Monthly Archives: November 2015

a day in a japanese garden

‘a day in a japanese garden.’ is the sixth installment of a six part series of posts for a project titled: ‘Say Something’ as a part of my Writing & Research class I am taking as a part of my graduate studies in the interior design program at University of Central Oklahoma. The series explores the importance of drawing and hand graphics within the realm of design – its relevance and how why it should still maintain its place as a foundational skill-set in designers in a predominantly digital world. However, this last post is taking on a slightly different form – a descriptive account of sketching in Japan. 

I had toured many gardens throughout my trip to Japan. I saw large, sprawling imperial gardens dotted with garden ponds. I walked on paths lined with cherry trees, filling the air with that subtle, sweet scent. There were also modern gardens with large expanses of thick grass, perfect for walking around in barefoot. Even the more austere zen gardens had their charms – the meticulously raked pebbles contrasted against large, mossy rocks. There was most assuredly something for everyone.

taiwan 044

austere zen garden with mossy rocks – ryoan-ji – kyoto, japan

But despite all the grandeur of these massive gardens, one tiny square of Japanese history stole my heart above all others: Murin-an.

As a part of the requirements for this trip, I was told to keep a sketch book. Throughout the month and a half in Asia, we would stop different places, take out our books and sketch the world around us. Up to this point, we had been in Tokyo for a week. While I reached full sensory overload taking in the city, I was excited to be in Kyoto for tours of ancient gardens. Tokyo is very fast paced. There is a tension in the air that accompanies most large cities. People everywhere, trying to get to work, school, and places beyond. Kyoto is also a large city, but much less dense. Your eyes are corralled by the expanse of massive skyscrapers. Like Tokyo, most surfaces are covered in LED lights. And like Tokyo, people are everywhere. But somehow, it feels lighter. The air has a distinctively fresh feel. When the sun shines, it illuminates a faint presence of humidity and maybe a small amount of smog, that gives everything a soft appearance [it also makes your pictures look amazing]. I could go on forever….

But back to the garden. As I said, we had toured so many different types of gardens that morning – most of which were large, ancient gardens that had existed since the samurai days of Japan. They were overwhelming in a way. Seeing trees that were almost 1,000 years old does a lot to put your sense of time into perspective. Most of these gardens are in excess of several acres – miles in fact. Murin-an is less than an acre. It’s a very small garden, by Japanese standards. But what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in design.

The gates to the garden are small. Most people had to duck to enter. The entry area is filled with pea gravel. It was slushy from water that continued to drain out after a previous rain. My feet sunk as our group trudged towards another doorway. Upon entering the secondary gate, we started down a meandering path flanked with thick vegetation. The smell of flowers filled the air. Songbirds swirled around our heads, singing sweetly. We followed the path to a small tea house that had been in the garden since the 1890’s. It was dimly lit with rice mat flooring. Although it was beautiful, the air was stagnant because the building was not all equipped with any sort of air conditioning. From there, I ventured out in the garden to experience its’ delicate spaces.

The design is a mix of Japanese and English styles. A border of lush shrubs surrounds a highly manacured green lawn. A small creek meanders in and out of the planted areas, cutting the lawn into what appears to be a scale representation of small mountains. The whole view is framed by architectural branches of maples, that appear as silhouettes when backlit by the sun. I immediately sat down to sketch.

If you research Murin-an, what I have just described is a very iconic view of this garden. It’s like the ground opened up and this beautiful landscape emerged from deep inside the earth. I wanted to sketch it in a way that captured the delicate contrast of the various textures, yet capture how they work together to form such a perfect composition. So many pieces of this garden, including this area I was sketching, are roped off to prevent public access. This is in the interest of preservation. While I appreciate it, the limited access forces you to use your eye in a more intensive manner as you can only get so close. I had to sort of imagine walking around in those tiny hills – what I would see, what I would hear and how that would transfer into the sketch. I then started layering in the clusters of rocks. They were slick from water splashing out of the stream. They peaked out of the toes of the hills, carving out the path for the moving water. It was obvious they were expertly placed, adding to the delicate perfection of this specific view. Spilling over the rocks were the various types of shrubs. Red and pink Azaleas followed the stream from beginning to end. I wanted to capture the stream in a way that looked dynamic, as if you could hear the water slowly moving over the pebbles below. The garden is also surrounded by a massive wall of green trees – maple, pine, and gingko, just to name a few. Capturing the needles and the leaves, although far away is important to relaying the balance of texture that is so carefully planned in Japanese garden. Nothing is ever placed there by accident.

