Thursday, February 23, 2006

Playing with the Provisional

I went to the National Gallery yesterday, ostensibly for a lecture on drawing - and did so much that it looks like the visit now needs to be three separate posts! This is the first.

The current lecture series concerns an Enquiry into Drawing and is being delivered by Deanna Petherbridge, the Arnolfini Professor of Drawing at the University of the West of England, Bristol who was previously Professor of Drawing at the Royal College of Art. . The one yesterday concerned the nature of drawing on a provisional basis as part of the process of creativity - and is summarised below.

A distinction can be made between the open-ended sketch and more finished and systematic aspects of drawing, especially those intended for objects, or transformation into other media (such as sculpture or architecture) or as templates for mass-production (such as industrial design or fashion.)

Indeed the historical categories of plan, elevations and detailed working drawings on which most design and engineering practices still depend (incorporated into CAD systems) and the formal techniques of projective geometries, directly reflect the time-based procedures and modes of production of manufacture and/or building.

Yet the most important moments in these linear design processes are those interruptions when new ideas are tried out and tested through the provisionality and spontaneity of the hand-sketch.

It was amazing to see the slide of the drawing of Sir Joseph Paxton's idea for how to construct the Crystal Palace literally sketched out in pen and ink on a piece of paper that looked as if it could indeed be the back of an enevelope! Similarly, Frank Lloyd Wright's drawing of his concept for the house called Falling Water in coloured pencil. Interesting also to see extracts from Leonardo's sketchbooks and how the drawing and the text are interwoven as he works out and then records how something should work. Also to hear how Caro would not allow students at St Martins College of Art to draw or speak as they developed their skills in his scupture classes - but that he came back to drawing as he himself got older.

Some of the notions highlighted included:
  • the concept of sketching is absolutely essential to the cognitive process of creative thinking
  • developing a design has an evolutionary process
  • ambiguity in drawing is important in terms of avoiding early on the exclusion of possibilities for how a design might develop
  • drawing over and over at the beginning - as Matisse used to do - provides a sort of rehearsal for what comes after in terms of the more refined line and the finished drawing
  • sketching out an idea can be done in a lot of different media and can also be a collaborative effort albeit orchestrated by one person.
  • drawing need not be the beginning of a process - it now exists in its own right.
The idea also that and that drawing for design can now be very dominated by CAD systems - which don't allow for the "trying out" and confusion and ambiguity which comes from "first thought" drawings. And that a lot of people now mourn the passing of the hand-drawing skills for the recording of first thoughts.............

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