Is Drawing Dead -02“Drawing” – The word conjures images from our early grade school days, of simple crayon and chalk drawings. It was an activity we all shared, and yet experienced individually, creating simple drawings to accompany our own stories and illustrate our personal ideas and experiences.

Drawing, and its sibling “Sketching” are still magical words to ASAI members. The word “Drawing” is rich with connotations of the creative process. To illustrators and designers, the terms are synonymous with the early stages of investigation, exploring problems, depicting concepts, and presenting visual solutions.

Is Drawing Dead? This is a worrisome comment posited by a member recently as a challenge to examine what we do, how we do it, and further to better understand ASAI’s mission and its future. What is meant by the statement?     Does it mean that the education and practice of “drawing” is fading into history…like the typewriter, or cursive writing? What is at issue and why do we care? We wish to pose this to our membership, to elicit a broad range of opinions, and insights.

Personally, I don’t think that drawing is dead. I think it is simply lost and presumed dead. If we organize a proper search party, we will eventually find it alive and well. I’m just not sure where”

Gordon Grice,
Delegate to Canada

Bias or blindness? Drawing and Sketching have historically been done by hand, that is, executed with our hands, using traditional media, paper, pencil, pens, even crayon (oh the smell) and the like. But, we’re in the “Digital Age”, and have been for some years now. Behind the scenes at ASAI members have been discussing the transition, and trends in illustration, from “hand and traditional” methods to “digital” technologies. The use of 3D illustration and design programs have made “visualization” by hand methods seem primitive and laborious, if not obsolete at this point in time. With greater emphasis on digital tools and demand for digital production and presentation, an apparent result has been a decreased interest and emphasis on teaching and practice of drawing and sketching in today’s curricula.

The implications, if true, are not certain, but do concern some – enough to ask the question: Is Drawing Dead?

Is Drawing Dead -01Your Insights?

In short, we would like to get ASAI member impressions on the topic of “Drawing and Sketching, its value and usefulness in learning, recording, communicating and presenting ideas to colleagues and clients. Of course, by this is meant the traditional “hand- drawing” mode, whatever the media. Some of the following thoughts may prompt the discussion.




In School: Is freehand drawing training important to improving visual acuity or problem solving abilities? If you are an educator, do you feel it is crucial, or optional in the designer’s education? It is noteworthy that while some Architectural programs have eliminated freehand classes, even hand drawn presentations, others have resisted the trend and re-introduced the topic in early years, for educational purposes. Does hand-drawing “wire” the brain for design? Does the direct experience of observing and drawing, making the “eye to hand to brain” connection create important memories, improve perception or expand spatial awareness?




In the Office: For Architects, Designers and Illustrators, does hand-sketching play a role in your design process? Is it a skill you use to communicate with the office staff in simple ways, envisioning building concepts, or construction details? One notable Architect mentions the usefulness of his sketching and of journaling as a means of recording and thinking about design concepts. Another mentions that an early idea may likely be doodled, then taken to digital formats for development. At another point you may find yourself on a jobsite, problem solving with a carpenter. Would a hand sketch be a helpful communication tool?

With the Client: You meet, you talk and the scope of a project gets outlined. Do you as a matter of course find sketching a thumbnail “on the go” helpful? Design may not have begun, the commission may not be in hand, but clarity of language, and possibly the timing for a proposal is of the essence. Does drawing skill give you an edge?




For Preliminary Presentations: Once designs have begun to be developed generally architectural CAD drawings are “in the can”. At this point, interim and final presentations can be scheduled, and digital illustrations are not precluded by time demands. Yet at such times would a quick hand-drawn supplemental sketch, an isometric or birds eye view be helpful to clarify intent for your staff or an illustrator? Or, would a hand drawn illustration by more consistent with the problem-seeking early stages of design development?



Is Drawing Dead -03Alive or Dead?

How important is Drawing and Sketching to you? If you are an Educator, an Architect, a Designer, or an Illustrator (in-house at an Architectural Firm, or an independent) your practice will certainly color your reply. We want your opinion, and hope the feedback will start a discussion, and help ASAI to address its mission and offerings to members. Might we present more sketch examples, offer continuing education, provide lectures, blogs, and demos, or encourage academic research on the topic? Please share your thoughts on “Is Drawing Dead?”

