This blog is devoted to my architectural sketching adventures and musings about the integration of architecture and sketching.
I hope not only to share my own on-location architectural sketches but provide tips and methodologies for sketching and understanding architecture.
Also, most importantly, I wish to explore ways in which, in a digital age, we can not only defend but
promote freehand sketching within the architectural profession.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why do I sketch so fast?

This is a complete cross post from my other blog - but as it is so relevant to sketching architecture - I add it here as well.

I just thought I would expand a little on something that I mentioned in my review of James Richard's book... and that has to do with sketching fast.... warning this blog post is long!

I know that I do sketch a lot and that I do sketch fast, at times very fast... but it is not my goal to sketch fast - in fact I do want to slow down but it just seems that when I am out on location, my creative juices start pumping and I just can't stop! I am not in any way advocating my approach for others but simply explaining that that is the way I am, the way I sketch... that I am not trying to create finished or perfect pieces and that I most of all have an incredible amount of fun sketching non stop!

A huge part of this is my foundational sketching as an architect. I know that I have mentioned this before...but the more I think about it myself, the more significant I realise it is. Firstly, I have never really had any art training - I have never sat in an art studio and laboured over making the perfect pencil sketch. BUT I have used up reams and reams of butter paper over the years sketching as part of my work as an architect.

Sketching is the way that I think, that I resolve issues, design and create solutions for imagined worlds and spaces. When I am designing, my approach is to draw non stop - often testing out ideas rapidly- trying to draw as fast as I can think - having an incredibly dynamic and stimulating dialogue  between hand eye and mind. The hand moves, the eye sees the imperfect linework and the mind asks "what if?"

It is the imperfection of the ability of the hand to depict what is in the mind that often leads to new ideas. And when through the copious scribblings, a solution appears on the page, the excitement and creative thrill of that moment is something really special. What keeps me doing architecture!

There is also a lovely freedom in my sketches, my linework and shading (often cross hatching is a reflex action while concentrating on a problem, more recently watercolor pencil) that comes when I am focussing on the design problem and not thinking about my sketching. Often these sketches done while I am designing are far stronger than the neat ones I prepare for the client once the design is more finalised.

Although the notes in this sketch is  more about process vs product, the thoughts are running along the same lines and another example of my work thinking sketches.

When I started sketching from observation I found it really hard work - I had to set up perspective lines and train my eye hand coordination. But for some reason when I started sketching out on location things started to change- there was so many other things to worry about other than just doing a good sketch - comfort, distraction, moving light and weather changing. Fundamentally I am a very responsive person - I respond to things around me- and these external conditions made my work a little less in control and I started taking risks. I just can't be neat when I am uncomfortable or hungry - it shows in my lines!  In many ways this was like my design sketching.

I then realised that what I really wanted to achieve was the freedom, spontaneity and creative buzz that I got from my design sketching. I started working on achieving this.... and naturally the speed has come as a secondary aspect to that. An example is my pencil setup lines- I do just enough to compose the image on the page and then sketch in ink as if there was no setup lines.

I often tell people that my sketching is all about capturing the moment but it is in fact the moment of discovery that is the key. I see something, I study and discover and then I have the urge to record that - regardless of whether it is really practical in the time that I have... I just go for it.

I am an obsessive recorder and therefore I have to strategise how to record this discovery in the time that I have. Having a strong focus of what I initially responded to is key(here it was the roof) . So it is trying to record the discovery - not to sketch fast for the sake of going fast - that sets the agenda!

I am not trying to make beautiful works of art in my sketchbooks - I am trying to record my creative journey and I do that through recording my life through my sketches. Although there is a certain element of design to my pages (and yes I am a bit obsessive about writing neatly) I do see my sketchbook more as a working book, a journal that an art book. I do create more careful works at home including commissions for architectural illustrations (there will be more details of this work on my blog soon!) but my sketchbook is my space to record and to test and to experiment. In many ways I view my work in my sketchbook as glorified thumbnails.

Also, this joy in the moment of discovery does not need to always mean fast sketches. This sketch was done when I was in a very chilled mood but I was experimenting and got an incredible buzz through the act of discovering these new tools and techniques for the first time.

I also got an unbelievable creative thrill in January when I was up at Port Macquarie and sitting on the beach watching the waves, observing them carefully and then progressively over a number of morning visits working out the best way to paint them. But sadly, finding slow time in a busy life can be hard - when I go out I always seem to be rushing from one place to another  (and when at home sometimes lack inspiration)

And one final comment, which I have mentioned previously. In recent months I have been unable to sit on a sketching stool, to sit out on the streets in the one location for any length of time due to some treatment to my neck and shoulders. I have been limited to a maximum of 20 minutes for any particular sketch and have found that using markers last year, water colour pencils this year have helped me work within this timeframe.

It was really nice that I was able to sketch so much in Melbourne the other week - I wasn't sure how much I would do but those creative juices started pumping again!

I am very much in awe of the people who do elaborate sketches /paintings/drawings which take them hours of time - but even if I wanted to, I am physically unable at the present time to do that. I do want to encourage people who have similar physical restrictions that it is possible to sketch in shorter periods of time.

Writing a LOT tonight... but I do hope that this explains a little more about me. Every single person is a unique individual and your approach to sketching, and your mark making, and your goals will be uniquely YOURS.

What I love about the online art community is how rich is the experience of seeing everyone's personal style ... and especially for those of you that I have been privileged to meet in real life. Meeting and knowing you adds so much more meaning to just seeing your work.

