Like sketching, composing each page of a journal or sketchbook is an extemporaneous act. We may have a plan for how to organize the drawings and notes on a page before we begin, but we should also be open to altering the plan as each element is executed.
For example, we may find that having executed a drawing, its size, shape and proportions may differ, as so often happens, from what we originally intended. By carefully considering the visual shape and weight of the drawing, we can re-balance the page or give it a more dynamic quality with the placement of the next graphic element, whether that element is graphic or verbal in nature. With the addition of further graphic elements, we continue to encounter this opportunity to re-compose the page.
Now that the days are getting shorter, colder, and often rainier here in Seattle, I have to find indoor places to sketch. Here is the equipment at Hale’s Brewery and Pub, the longest running independent craft brewery in the Pacific Northwest.
I drew the above view with an Apple Pencil on an iPad using the Procreate app. Of course, one’s choice of medium always influences how one draws, even though the selected subject matter and point of view may remain the same. I find that unlike drawing with a fountain pen, I have less patience for including fine details, for which I would have to zoom in and out, interrupting the flow of the drawing.
For comparison purposes, here is a similar view drawn with a fountain pen in March of this year.
I’m working again with Steve Winkel of the Preview Group, preparing the sixth edition of Building Codes Illustrated: A Guide to Understanding the 2018 International Building Code. When I first began working with Steve in 2000 on the first edition of BCI, I had decided to use Adobe Illustrator to prepare all of the illustrations since I knew that the International Building Code was going to be updated every three years and that many of the graphics would have to be revised on a regular basis.
As I originally posted back in 2013: “I use Illustrator basically as a drafting tool to create the visual ideas I have in mind. The many benefits of vector graphics include: using the Save As capability to try out different options; having precise control over line weights and tonal values; being able to resize drawings easily to fit a page layout; and reusing elements that I had already drawn. Most importantly, when working on a revision, instead of having to completely redo a hand drawing, I can open an existing drawing file and make the necessary changes to create the updated version.”
Here are a few examples.
More examples of how changes in media affect not how one sees, but rather how one captures what is seen—the pace of the line, the level and precision of detail, and the voids that speak to the eye.
The several times I had the privilege of teaching in the University of Washington’s Architecture in Rome program, I asked my students to keep a journal during the semester to record and document their history walks, field trips, and design studio work. To try and set an example, I kept my own sketchbook along with them. Here are a few sample pages showing how my drawings changed due to the passage of time as well as how my trusty Lamy fountain pen interacted with the different types of paper I used.
I had been mulling the building of a wood storage shelter for a while. At first, I would occasionally visualize the basic structure in my head and imagine how it could be assembled and what types of connections were needed. Thinking in this way, I could picture the structure both as a whole as well as up close to look at details and revise it over time.
As the time to actually build approached, it was time to put the ideas down on paper to verify my preliminary thoughts. Thinking on a sheet of grid paper with a simple pencil, I resorted to a convention that is now somewhat outmoded but still useful to work out spatial relationships in three dimensions—multiview drawings. I moved back and forth between related plan, section, and elevation views to resolve and lay out the sizes, lengths, and spacings of the wood members.
The intent of these simple sketches was not to produce a finished set of working drawings but rather to figure out the basic set of relationships that could guide construction and also to produce a basic bill of materials.
This past week, I joined Seattle Urban Sketchers Gail Wong and Stephanie Bower, along with Ch’ng Kiah Kiean visiting from Malaysia, to sketch the Chapel of St. Ignatius on the Seattle University campus. The tiny chapel, designed by Steven Holl Architects in association with Olson Sundberg Architects, was completed in 1997 as the spiritual center of the campus.
After I quick exterior view, I moved inside to do a couple of line drawings, which are not quite capable of capturing the way daylighting is reflected off of the various textured and curved interior surfaces. The last drawing I did used hatching to try to capture the tonal values of the space. This chapel interior is an example of where a watercolor sketch might better suit the subject matter.
The Seattle Urban Sketchers group met at the Lenin stature in the Fremont neighborhood this past Sunday morning. Despite the, for Seattle, hot sun and extremely warm temperature, I managed to find a shady spot from which to draw this view along the alley between North 35th and North 36th Streets.
Alleys are interesting places. In addition to serving as conduits for goods and services, they provide more intimate views of the back sides of buildings and other structures, which we mostly see from their more public fronts.
If you look closely, you will notice the stray lines that indicate my several attempts to get the building forms in proper proportion, relative to the width of the view. It’s important to realize that it is extremely difficult to execute a drawing without any of these stray lines unless one draws first in pencil before inking over and erasing the pencil lines. I prefer using only ink and letting the process of building a drawing show through.
Notebooks, sketchbooks, journals… whatever one chooses to call these bound collections of pages, they all provide a physical sense of permanence and chronology and, in use, they become a repository of images and writings capable of reminding us of where we have been, what we have seen, and what we have experienced. But even as we acknowledge the pleasure of perusing these collections, we should also appreciate the process by which they are made. No single page in a journal is precious; not all pages must be perfect. In the act of making visible our experiences, reflections, and discoveries, we become more sensitive to and connected with our surroundings, expand our visual memories, and stimulate our imagination.