The pen is mightier than the CAD…

As a national architecture, urban and interior design practice we like to think that we have our finger constantly on the pulse of the latest advances in design technology. Whether it be as early adopters of building information technology or staying ahead of the field with virtual and augmented reality tech, we are always on the look out for new and innovative ways to present plans and concepts to clients and stakeholders.

Yet despite all the truly impressive technological advances the art of the hand drawn sketch remains a core part of our arsenal.

The need for speed

Hames Sharley Associate, Niall Browne explains, “Sketching with a pen on a scrap of paper is often the most direct and focussed way of discussing a concept or idea with clients, colleagues, consultants or anyone else for that matter”.

“Drawing with a pen allows you to zoom in on a very specific idea without having to deal with contextual clutter. It becomes a tool to direct a conversation within a very controlled but immediately adaptable framework”.

Different styles for different purposes

“A well-executed render can be very useful for marketing purposes or as a part of the design approval process”, Niall continues, “Sometimes a Sketch Up model is the right communication tool when ideas are still in their infancy, and we want to discuss the decisions we’ve made and ignore those that we haven’t. Pen drawings are wonderful as they allow us to focus on the ‘spirit’ or intent of an idea, only discussing that which we feel comfortable with – we’re selling the dream”.

Freehand skills tell a different story

A third advantage to a well composed freehand sketch is in communicating a message about the artist themselves.

“There’s a skill in drawing that develops as the brain learns to communicate through the hand, the idea that the thought process becomes dispersed. This extends through to how we use computer applications, quickly working to an end result that already exists in the mind rather than experimenting iteratively”.

Niall explains, “Throughout my career I’ve conducted many interviews with aspiring architects and interior designers and always look carefully at their own abilities with pen and paper. I’m not necessarily looking for a talented artist – but rather a clear indication that they can effectively communicate using the medium.”

“Something happens in the brain of the artist between the eye and the hand that expresses an idea that is almost subconscious to the person putting pen to paper. The transaction is complete when the viewer, (often the client), simply gets it and words are no longer necessary. It’s a bit of a generalisation but architects, designers and creatives aren’t always the best at verbal communication, so drawing skills can fill these gaps”.

“In the old days, back in my home town of Dublin in the eighties and nineties, we would only employ staff with excellent hand drawing skills. It was considered that an inability to draw resulted in an inability to effectively communicate”.

The days of artists’ impressions being used as primary, hero images in marketing materials designed to promote architectural projects may be on the wane, but regardless of how much design and rendering technology advances, in many ways the pen will always remain mightier than the CAD and designers should continue to nurture these skills.

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