Dan Church Architect AIA AICP ASAI
ASAI Secretary 2012-2014

11 Responses

  1. I can’t do without it professionally & have to hold hands w/those clients who never learned or simply forgot how to. It is a building block & tool to creative communication.

    1. i once saw a documentary on the making of Star Wars somewhere around the millenium. Here i saw the characters and buildings and spaceships being drawn by hand by a number of talented artists. These sketches were then refined in a 2d drawing program like photoshop and thus brought to life.
      The same sketches were used as a basis for 3d-modelling of the objects, i don’t think they used Sketchup in that documentary, but it would have worked because that’s how i work. Old School drawing work then scanned and made into thrue 3d in the Sketchup program.
      The real artwork still is drawing by hand like Leonardo did. The 2d and even more so 3d programmes that take over from there are to be seen as intelligent tools to save lots of time in your project, tools like super-intelligent rulers and compasses……

  2. There is no way drawing is dead. Well perhaps in the architectural profession, I don’t know. I combine 3d graphics and traditional drawing, ‘tradigital’. I find it is impossible to get the same loose effect with the graphics tablet, although I use that too. Sure, perhaps things like measured perspective drawings and working drawings are dead but they were pretty much dead when I studied design in the late 90s. Also, look at the phenomena urban sketchers, where people draw urban scenes around the world, mostly traditional, occasionally digital. Also, paper and pencil, you do not have to switch it on and off, load an application.

    I just think that perhaps some people who proclaim drawing is dead, never perhaps did much traditional drawing anyway?

  3. I don’t think it is a lost art. When I started my career it was the only way for me to communicate my ideas and at the time my style was still rather elementary. Throughout my career my technique improved but it was not because of any latent talent within – rather it was a continuous desire to watch others and try their techniques that kept me improving. I remember in the late 70’s Helmut Jahn impressed me with his zig zag style using a fountain pen. It became a big influence on how I do my quick sketches to this day. Another influence was a drawing professor I had at the University of Cincinnati – he told me to “draw all of what I see, but not all of what I see” – it took a while to figure it out, but when I did he was totally thrilled.
    In summary I would submit that the big driving force to learn how to draw must necessarily be “desire” whether you are working in Photoshop, AutoCAD, Revit or any software have a sketch book at your side to both mentally and with pencil in hand think through what it is you are trying to show and your drawing skills will become reality. They are not lost behind some hidden magic in a digital software.

  4. I’m not sure who the coroner(s) are that have made this proclamation, and given it such widespread traction. I suggest that it was probably techie critics of some ilk that may have had ulterior motives; about which anyone can hazard a guess. I have to agree with James Abell’s take on this point. The forum at Yale a while back tried to find some answers to the Big Buzz question, and ASAI provided coverage on that.

    But one of our pleasures as human beings is deriving great satisfaction from making something with our hands; whether it be drawing, writing, cooking, building, sewing, or other pursuit. This is an intelligible sense when the eye, hand, and instrument, used with a modicum of skill, can record something of our world and make a connection with the subject of our interest. It clearly is an instinctive ability that we can see in children now or in cave drawings from thousands of years ago.

    Drawing in many basic forms trumps the digital medium of the pixel, which, however ordered, requires a) a computing device, b) a program, c) an output, & d) electric power. At any point of space and time, the advantages of drawing are its direct method of expression that flows so easily from mind to hand to paper, the variety of expressive options for using a chosen instrument, and also a scale of drawing that can be predetermined. The analogue method does not require that precise information be inputted to help shape an idea; and it sometimes allows for multiple input from many hands, working on the same drawing. One might recall architects’ famous thumbnail or napkin sketches that have crystallized into significant buildings, because the essence of their vision was recorded.