And finally (really and truly finally!) the big message of my blog/flickr/facebook is not to be like me...but that I hope to inspire others to start or continue on their own creative journey - to be themselves!!!! And I hope that they have as much fun as I do!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Freehand Drawing and Discovery by James Richards

I have been meaning to write this post for the last few months … so now finally today…. I want to share with you my thoughts on a wonderful new book by James(Jim) Richards called Freehand Drawing & Discovery - Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers.

I have known Jim online for a number of years and was privileged to meet him in real life at the USK symposiums in Lisbon and Santo Domingo. He is a great friend and a huge source of inspiration to me.  When I first came across an article he wrote in 2009 called Freehand Renaissance I was buzzing for days afterwards!!! This book is an amazing expansion of that article and I want to share with you my takeaways from it. I am not intending this to be a formal book review, although it might end up that way!

The reason why I am so excited about this book is that combines the two important aspects of my sketching - being an architect and an compulsive urban sketcher. It explains how the two are inter-related and support each other and also why I work so fast! The creative thrill that I get when I am 'design sketching' (the moment when a solution appears on the page) that has greatly influenced the speed at which I do my 'urban sketching'. I am trying to work at a pace out on the streets that generates the spontaneity, freedom and excitement I get when 'design sketching'.

the Palais Garnier, Paris
Palais Garnier, Pars by James Richards- great step by step of this work in the book and on his blog

I absolutely adore Jim's work. His lines are so crisp and confident and I am in awe of his ability to simplify complex scenes into a compelling composition.  Jim and I speak the same language but, in the words of Frank Ching in the preface "my drawings are much messier than Jim's".

I really wish I had had this book at the start on my architectural education as it would have helped me to create my own visual language much more easily and quickly. I will be writing the following comments on the book primarily with my architect's hat on - though much will relate to urban sketchers as well.

 -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

I devoured the written text in this book and couldn't put it down. It is so readable and inspiring (especially Chapter 1) and this paragraph says it all for me:

"the rapid sketching skills practiced and sharpened in the field develop confidence in our own abilities to strike out into the imagination. Drawing becomes an exploratory process of discovery, in which visual ideas in the mind are immediately given shape, examined, reworked and refined, becoming a catalyst for more ideas, When married with the magic of digital technologies, the creative possibilities are limitless."
There are 3 sections to the book… (hmm, looks like I am doing a formal book review)

Part 1: Learning a Language - creating a visual language of techniques, textures and entourage to enable quick convincing conceptual sketches

Part 2: Urban Sketching - Creative play and fuel! On location sketching sharpens the eye, trains the hand, develops speed and confidence as you discover more of the world around you.

Part 3: Concept Sketching - Envisioning and sketching the world as it could be. Making the most of the skills developed in Part 1 and 2 with the addition of digital technologies. Making the most of digital tools.

Part 4: there is no part 4 in the book but wait there IS more. A heap of videos that can be accessed on the Wiley website. I have to say that these videos are BRILLIANT and add so much to the book. There is a lot to be learnt from watching Jim in action!

My personal takeaways and general comments:

- Part 1 summarises so well what took me many years to develop. As designers we need to have a visual language and reliable techniques  that we can use to quickly explore ideas for ourselves and our clients. Simplified perspective setups, useful textures and simple but convincing 'entourage' (people, cars, trees etc) are essential for this.
- Jim provides many great tips for basic ways of indicating people, trees, cars and other entourage. This is not observational drawing but a language to be used in our design concept sketching and therefore could be labelled "architect style" or "stylised". These techniques may be very useful for sketchers in general as a springboard for developing their own approach but I think it is important that when out on location we focus on observational skills and not on 'formulas'
-Really clear is the message to simplify!! Simplify tools, and forms - and have a strong focus. Jim's work is so clear and strong!
- I really love Jim's "draw people first" approach - it really works and I plan to show you some examples in the coming months!
- The book contains some of the clearest step by step explanations I have seen for a long time - perspective setups, creating depth by defining foreground, middle ground and background. Jim's general approach is so clear - horizon line & people - overall proportions - details- darks - colour.
- It is very exciting to see the combination of freehand sketching and digital images - this is something I have done with my architectural work for a number of years and I got more great ideas from this section of the book
- As I said above the videos are great… and I was totally blown away by a simple (and somewhat obvious... now!) trick of Jim's when drawing perspective so that you don't get 100 drawn lines converging on the vanishing point - I am not going to describe it any more. Get the book and watch the videos for yourself!

I have studied a number of architectural rendering books in the past showing how to create beautiful final artworks for 'final presentations' of schemes - these have largely being taken over by computer generated images. The great strength of the message of this book is that it is advocating loose rapid sketching at the beginning of the design process. Another quote that really resonated with me:

"The goal of sketching isn't a perfect finished illustration at the end of the creative process, it is to serves as a catalyst for more and better ideas at the beginning."

In a way that sums up the book for me - my wish is that the architectural profession never looses the importance of sketching as its most powerful tool to develop the best possible design solutions for the world around us. The best way I know of to keep the love of sketching and freehand discovery alive is by urban sketching!
 -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

I feel honoured beyond words to be included in this book along with a number of other friends and USKers in the book (Gabi Campanario, Luis Ruiz, Asnee Tasna, Paul Wang, Bernadetta Dossi)…. this post is not about my pages but the book as a whole… but just for the record here is a glimpse of my contribution.

I end with my words from the book which is the key for me...

There are so many reasons why sketching is invaluable to my design process, but the most important is that it is so immediate and responsive. Not only can I explore many options simultaneously, drawing almost as fast as I am thinking, but in some mysterious way, solutions seem to emerge from my open-ended scribbles on the page. That moment of inspiration is instantly recorded in a sketch which often powerfully depicts the very heart of the design idea. It is this excitement and the inspiring dialogue which occurs between eye, hand, and mind that keeps me going!