I remember the reaction of an ex-Nokia colleague when I told him I’d spent the whole day sketching; he found it hilarious. What I considered to be several highly productive hours of exploration and form development, he seemed to see as time spent messing around with crayons like a five-year-old at playtime.
So it was interesting to join the panel for Adrem and leManoosh’s Sketch Off: Battle of the Grads earlier this month, and see our industry championing the freehand. I left Whitechapel wondering if sketching is making a comeback or if it never really went away in the first place. Have we been publicly extolling the virtues of digital while secretly stockpiling Copics in our studios?
All designers are different, with unique approaches and a personal preference for the tools they use. In a tech-oriented world, increasingly sophisticated software enables some to bypass the pencil entirely. Objects can be brought to life without a single line drawing; but I don’t work that way.
My response to every brief starts with a sketch – a direct communication of ideas through my hand to the paper. With a pencil I can start work immediately; acting on impulse, exploring approach, experimenting with graphic and form. It’s instinctual. It’s portable. It’s therapeutic. And very often, the first idea I sketch is the idea that sticks.
Naturally technology also plays a key role in our approach. We combine freehand work with a specialised digital process – a style of 3D surfacing we have developed that mimics the way I sketch in order to create fluid digital geometry without losing character. Analog and digital work hand-in-hand in the studio, but I always start and finish with a sketch. It is the only tool I use to refine design – finessing pencil drawings by fractions of a millimetre, over and over again, until the character of the object and all of the associated detail snaps into shape.
I believe sketching brings a subtlety to our work that the keyboard and mouse alone cannot. Maybe that’s because it’s how I started, drawing motorbikes in front of Knight Rider before I’d even heard of industrial design. Maybe it will be different for the post-millennial designer, raised on Ipads and Rhino as standard. Will the pencil still have a place in our industry in 20 years or is sketching a dying art?
I’d love to hear what you think.