I sat there, sketching for what felt like an eternity. There is so much finite detail in a garden of this nature. Moss, flower petals, and fallen leaves dot the flower beds. The light and shadow creates so many variances of light and dark, creating areas of interest within the context of the garden. I just remember Murin-an making me feel as if I had achieved absolute peace. The breeze was light as we were completely surrounded by a tall wall of foliage. After a morning of hustle and bustle in Kyoto – inhaling bus exhaust, riding in hot subway cars, this garden was an oasis. Despite my efforts, my sketch couldn’t even begin to fully capture that feeling of contentment at that exact moment. But it was a reminder that it happened.

I knew we couldn’t stay there forever. Eventually, my professor grabbed me and we headed to the next place – which of course, was equally beautiful. But of all the landscapes we visited, nothing compared to elegance of Murian-an. Regretfully, I lost track of my sketchbook that held so many memories of a wondrous country. But the experience of drawing that space, the attempt to capture my feelings through pencil and paper – is with me in a different way that is more real than any photograph I ever took. Sketching it required me to actually study the details that made it special, forever etching it and the feelings I experienced into my memory forever.

murin-an garden - kyoto, japan

murin-an garden – kyoto, japan

everyone should sketch: how to get started.

‘everyone should sketch: how to get started.’ is the fifth installment of a six part series of posts for a project titled: ‘Say Something’ as a part of my Writing & Research class I am taking as a part of my graduate studies in the interior design program at University of Central Oklahoma. The series explores the importance of drawing and hand graphics within the realm of design – its relevance and how why it should still maintain its place as a foundational skill-set in designers in a predominantly digital world.

When people are asked if they possess any creative tendencies, the most common response seems to be: “No, I don’t draw”. The ability to draw always appears to be most closely associated with artistic ability. True, that a seemingly large portion of artists have an innate ability to draw. However, one does not need to know how to draw in order to draw.

The truth is, everyone should sketch, doodle, train their eye to really see things. And to sketch, is to be creative, regardless of ones’ ability to draw. It is often thought that illustrators or artists are the only people who get any sort of use out of this tool. But, it is useful to everyone, in every profession, in every facet of life. As mentioned in previous posts in this series, it’s all about bolstering the ‘hand to mind’ connection that allows us to see ideas in a more comprehensive manner.

Although sketching is for everyone, some may find themselves wondering where to start. How does one become confident with a skill they feel they don’t possess. This article will alleviate those concerns with a step by step process on how to get started.

step 1: Materials are important. Paper, pencils, and pens are important in determining the success of the sketch. These materials do not need to cost a fortune. They are available in a range of prices. Although there are some differences in quality, according to what one is willing to spend, most of them are similar and will perform accordingly. First, choose a paper.  Although you can sketch on almost anything, it is recommended that you purchase a sketchbook. These books are generally constructed with paper of better quality than that of a printer. The paper has a ‘tooth’ that holds pencil better than uncoated paper. Next, select pencils. Drawing pencils are different from mechanical pencils. They are made a in a range of hardnesses. Pencils with an “H” label are the hardest, and pencils with “F” are the softest. However, there are a range of pencils in between the two hardnesses. “F” pencils are great for creating dark hues, and deep value. While “H” pencils are great for sketching outlines and other types of fine lines. A good mid-level pencil is the “HB”. It seems to be the best of both worlds – able to draw finer lines, as well as create deep hues.

step 2: Find a subject. Before you begin to sketch “in the field”, it is good to practice some basic techniques with a still life composition. The key to creating depth in a drawing is being able to shade objects in a range of light and dark tones. Creating these tones can be difficult if the light source is not dramatic. For example, it may be difficult for a beginner to replicate objects in the light of a cloudy day – it is hard to distinguish shadows. The darkest tones often have to be embellished. To remedy this, take to drawing an object under the glow of a bright light. An adjustable desk lamp, table lamp, or flashlight will do. Choose an object to feature in your still life. A cube shape or a piece of fruit is always a good choice. Position the light over the object, finding an angle that lights the still life to your liking.