    Drawing, as with hand-writing, leaves a unique signature mark of the artist, which further reveals aspects of the artist, while describing the subject. Museums are filled with the records of such unique mark-making.
    In the professional realm of architectural illustration and ASAI, drawing can be the bridge to solidifying decisions at early stages, or be the medium for the final stages of representation. Its communication value is never underestimated. It’s not surprising to see that artists still use simple, but powerful, drawing techniques for story-boarding a movie, for example, or generating rough or refined sketches of plans or elevations to determine design direction. Drawing occurs at numerous stages of design.

    It also seems to me that a drawing skill improves one’s versatility and marketability, while expanding the variety of techniques by the very choices of medium. And it’s understood that it sharpens one eye for proportion, scale, space, value, color, and many other simultaneous things that happen during a drawing session.

    Our profession requires marketing, and the traditional drawing methods should be more strongly marketed as a distinctive alternative to digital work. The means of sales emphasis lies with each artist to have it generate true returns, sufficient for making a living. There is an elephant in the room, which is the image-making power of the computer, and it will not be easy making traditional drawing hold its place, as it competes with architecture’s prevalent method of production work. More needs to be addressed on this point. ASAI had done some with its recent program of excellent seminar presentations in Dallas.

    ASAI and its network of members offers a forum for reinforcing drawing, and getting the so-called corpse out of its emergency ward. Hence the recent introduction of an Observational Drawing category in the AIP competition for one outlet. The urban sketching phenomenon is another. Paint-out, sketch groups, or plein air events occur regularly. One’s own initiative in keeping a sketch book is another means for keeping drawing vital.

    As for training in hand drawing, some schools continue to offer classes; a number of which are held by ASAI members. Student work is advocated by ASAI with its Student Competition of the AIP. The influence across this spectrum does have results. In my case, I had the pleasure of learning from the Student Category winner in Dallas that my pencil drawings had an influence on the piece he had submitted from SCAD.

    ASAI will continue to promote all forms of drawing, and encourage the basic methods that underlie our profession.

    Drawing is about us. It’s not a remote subject. It is too important to dismiss it – as a tool or a technique for expressing ideas in architecture or anywhere else. I hope ASAI members can find the means for spreading the word about drawing. There is much more to talk about, for sure.

  5. I can’t communicate clearly without drawing. I personally am a visual/spatial being, and my mind is always in space, so to speak. As a former software engineer who once upon a time learned how computers work down to the clock tick, it is mind boggling that billions of clock cycles per second are behind “drawing” a line in AutoCAD, or any other modeling software. All the high end, high sensitivity, touch enabled simulations of drawing are still just overblown versions of a stick in the sand. Mark making really is what it is all about. From mind to gesture to vision to understanding. It is such a fundamental aspect of the origins of civilization that there must be an innate understanding by any/everyone to the drawn line or form.

    Two things that make drawing by hand essential to self expression, and in particular for architecture.

    One, as mentioned in a previous post, is the uniqueness of stroke, as a signature has until recently been the identifying mark of an individual (the loss of which I think is a tragedy). Whether the viewer of a drawing knows it or not, they are gaining the knowledge and insight of and from you as an individual by retracing the arc of your lines with their eyes.

    The other essential connection is to the fundamental making of architecture. Architecture is by definition a human pursuit built around people at relation to human scale. A gesture is a fundamental expression of human scale, defined by the reach of an arm, the bend of a wrist. So the perception of that scale includes a relation to the concept of scale, the drawing process as ‘of a human being’.

    This may be a bit muddled, but I think the underlying beauty and power of drawing is as an intimate connection between two people, which is what good architecture is on a grander scale.

  6. Well it could be, drawing whether freehand or digital is a method of communication. An acquired language. I have seen design professionals look at a piece of paper with lines representing a 3d space or objects, and they had no idea what they were looking at. There is a level of visual illiteracy that is breathtaking.The idea that illusion is a communication tool is beyond some peoples imagination, god knows what they think of theatre. For these people the only “real” is “digital hyper reality”. It is like a return to Byzantine thinking, but without the allegory.

    I have had the same problem with the use of digital 3d sketch tools. Here the observer thinks that the information is just a flippant general view or approach. No time is taken to understand the information, which often embodies a great deal of experience, and the developed result ends up a different solution.

