A little over two years ago, I was winding down my day by sketching. I had decided to start drawing again after a long hiatus from what had been a near-constant activity while I was studying architecture in grad school. I had always enjoyed drawing and can recall from my youth filling page after page of graph paper with floor plans of dream homes, inspired by my mom’s father and the cool homes he had designed and built.
Years later, during my undergrad years, I made the fortunate decision to switch my major from business/economics to fine arts. Initially wooed by the prospect of a job in banking upon graduation by my dad’s father, I quickly realized that my grasp of finance was near nil. The “D” by the skin of my teeth in Business 101 my sophomore year was the nudge I needed to change tacks and study fine arts.
The art history survey class I took first semester of freshman year awoke in me a hunger to learn about all manner of art and architecture. In that darkened lecture hall I was exposed to the wonders of Ancient Greek sculptures, the genius of da Vinci and the awe-inspiring beauty of gothic cathedrals. The path forward was slowly illuminated. To hell with banking – I was going to be an architect!
It seemed odd to me (and still does) that The College of William and Mary does not offer a degree in architecture. However, with the guidance of some wonderful professors, I learned that there are a few educational paths towards becoming an architect. So I opted to stay at W&M to complete my BA in Fine Arts, knowing that there were other Masters programs available for folks like me. And this began my foray into taking pen (or pencil) to paper and attempting to depict all manner of three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface.
Upon my arrival at graduate school (or “gradual school” as I referred to it) I was immediately surrounded by peers who had taken far more rigorous drawing classes than I, exhibiting sketching skills that eclipsed mine. With a humble resignation, I accepted that while I could hone my abilities, I would never be able to be a great sketcher. Still, hone them I did, filling dozens of black sketchbooks with visual notes from the many courses I took during those four-plus years of graduate studies.
As I entered the workforce upon receiving my Masters of Architecture during one of the many deep economic troughs of the last century (joke circulating through school at that time: “Q – How do you get an architect’s attention? A – Oh waiter!”), I was greeted by the rapidly rising proliferation of the use of CAD (computer-aided drafting) in the profession. For one who was just so-so at hand drafting, this new tool became the great equalizer. Now all technical drawings produced through these early programs had the same level look and feel. No need to struggle with proper line weight or technical pen nib size selection to convey depth in drawings. The computer took care of all that. Soon hand sketching faded away, relegated to those few “Big-D Designers” that were in the profession whose task was to conceive of the “big idea” for the rest of us to document and detail.
As my career path meandered away from the “drafting board” and towards project and client management and acquisition, my earlier -learned computer drafting skills began to be replaced with those soft skills that allowed me to develop my true calling within the profession – engaging with the end-users to help define the project’s vision and parameters. With this also came an even further detachment from those sketching skills that I used to so enjoy.
Which brings me back to that cold rainy January night, sitting at the kitchen counter, with my new black sketchbook and array of pencils, each with a different type of graphite, allowing for the creation of three-dimensional depth on a two-dimensional surface simply by varying the darkness and thickness of the lines. I had chosen to sketch from a photo of the President’s House I recently took while visiting William and Mary’s campus. I was developing the basic forms and had just started to fill in some detail when I was interrupted. While the messy back-story as to the nature of the interruption can be saved for another time, suffice it to say that the evening ended with me embarking on a long and necessary journey of recovery and self-discovery. A fresh start of sorts.
The sketch I was working on that night remains unfinished. Interrupted. Perhaps paused, to be returned to again and completed. Or perhaps that sketch will forever remain unfinished. Representing something that was started with the full intention of of being completed, only to be interrupted midway. Perhaps instead I will start a new sketch. It too may be interrupted. And if it is, I’ll just put it aside as well and start another. After all, the real pleasure in sketching isn’t so much in the completed drawing as in the process of taking pencil to paper. And of the prospect of creating something new, bringing to light what had previously been inside me.
It’s time to sharpen those pencils again…