Every now and again, someone will try to convince me that the design process is faster using computer software than sketching. I used to respond to those comments, try to build an intelligent perspective of why I inherently don’t believe this is true, but now, I rarely bother. Just like talking politics or religion, the “sketching versus computer” debate rarely seems to change anybody’s mind. Whatever it is they seem to believe, they argue that side of it until they are blue in the face, and nothing happens.
On one hand, I don’t really care what others do – I know what works for me and despite my obvious lack of artistic ability. My sketches achieve their ends for how I process and execute the design process. Sketching is fast enough for me to cover a lot of ground while I am experimenting with form, mass, scale and pattern … but not so fast that I blast through it so quickly that my hand can get out in front of my thought process.
(you can click on any of these sketches to see them in all their … enlarged inky glory)
So why am I bringing this old chestnut back up? Call me a fatalist but I’m not trying to change people’s mind, I just want to get young designers to start off with a pen or pencil in their hand before they drink the software kool-aid. There’s no reason why you can’t be efficient at both platforms, but my experience tells me that it’s easier to start with sketching as a process and then add the computer to your skill set rather than the other way around.
Over the last few weeks, I have been working on a residential project that has been going through some transitions. At first, we were looking to reduce square footage, then we changed the location of where this house was sitting on the property … which caused us to re-evaluate how the first floor was rotated in relationship to the upper level floor. Rather than run through all these permutations on the computer, I sketched most of them up – and I think you will find it apparent that I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on these elevation study sketches. If I was told that any one of these sketches took more than 5 minutes, I’d be surprised.
I thought I would show all the sketch studies … well, all the ones I saved. There are probably another 5 or 6 for each elevation. That’s why I decided to call today’s post “Sketchapalooza” – it’s a whole bunch of sketches shown one after the other. I’m not actually going to walk you through what necessarily changed from one sketch to the next – I think you figuring that out for yourselves might be some of the fun.
I will readily admit that some of these sketches are a bit more evolved and delineated than others.
“Why is that?” you ask?
Well, I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you.
I can sometimes tell if I am on to something – or really NOT on to something – pretty early on in my sketch process. As soon as I make that realization, I tend to bail out (which is also the reason why I don’t save the bazillions of sketches that I actually create). Even these aren’t really all that terrific and I think the only reason I saved the ones I saved is that I think at some point, I will choose a particularly relevant one and give to the clients as a sort of “move-in” gift.
Lame? Possibly – but mostly because they sometimes read these posts and now I have to find something else to do.
I have a short-hand of patterns that I use in my sketches to help me visually process different materials. When I spent a lot of time drafting in AutoCAD, all of my layers had a unique color associated with it and I could tell in a glance if something was on the right or wrong layer. Since those layers typically had a pen weight associated with them, I had a really good understanding on what the finished CAD plot would look like. The sketch patterns I use work in the same way.
Metal siding. Wood. Stone. Concrete … they all have their own unique scale and pattern associated with them.
I also use two pens to create all my sketches. A Sharpie ‘Ultra Fine” point for the lighter lines, and a Sharpie “Fine” point for the heavier profile lines. While I do think that graphically the use of pen weight makes for a visually more interesting sketch, it actually serves a very important purpose. It conveys to me what is near and far, outlines of building masses, etc. that allow me to make specific distinctions between what a 2-dimensional sketch study elevation might be perceived in 3-dimensions without actually having to draw a 3-dimensional drawing.
Sometimes I’ll go a little crazy and add some shade and shadow information to the drawing – it also helps tremendously with the perception of depth and massing.
The sketch above was actually the last one of this elevation that I drew up – in this case it was to take a look at how the fire wood storage was going to be incorporated into the structure of the building. It’s also possible that I spent more time drawing all the individual pieces of firewood than any of the other sketches. Since that was the point of this particular drawing, that’s where I put my time and not into the delineation of the building materials.
This sketch was a quick study to look at 1 window – one that wouldn’t be seen in a typical elevation sketch – which is why there is a profile line surrounding part of the building … it’s the window to the far left if case you were wondering.
This is the same elevation without the section in place – looks a lot different, doesn’t it? This was purely a window placement exercise – you can see the notes I made to myself associated with the only two windows you see in this elevation.
Another sketch purely created to look at window placement – more specifically, how the windows were going to be broken up and which one of those windows were going to be operable. It’s sketches like these that get created and I’ll look at it and think “the proportions are wrong” or some other sort of something that tells you that this isn’t it.
We ended up rotating the room functions on the upper level floor plan and modifying some bedroom furniture placement in the lower level – both actions cause a re-evaluation of the sort of window in the elevation and how it would be sized.
So that’s it … a look at what amounts to approximately 1 days worth of design work that was spread out over 3 days (which was also spread out over two weeks). These are quick and highly efficient studies that help me get from point A to point B. Sketching has evolved over the years – particularly the last 2 years – into an incredibly valuable part of my design process and I can’t see a computer replacing these steps. We will still input the final iteration into the computer and manipulate it digitally … I’m not a dinosaur. I think it would be foolish of me to ignore the value and level of accuracy that the computer brings to the mix. Truth be told, most of the times we block out the elevation massing on the computer so that we have a form to sketch on top of – and it is the mixing of these two different platforms and processes where I find the most value.
If you are not a sketcher, it’s not too late for you to begin. If you are just starting out, please take the time to learn how to sketch well enough to convey your thoughts, I can guarantee that it will fundamentally change how you design for the better. I still can’t think of an architect whose work I admire that doesn’t sketch at some point along the way.