Drawing is where initial thoughts and ideas are collected…
Over the past few months many of us have taken the time to reassess what is important to us, to develop new skills and interests, and perhaps rediscover those that we have not been able to find time for and have become neglected. It is interesting that many of these pastimes involve making and creating. I understand that model railway and Scalextric manufacturer Hornby has returned to profitability over the past six months after several years of losses. Baking and gardening seem to be very popular and offer physical and mental health benefits that improve the participants wellbeing and provide an important sense of satisfaction.
For me, drawing and sketching has been my rediscovered hobby, and I have been able to find time to practise regularly. Drawing in the office is usually “designing” which is quite different. We use drawing to explore and test solutions to problems and communicate ideas, from initial concept sketches to photo realistic CGI renders and animations. Sketching for pleasure is about observing and recording. Studying form, shadow, and tone. Sometimes outside, sometimes from a photograph or memory, sometimes from an article or publication. This has fitted very well with the restrictions that have been placed on us over the past few months and engaging more with my local surroundings. I also find that it is a valuable way to process thoughts, distract myself, and achieve other stress management benefits.
A sketch takes longer than a quick photo, but it is more involving and, for me, ultimately more rewarding. I still enjoy photography, but more and more time seems to be spent saving, cataloguing, and archiving digital images, many of which may only be viewed infrequently, if at all. Those Instagram moments often pass me by. Reducing screen time and reconnecting with pencil and sketchpad and the pleasure of making marks on paper has been hugely rewarding. It is usually a solitary activity. Quiet moments being completely absorbed by the process.
I’m a bit particular about choice of equipment and materials. One of my first-year tutors at university told us that if we were going to invest time in making a drawing the least we can do was use good quality paper. An A5 Daler Rowney sketchbook is often by my side and is slim enough to carry around. I’m not a Moleskin convert. Rotring pens and pencils were often seen as standard equipment for architects. However, I remember standing outside the art shop when I was still at school about to buy my first set of technical drawing pens and being attracted by the dark green Faber Castell pens and pencils on display in the window. I have used the brand ever since and still have those pens. But like Trigger’s broom on Only Fools and Horses they have had several replacement nibs and cartridges. More recently a Rotring Art Pen has found its way into the pencil case.
At school I preferred the discipline of technical drawing to art, the straight edge to a paint brush. It has been fun trying to develop a looser style. I’m reminded of Paul Klee’s famous description of drawing as “Taking a line for a walk”. This implies the freedom that a freehand sketch can provide. Limited only by the constraints of the paper. Although I can only dream of the exuberance that an artist such as Cornwall based Kurt Jackson displays in his work.
I have been inspired to make time for this hobby after listening to a radio interview with concert pianist James Rhodes. Whilst very few people could attain his level of accomplishment, he was keen to encourage anyone who had dreamt of playing to just get started and not be daunted by the journey. He suggested that with 40 minutes proper practice a day you could learn a piece you have always wanted to play within a few short weeks. Instead of a piano I have a sketchbook and have tried to maintain a daily discipline of taking a little time, not necessarily 40 minutes, to make a few marks and develop my skills. Sometimes this time is curtailed by “events” but seeing an image emerge on the page is always rewarding and worthwhile.
Flicking back through the pages they tell a story. Some are more successful than others, often depending on time or mood. The simpler ones stand out, capturing a moment or a memory. They are not produced for display or even to share necessarily. It is not about the end result, it’s about the process. The simple pleasure of picking up a pencil, usually my long serving 2B or 6B clutch pencils, and making a visual record of something is what appeals to me. The artist Sir Antony Gormley, whose new sculpture has recently been installed at West Hoe in Plymouth says that “Art” is a verb not a noun. It is about doing.
We are now, it seems, all more aware and appreciative of the simpler things that can add richness to our lives and many of us have reassessed what is important to us. Our local environment, nature, good food and, where we can, time with family and friends. Drawing has become one of those things for me.
Sketching also directly benefits my practise as an architect. It is still the simplest, quickest, and easiest way to communicate ideas to colleagues and clients. Often it can be more engaging and immediate. And, because the sketch is seen as being less finished, it can promote discussion and guide further exploration and possibilities. At ADG we encourage all our team to pick up a pencil, traditional or mechanical, for those initial ideas. It is a vital part of the collaborative approach that is a key part of our practice. We utilise hand sketches in our design process to communicate ideas to others and as a tool to develop those ideas.
Sketching is the starting point for architecture. Where initial thoughts are collected and recorded.