Drawing Discoveries, Discovering Drawing : A little peek on Danny Gregory’s illustrated reflection about How it is to be creative by Fernisia Richtia Winerdy

“Design is not a process of creativity, it is a process of discovery.” – Glenn Murcutt.

Having been taught about drawing in the first year at architecture school, but ended up using it rarely in the rest of the years there and at work too, some of us might wonder why we need to learn drawing at all. Danny Gregory’s book, though has nothing particularly architectural, reveals how drawing is essential in actually everyone’s life –not only architects-, and that the ability to draw is apparently everyone’s to have too.
First, why is it important?

“To celebrate your life. No matter how small or mundane or redundant, each drawing and little essay you write to commemorate an event or an object or a place makes it all the more special.
Drawing is seeing. If you can see, you can draw. But can you see? Let’s see.
Looking is language. Look, a dog, a tree, a car, a man. We apply labels to things in order to understand and process them. In Genesis, God has Adam names the animals. Labels make abstract thinking possible. But because we overdo it, looking replaces seeing and we stop seeing things for what they truly are. We say “tree” and stop saying “elm”, stop saying “the thirty year-old elm with silvery bark missing in fist-sized circles on the Eastern half of its trunk”.

Later in the book, Gregory tells us how showering is kind of the same with drawing in terms of generating ideas for him.

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“I’m no Archimedes, but I’ve had a disproportionately number of good ideas in the five minutes or so of the day I spend in the shower…. Most of my shower activities are mindless; more accurately, my mind is present but my judgement is suspended…. So the trick is not a matter of soap and water. It’s slowing down, clearing the mind, letting go, giving myself a few minutes of nothingness, free of judgement. And yet in that relaxed nothingness, there is bubbling activity. The only other place I’ve found such a paradoxical blend of tranquillity and creativity is between the covers of my drawing journal. Maybe I should get a water proof pen and start drawing on the tiles. No wonder many if not all architects (I define ‘architect’ as people who has considered architecture as the object to deal with in their career) prove to have dozens of dozens of dozens of… sketchbooks in their life. They talk about drawing, they contemplate about it.

*Gehry’s documentary film by Sydney Pollack is titled nothing but: “the Sketches of Frank Gehry”

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Frank Gehry whose buildings are famously ‘unbuildable without computer’ does actually begin everything on the surface of a sheet of paper. Barbara Isenberg, in her book, “Conversation with Frank Gehry”, notes:

“We would sit at the near, uncluttered end of the worktable, with drawing paper and pen nearby. When Gehry talks, he draws…. He draws too, when he’s on the phone, making “doodles” on pages of the lined yellow pad he uses to take notes. Some he frames and gives to his wife, Berta, as presents.

And those architects make a journal out of their sketches. And as of Gehry, still on the same page of the book, it is noted:

“…at one visit, he opened a drawer of his desk and pulled out maybe two dozen pieces of yellow lined paper of various sizes, looked at them almost in wonder, and remarked, ’And that’s just this week.’

And that’s just Gehry; many more talks about the same thing. Here Gregory reasons it:

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Then the thing is… “How is it to draw?” Many if not most of us would say that not all has the talent. But look:

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Of course, though not as talented as those racers, we may and are able to drive. And it applies too when it comes to drawing; we’re no painter, but of course we may and are able to draw; we just need to get used to it. But apparently unfortunate, before we are used to drawing, our creativity had been buried deep down in our childish self as we grew up. It is so because according to what is accepted as ’normal’, we are always obliged to ‘behave’; to not doodle during the class, to colour leaves green and apple red, to get real. Deviating from that consensus, we are labelled ‘not talented’ or told to do things that are ‘more useful’. In fact:

“Pure creativity is all around us. A weed pokes through cracks in the pavement. Birds make beautiful nests. So do ants. Beehives are elegant and intelligently designed. And what about the colors and shapes that fish come up with to protect themselves? And flowers, aren’t their adaptations, so infinitely varied and breathtaking, creative? “

… That is pure creation with no pause for harsh self-judgement. (You never hear a pear tree whine, “I’m no good at fruit!”)

It’s ironic. We say trees are not ‘creative’ when they do make things, while we are not ‘creative’ when we don’t make things. Well, that’s just not very creative, isn’t it?

As it comes to design (architecture), creativity is usually considered as something spiritual, intangible, divine. The book shows how though divine –as it looks like coming from our unconscious realm of thought-, that spiritual thing actually comes from our very every day matters.