    Perhaps it is that we are too rushed to concentrate, consider and act. Drawing is portable, all you need is what is at hand. like a stick and a beach,a pen and a window. Its powered by the human imagination, and spatial cognitive abilities.

    Lets hope we don’t loose the abilities, I can’t imagine living in a future without them.

  7. This is a good discussion and has been ongoing in education for more than a generation or two. I think the question is not “is drawing dead,” it is more likely “is analog drawing an effective way of working in contemporary practice.” Underlying this discussion are questions of how we effectively communicate spatial ideas and how do we educate the next generation of architects. I would also say here that an arts education is the foundation of a good architect and can be refined within an architectural education, but in most cases, can’t be the students first experience drawing.

    When I develop a project, the project is always generated in digitally in 3d space, as the concept and the tools to produce those ideas all evolve within an iterative digital environment where any number of ideas, programmatic issues, zoning or code constraints can be modeled and understood in three dimensions. It is rare that I ever “draw” a plan or section during the development of a project for a competition (though I may sketch an idea that is then tested via the digital model.) I would probably only develop a plan or section for communicating to someone (no guarantee they understand these) who could understand aspects of the project in this medium or as a required deliverable. I work faster in 3d in many ways and find that with teammates we simply “drive” each other’s models for a digital version of sketching to test ideas, and then return to our individual tasks progressing the project forward. Drawing in this methodology is a direct representation of the digital model where we spend most of our time. As the space between design and construction collapse via contemporary prototyping techniques, digital models are no longer an abstract representation of the building, but are simply the first act of its final construction. It is also becoming less a necessity to draw the major elements of buildings as the construction industry is becoming more capable of developing digital models of their own for construction, allowing for verification in model space.

    This is not to say that I don’t draw or that drawing is unnecessary. I draw frequently via quick sketches to very rapidly express an idea, an organizational strategy, a detail, a complex formal relationship to others with whom I am working or teaching. The ability to communicate quickly via a visual and spatial language (words fail) is essential and allows one to then return to the digital model with a direction to test. Sketching (analog or digital) and the ability to communicate visually by hand is critical and will never be overtaken as the fastest form of communication. The idea of drawing by hand (analog) a complex plan, section or axonometric drawing simply does not make sense in contemporary practice. This assumes the pressure of deadlines and deliverables and the trend of the profession towards the digital model producing the physical construct (i.e. 1 to 1 part or assembly production.) The idea of hand drawing a precise representation for construction in this context is truly a labor of love, for the pleasure of drawing and for the meditative aspect that it may allow. I can’t discount the process of drawing and the time of thinking making an impact on process, but time is the luxury that few have. If you are drawing as a representation of the project for a client, then this is a matter of choice and can be a desire to soften the reactions to the work as it appears less complete, finalized or can still be changed. That is however a representation and not a method of development which I see distinct.

    Interestingly I have had an ongoing conversation with a student of mine who has been working with me on competitions and whose early education has made him a very talented artist. We have been discussing the recent emergence of drawing again as an area of conceptual exploration as highlighted in the recent “AD Drawing Architecture,” Edited by Neil Spiller. In work by Perry Culper, CJ Lim and Bryan Cantley, we can see the projective possibilities of drawing for exploring concepts that are visceral and emotive. This student has produced a fantastic series of drawings inspired by this discussion as part of his comprehensive studio at the University of Kentucky College of Design, School of Architecture and builds off of digitally driven projects we have been doing together. He uses painting, paintings with models, and digital drawing in combination to see what each can offer the other. This process has been enjoyable to see and he is leveraging each medium as a way to explore ideas that ultimately inform the digital production.

    I do worry as an educator that I have the skills I have because I first learned to draw by hand and that students are missing something if they are not doing so now. I am also well aware that I started with a Commodore 64 in 8th grade, and the students today have grown up within a world where interfacing with digital devices is a natural extension of their thinking because they have been developing in this new space. I think in the end it is simply a matter of amount and less a yes or no. The best designers will be able to work through multiple mediums and software in combinations that produce spaces and forms that can’t be imagined or produced via a single method. I think in this mix, analog drawing has a place but its dominance in the practice of architecture has shifted or is shifting.