step3: Now it is time to begin sketching. The tendency with most people is to hold the brush with firm pressure, creating dark lines. These lines are often hard to erase, which can muddy a drawing. The key is to draw very, very light – almost barely touching pencil to paper. As you begin to distinguish your outline, you can then apply heavier pressure, or use softer pencil to add value and shading. Pro-tip: draw so lightly you don’t need to erase. One of the most common mistakes for novice sketch artists is to erase undesired lines. People want clean drawings – but what can happen is that by erasing, the artist often repeats the same undesired stroke multiple times, over and over again. If you can see the line, you are more likely to correct it, and keep the line you want. Continue to add details with darker pencils. Get creative with your pencil strokes! The texture of the strokes add character to the object. This video shows a more detailed explanation of how to execute this process.

step 4: Repeat, constantly! It is recommended that your practice step 3 several times before venturing out into the field to sketch environments. Try different objects, with different surfaces to test your skills. Experiment with various types of pencils to practice creating a scale of values – from light to dark. Also, sketch objects illuminated with various degrees of light. Constant repetition is the key to boosting confidence in drawing. Once you possess more confidence, you’ll enjoy drawing more, and hopefully indulge in it more often.

step 5: Draw something – anything – every day. Once you fill several pages of your sketch book with different objects, graduate to environments. These can be interior or exterior. Experiment with drawing what you see. A good way to ensure practice is to keep your sketch book with you at all times. When you get the opportunity, create a quick drawing. To echo step 4, practice truly does make perfect.

In general, training your eye to see objects in proportion comes with a fair amount of practice. Beyond drawing lightly and purchasing the right materials, it is important not to be too hard on oneself as you learn. Relax, be loose, make confident strokes and drawing proficiency will be a skill you can utilize throughout your life. From sketching out a home improvement project to illustrating a big idea in a meeting, drawing is a life skill that will serve you faithfully throughout life.

hand graphics: my own story

‘hand graphics: my own story’ is the fourth installment of a six part series of posts for a project titled: ‘Say Something’ as a part of my Writing & Research class I am taking as a part of my graduate studies in the interior design program at University of Central Oklahoma. The series explores the importance of drawing and hand graphics within the realm of design – its relevance and how why it should still maintain its place as a foundational skill-set in designers in a predominantly digital world.

Making my way through these blog posts each week, I’ve gone back and forth as to what to keep talking about. What can I say that will make this cause relevant to a potential reader? In debating on this weeks’ subject, it occurred to me – I’ve published blogs that illustrate the importance of hand graphics within the field of design. But what I haven’t made known is why they’re important to me. This week, I’ve decided to share my story of hand graphics in terms of my background, their importance in my life as well as my career, and why I feel strongly about their inclusion in the overall framework of the design industry.

The beginnings of my story are sort of cliche’, so I’ll spare you the sappy ‘I was born with a pencil in my hand’ introduction. The funny thing is, I actually was. From a very early age, I loved to draw. And like most designers, my fledgling career began as a small child, drawing everything in sight. My parents were quick to notice this talent, and thoughtfully nurtured it as I matured into adulthood. My parents placed me in art camps, workshops, and bought endless amounts of art supplies for me to use at home. Throughout these formative years, I learned honed my eye – drew what I saw. I also learned to paint, sculpt, print – you name it, I was creating it. By the time I was a senior in high school, I boasted a hefty portfolio, numerous awards, and a talent for creative everything from the abstract to the realistic. I kicked around the idea of becoming a lot of things after high school. Figuring out your purpose in life at that age can be daunting.

Although I wasn’t sure exactly what discipline I wanted to enter – my general path was clear: a career in design.

And that career in design was carved out and supported by one thing: my ability to draw.

Prior to graduation, I was convinced that I wanted to become a graphic designer. That is, until I actually shadowed a graphic designer or two and decided it wasn’t exactly my area of interest. Around this same time, I had landed a job at a local plant nursery. There I maintained plants, helped customers plan their own yards, and learned a ton about the industry in general. It was through this work that I began to be aware of the profession of Landscape Architecture. After some research, it became clear that it was the perfect way to combine my inherent talent and my love for plants.

