it.

The role of a person, or people, in a section, elevation or perspective is to do two things….

1 | give the reader an immediate sense of scale, and
2 | tell a story of the spaces


The above is a simple section I drew up to help visualise what I mean with the above two points. Without any written dimensions or other scaled objects we can look at the people inside the building and suddenly understand the volume of the space.


A simple act of changing the size of the person can affect your sense of scale with the building, with the above example appearing to be quite larger than the one with those who were standing.



Again, these two cut-outs are scaled up to make the building appear smaller and intimate. Of course if you had doors, stairs, kitchens or the like in your drawing you wouldn’t scale your people up so the top of the kitchen bench is at their knees. The above is merely an exercise to show what affect people in a simple section can do.

The burning question is, what do I use then? Silhouettes or realistic cut-outs?


I am a fan of using silhouettes in both elevation/section and perspectives, it gives quite an abstract feel and in a section or elevation it’s a graphical representation, much like your drawing. You can play around with the opacity, transparency and even colour in photoshop to achieve a desired look. It all depends on the mood of the drawing, the colour/light of the drawing (if it’s a dark night scene, using black silhouettes isn’t ideal, use white) or using colours which could tie in with your scheme or make the people pop.

A great place to find hundreds of silhouettes is at


I haven’t used cut-outs much, however they do have their place. Something I overheard once was if you’re doing a photo-real render use photo-real people, and that photo-real people doing certain motions/acts which connects to your design is a powerful tool in representation. It can be tricky trying to find a lot of people to populate a render, but it does give it a bit more depth of realism. Much like the silhouettes, you can play around with the transparency and opacity.

A good website to find cut-outs is

Everyone is different, you will have your own style and ‘rules’ of using people. Try not to allow the people to dominate the drawing, they are there to compliment the architecture and give scale, your focus should be on the architecture.

I have also seen a person or two (not densely populated) in a construction drawing section and it just gave the drawing much more depth and scale. I can only hope builders wouldn’t use them for dimensioning, and hope this dialouge wouldn’t happen….

Ahh yeah see this window sill sits at his waist” — the boss
But wait boss, there’s a dimension right there!” — the apprentice
Nope, using that person, now go stand over there so we mark out the height of your waist” — the boss

I do implore that everyone follows this rule, DO NOT MIX MEDIUMS! If you have silhouettes in your section, only use silhouettes, don’t mix it in with photo-real cut-outs. I once saw a perspective that had black and white silhouettes, photo-real cut-outs and 3D modeled people, and it looked horrible! Stick to the one medium, but saying that don’t be afraid to use silhouettes in your section and then photo-real cut-outs in your perspective, use what is applicable to the output.

Last piece of advice, whenever you download silhouettes or cut-outs, store them away into a library and start to build it up. Swap with your friends and grab as many different types of people as possible, as you’ll never know when you may need that Batman or waiter.

Got anymore tips, or your own personal rules? Love to hear it, so don’t be shy and share in the comments section.