I grew up in the pre-digital era. I’m not saying that computers hadn’t been invented (I’m not that old!) but their routine use in producing architectural drawings was yet to happen.
I was therefore trained in the ways of the pen and the pencil. Most formal drawings were produced using ‘Rotring’ pens on tracing paper. This meant that you had to develop expertise, not just in the content of the drawing, but also in its means of production. You had to know how to tape a piece of tracing paper and the tricks necessary to prevent it wrinkling as you worked on it. It was important to know which diameter of pen nib to use in which circumstance as well as all the practical steps required to keep the pen functioning over time. Dealing with mistakes was always a particular concern. As a result, razor blades and scalpels were always close to hand, together with erasers of varying consistency and brushes to clean the drawing after the mistake had been rectified.
What is interesting, is the way in which the method of drawing impacted the way in which you approached the task. For instance, because making a mistake when drawing in ink was such a traumatic event, and sometimes terminal, you would try to be disciplined about things. You might do a number of rough versions in pencil beforehand or even line out the main structure of the drawing on an underlay. You would certainly decide the content of the drawing prior to starting it and you would probably have a plan for its layout, including the location of written information. Yes, drawing in ink meant that you would plan ahead to in order to avoid the dreaded consequences of having to start again.
The other trait that drawing by hand developed was efficiency. You wouldn’t draw something if it wasn’t necessary. If something was relevant to several drawings you might only draw that thing once, and just make reference to it on the other drawings. You would also think hard about why you were doing the drawing in the first place. This was key. Knowing ‘why’ informs decisions about the content and the level of detail. A note that you would often see on a pen and ink drawing was the phrase 'omitted for clarity’. In stating that something had been omitted for clarity, the architect would be indicating a priority in how the drawn information was being structured for the benefit of the observer. That on this drawing, you were being asked to concentrate only on these things, and not those other things.
Interestingly, in my experience, the ‘omitted for clarity’ note is rarely used when producing drawings by computer.
When you draw with a computer your worries switch from conquering pen and paper to mastering software and hardware. Computer drawing has the benefit that you can start drawing without having to decide how the information is to be laid out and structured. That can come afterwards. And the cut and paste facility allows you to quickly and easily deal with repeating information. So you may as well repeat it. Knowing that everything can be edited later means that you probably will edit it later. But later is the wrong time to be planning. It is the wrong time to be thinking about why you were doing the drawings in the first place.
I’m not saying that drawing by hand is better than drawing by computer. They’re just different. And they lead to differences in how you think (or don’t think) about what you’re doing. If you draw by hand and you’re lazy, you will tend to leave things out when they should be left in. If you draw by computer and you’re lazy, you will tend to leave things in when they should be left out.
'The world is what you think of it. So think of it differently and your life will change.'
This article was written by Andy Foster for the March ‘19 edition of the Sherborne Times.