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So back again, if we are naturally creative, how is it to draw?

“When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. It told her I worked at the college – that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared at me, incredulous, and said, ‘You mean they forget?” – Howard Ikemoto

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Glenn Murcutt, a currently 78 year old Australian architect, the 2002 Pritzker Price winner, speaks of the equivalent of Gregory’s step-by-step drawing guides. In an essay on Murcutt’s book, “Glenn Murcutt: Thinking Drawing” (2008), he talks about how eyes are the extension of our hands; that is through our hands’ experience with physical materials that we can literally see how ice is cold, how flames hot, how wood smooth, and rock rough. Gregory on the other hand, guides us to touch each of every line outlining a three dimensional object with our eyes; he shows how we actually perceive this world two dimensionally and which therefore means draw-able.

Now get your pen and put it on your paper. Get your eyeballs and rest their gaze on the upper left-hand side of the mug. Really slowly, move your eye around that upper back edge of the mug’s rim. And, just as slowly, trace that line on the paper.

Now, if you ask what to draw, the book also gives us a huge list of that and the illustrations too. Though it doesn’t really mean to be anything architectural, I think it’s pretty much it if only we can see it that way.

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Learn to be aware about an object’s contour, about its negative and positive spaces. We learn about proportion and density (I’m reminded about the nolli map in urban design).

Speaking about maps, drawing maps and floor plans trains our sensitivity to orientate ourselves and in being aware of size and scale and proportion.

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Imagine if we can make a note like this one when we do a site survey. Though not as fast as camera, we may understand and remember the things that we find on the site.

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But more than what we draw or how architectural it is that it can help us discovering things to learn about architecture, drawing is a real fun.
When we draw, we see goodness in things and we appreciate it. In relation to that, it teaches how to maintain a good relationship with people. I remember it clearly my drawing lecturer said, “The key is to be honest. Draw what you see,- not what you think you see.” Drawing, like in having a relationship, needs us to be honest.

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As it comes to Murcutt’s notion about how design is actually an act of discovering, it’s clear how designing needs us firstly to be creative to be able to discover, which is through drawing.

“There is an immense difference between seeing a thing without a pencil in the hand and seeing it while drawing it. Even the object most familiar to our eyes becomes totally different if one applies oneself to drawing it: one perceives that one didn’t really know it, one had never really seen it. – Paul Valéry, “Degas, Dance and Drawing,” 1960.

 

OMAH Library on Architecture and Drawing

To get more into the contemporary issue on architecture and drawing, please take a look at “The Death of Drawing: Architecture in The Age of Simulation” (2014), a text book that can get you excited about finding out its conclusion; whether David Ross Scheer, the author thinks that hand drawing as a mode of representation or BIM as a mode of simulation is better than the other.
Call number: B6.a14

To peek on what is taught at the drawing class in the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union, where John Hedjuk was once a dean, “Architects Draw” (2008) is the book that was written by the lecturer of that class itself, Susan Ferguson Gussow.
She, when asked why teach how to draw figure at all, since architecture is all about plan, elevation, and section drawings, answered through the book, “…is the liberating joy of it. It is where all drawing begins. A child makes marks, blotches, scribbles, then hard- or soft-edged geometric shapes, stacks them one on another and names them: mother, father, house, me. It is the self-revealed on paper—a declaration and a need.”

Writing and collecting other pieces concerning how drawing is actually a medium to help us thinking, Marc Treib exhibits in his book Drawing/Thinking: Confronting an Electronic Age (2008): Mark Alan Hewitt’s thoughts on “Architects, Drawings, and Modes of Conception”, Lynn Gumpert’s “From Concept to Object: The Artistic Practice of drawing”, Errol Barron’s “Drawing in the Digital Age”, Christopher Brown’s way of teaching how to draw “Straight Lines”, Chip Sullivan’s comic strips “Telling the Untold Stories”, and 9 different others.
Call number: B6.a17

This is a compilation of the writer’s (Paolo Belardi) own imaginary lectures on inventive drawing (as a mean to designing) and informed drawing (as a mean to surveying).This book doesn’t mean to defense drawing but openly reminds us why architects still draw despite anything.
Call number: B6.a19

So fast and precise camera is, the technology cannot record the abstract information. Visual Notes: For Architects and Designers explains how to take a visual note. Other than that, this book is also complemented by samples of tools and techniques to do it.
Call Number: B6.a18