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drawing as thinking

Added on by Timothy Brown.

Kimbell, Fort Worth, Louis I. Kahn

Over the past few years I've explored a lot of ways to more easily grab fleeting thoughts, sketch, draw, capture images, and develop ideas whether drawing or writing. And although the digital toolbox allows for multi-media inputs, post-production manipulations, advanced searching, and relatively safe storage, none of the gadgets or apps I've come across answer to my larger concerns, or desires. And none of them are actually that much fun. So I find myself coming back to my sketchbook whenever I'm working. 

There's a way that drawing by hand on simple supports like paper provides for some connection between thought and expression that's fluid and virtually frictionless. I became an architect drawing and thus thinking by hand, and maybe that facility provides for this sense of souplesse. I'm not sure that the sketchbook would be as useful without a lot of time working in a sketchbook. But it seems to me that there are parallel routes towards an idea: one is thinking through drawing and the other is thinking through making. I don't consider making drawings to be the same a working by drawing. There are a lot of practices aimed at making drawings that look like drawings - the glorious travel 'sketch' is one of those types. I'd propose instead a way of drawing that doesn't aim to produce the sort of sketch that's carefully composed, well-proportioned, and, in short, beautiful. The drawing practice I have in mind is more like the use of a wrecking bar - it's a demolition tool. Drawing can be a way of taking an idea or a thing apart. It's ugly and messy and the residue isn't something anyone wants to see. But it's an extraordinary method of attack. I'd consider many of Michelangelo's sketches as examples.

Just ahead of the fall semester's launch a couple of years ago I went down to spend a weekend at the Kimbell. Two days of drawing, looking, and thinking. Filled a couple of sketchbooks and just sort of disappeared into Kahn's work for hours at a time. I sometimes think spending a decade in Europe in and around some of best buildings in the world taught me about architecture. Maybe, but the byproduct of looking hard at architecture for a decade was learning how to think through drawing. And the habit of interrogating buildings, like the Kimbell, with a pencil and sketchbook has the same smooth flow of idea and inquiry that is design.