I refer to my time in Landscape Architecture as ‘on the cusp’. As with any other design discipline, you have to learn the graphic language of plans, symbols – ways you communicate your ideas in a common visual language. And at the time, the majority of this was drawn by hand. Employers were still operating in this manner, and to be honest, you had to be comfortable with drawing. This ability was not merely applied to plan view. You had to know how to draw elevations, perspectives, anything that could further communicate your concept – create a vision for the viewer.

For me this was easy. I was comfortable with drawing most anything. While other people struggled, I thrived. From start to finish, I was in control of my own graphic destiny, so to speak. Until my third year when we were introduced to AutoCAD. Despite having an entire semester to learn the program, we wouldn’t necessarily be required to use it in our subsequent studios. The program was so unbelievably difficult to control. When it came to creating designs, I could so easily see what I wanted and how I could draw it. But in AutoCAD, I struggled to draw simple shapes. My projects were clunky. No matter how hard I worked, the end result on the screen did not match the vision in my head.

The most frustrating part was the negative effects on my design process. It was a struggle to incorporate my conceptual process into the computer program. As a result, I would design on AutoCAD. Designs often appeared disjointed. And when compared with projects where a hand process was used, they were noticeably weak in terms of the solution. The plans were not as tight. And, as an artist, I believe that when you’ve created something truly wonderful – you just know it. I never got that impression with my early computer work.

From that point, I hated AutoCAD. I boycotted it. I refused to use it, despite the fact that the size of my projects were growing too large for me to tackle solely by hand. I worked twice as hard as everyone else, creating drawings, perspectives, sections, elevations, you name it. While other people were blowing through their work, I was painstakingly drawing every little detail. I was disillusioned. I was exhausted. Eventually, I realized that if I was going to turn out quality work, I had to get my head around making my process more efficient. I began using AutoCAD to create my ideas. However, I didn’t begin there. I found ways to incorporate the mind to hand connection in my conceptual drawings, often sketching ideas in a loose manner and then importing them into the computer to firm up dimensions. The more I used the program, the more I saw ways to streamline my process, rather than work against it. Eventually, I even found ways to fuse the two graphic styles to create even more beautiful drawings that fit into my overall stylistic sensibility.

My ability to fuse these two styles developed over the course of three and a half years. And even after I graduated college, I learned ways to even further enhance these techniques by using new programs and incorporating them into my process. As a professional, the more I observed of my co-workers and colleagues, the more I realized many of them designed straight onto the computer. Sure, it was more efficient. But in terms of aesthetics and thoughtfulness, you could tell the development was seriously lacking compared to a concept that had been worked out by hand in the initial stages. Despite my boss’s pleas to adapt this process, I resisted. I felt that I had fought hard to retain my graphic style, as well as my hand to mind connection. I didn’t want to let it go. So I became more efficient in balancing the time spent on the hand drawing portion relative to what I produced in the computer. I found ways to create hand graphics that fit seamlessly with computer generated plans in an overall package. These solutions were more expressive and ultimately more appealing to clients, which in turn provided more opportunities to get work.

The reality is, your boss is not always going to allow time and money for you to work by hand. But, as discussed in previous blog posts in this series, there are ways to retain that connection. You have to find which methods are most efficient. Moreover, you have to find which methods work within your process. For me, nothing could replace that process of drawing my thoughts out on paper. It was simply a non-starter for me to create straight away on the computer. As a result, my hand graphics became a reputation that preceded me – in a good way! I carved out a niche for myself, something that made me special relative to my colleagues.

Once, I believed that there would be no place for the computer against the strength of my ability to draw. Over time, my increasing comfort with different programs has allowed me to retain my original process, enhancing it and making it more efficient. It was a struggle to strike that balance. But I eventually did. And as a result, I feel strongly about emerging professionals honing that skill set in todays’ workplace. The key to strong design is the ability to see it from your mind to your hand. Other people should see it as a unique skill that deserves its place in the design process and fight to keep it as I have all these years.