Drawing: Thinking With A Pencil
Drawing came naturally to me as a child. The grownups made a big deal of it but drawing was just something I did for fun. Over time I took it for granted and never developed the discipline or depth with it that I could have. The lost opportunities from that indifference often haunt my more reflective moments.
Drawing is a way for me to understand objects. It helps me see the relationships between the pieces of a subject and how they fit together. As I sketch I’m mentally asking questions such as how do these two parts come together? Do they overlap; if so, which one goes on top? Are they butted and welded; is there a mechanical fastening? The more I explore such things by drawing them, the deeper my understanding goes. It may be easier to rely on photos but drawing engages the mind in a more active way. There is a deeper level of observation and analysis in drawing that connects you to the subject in a way just looking at a photo doesn’t.
I’ve made sketches of the details of a covered hopper. Even though I have a good series of photos, with drawing I find it’s easier to see shapes and how a part like a corner post was folded from sheet metal. If the actual part was made that way, odds are I can recreate that method on the model. The drawing process also suggests new questions even as I’m answering others. Combined with the photos, this deep analysis spurs my thinking about ways to model the car more faithfully. I used to look at an object and wonder how to draw it. Now, I look at something and wonder how I would build it.
Photos like this one are profoundly useful and I wouldn’t attempt a build without them. To further enhance my understanding, I also like to draw these details out (images below) as a way to think through the construction of the model.
I could also print out my photos and make these notes directly on the print out. Drawing them however, connects me to the construction process in a tangible way that looking at a static image doesn’t.
A lesson I need to relearn is not to rush this process. It’s helpful to let the initial sketches sit for a time and then review them with fresh eyes. I’ll often discover something new or find a correction to make. In both cases my knowledge of the subject will be better for the effort.
We tend to hinder our enjoyment of drawing with unrealistic expectations that it has to be perfect. As shown here my sketches are crude, made on ordinary notebook paper with a ball point pen. As my understanding of the car grows, I may refine a few of them for greater clarity. However, it doesn’t matter how accomplished the drawing is, it’s what you learn to see during the process that’s important. This isn’t a chore for me as I’m lead into the project in satisfying ways and I enjoy the discovery process that results. Reconnecting with drawing strengthens that through line of creativity I’ve enjoyed throughout my life.
By choice and by habit, traditional drawing tools and methods work best for me. That’s not to say that modern software design tools wouldn’t be the better choice for others. It’s a matter of preference and what works best for your temperament and situation.
When I sketch like this, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. I’m connected to a long historic line of artists; architects, designers and engineers, who, over many centuries used pen, pencil and paper to better understand the world and themselves.
Coming up in two weeks: Practice makes perfect.