‘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.