Hand-Drawing in Practice

Hand-Drawing in Practice

Our staff share their thoughts on the importance of hand drawing as part of the design process.

How is sketching important to your design process?

Emily Jones: Sketching allows me to see if the concept passes the “squint test.” If the idea isn’t clear in a sketch, it’s not worth investing time into.

Tim Jonas: Sketching is simply the fastest way to throw noodles at the wall to test ideas. But it is also very useful for training your mind’s ability to visualize 3D objects and spaces. Sketching out in the wild makes you aware of how lines, edges, curves, and light produce what people see.

These sketches by Tim Jonas, Senior Associate, integrate topography with structure to explore a site-specific response.

Christopher Hunter: Sketching is the fastest way to test ideas and find inspiration. What I like about sketching is that it can flow seamlessly between streams of consciousness and focused composition. By making a single mark on the page, we are forced to think about the composition, the depth and character of the line and commit to our ideas.

Arman Hadilou: Sketching for me is the easiest and quickest form of visual communication and presentation. I can draw on the bus, in a park or on a plane. The communication of ideas between head and hand is more fluid and direct. 

This sketch by Arman Hadilou, Associate, elucidates multiple façade options that intricately lace scale, proportion, and materiality into a cohesive design.

Kelly Shaw: Sketching gives me the freedom to suggest space and scale with a few lines or quick illustrations. I get to choose how my ideas are conveyed as they arise—whether it’s through an elevation, perspective, detail, or combination of something else entirely—and they can all co-exist on the same page. 

These sketches by Kelly Shaw, Associate, convey a connecting stair concept and is an effective tool for communicating design ideas to the client.

How does hand sketching contrast with other tools, like 3D modeling?

Dale Diener: Sketching contrasts from 3D modeling as a tool as drawing is a representational act while modeling is building a virtual reality. Drawing allows you to think in the abstract as you develop an idea instead of committing to a final product from the get-go.

These sketches by Dale Diener, Senior Associate, illustrate a drainage sequence and how to taper the insulation to create peaks and valleys to direct the water flow.

Tim Jonas: Sketching is great because it gives you a lot of leeway to represent an idea. Creative license type leeway. But, that means a sketch can lie a bit in order to pitch its idea or feeling. 3D modeling picks up where that sketch left off and really tests those things that a flourishing, gestural sketch glossed over. I’m not saying hand sketching lacks because of this, rather the opposite – it allows that freedom to simplify an idea without getting bogged down in its execution.

Kelly Shaw: A hand-drawn line conveys a sense of looseness and softness not yet achievable with 3D modeling without post-production. In working with clients, particularly early on in the process—a sketched drawing helps to connect with the viewer by creating a starting point which everyone can understand and relate to. We are bringing the client on a design journey—one that starts with a concept and has a million possibilities rather than suggesting a single solution the more technical 3D world might imply. 

Luke Wallace: Sketching allows me to be more explorative and free than other tools. Using 3D modeling is more like hardlining an idea for me. Although further iterations can happen with a modeling program, you have to have a concrete notion of what you are modeling or it’s a dead end.  Sketching gets you to that point.  Whenever I feel stuck with the 3D model or other tools, I know it’s time to return to sketching.

These sketches by Luke Wallace, Project Architect, experiment with various massing and façade options to study site conditions, user needs, and circulation.

Arman Hadilou: Unlike digital modeling, which requires an intermediary medium, hand sketching is direct, quick, and provides the creative freedom to visualize design concepts and ideas. I think hand drawing is a complementary tool to digital modeling. With all the things computers can do, it is easy to get caught up with the ability of tools at hand. But hand sketching allows me to focus on the core concepts and not get distracted by the abilities of the digital tools.

Emily Jones: The haptic pleasure of drawing with pen and ink puts me in the mindset to design for emotional experience. Computer-aided tools remind me to design an analytical response.

These sketches by Emily Jones, Senior Associate, portray a renovation and expansion by highlighting any relevant architectural features and alterations to the existing building.

What do you use to draw and where do you like to do it? 

Dale Diener: I typically draw on white trace paper. I use a light red pencil to lay out construction lines and then use black ink with varying line weight to fill in the drawing.  Sometimes I also use a wash of color to distinguish materiality.

Tim Jonas: I used to draw only on white trace, using tons of overlays, like layers in photoshop, then producing a final singular sketch. Very akin to old ink on mylar production. Very satisfying, very time consuming. Now I cannot recommend the iPad enough. It is so quick, editable, multimedia, it is invaluable to me now. It allows sketching while sitting in a park, plane, or desk. I personally like sketching work ideas at bars, which appears I need a better work life balance. 

Christopher Hunter: I like to draw on any type of paper or surface, but prefer to draw at my office desk or home drawing table with trace paper. I like drawing in black ink on trace paper because of the smooth surface and I love to use Prismacolor markers to add and blend splashes of color.

These sketches by Christopher Hunter, Associate, represent an entry sequence and highlights interior finishes to advance a continuous design aesthetic.

Luke Wallace: I draw in a variety of mediums depending on the task at hand and/or source of inspiration; i.e. using charcoal for more whimsical concepts or early sketches.  Though, my default choice is ink with some source of color (watercolor pen, colored markers, or colored pencil).  Not sure I gravitate to one spot in particular to draw, though I prefer drawing either privately or with others all sketching together; I do not like sketching at my desk.

Arman Hadilou: I used to draw on trace paper or in my sketchbook until a couple of years ago when I got an iPad. Now I am using Morpholio, which allows me to trace more often to quickly visualize and communicate ideas and concepts.