Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sketching (and the art of stillness)

I am probably the worst blogger ever.  Several times each year (admittedly sometimes less), I get an urge to use this forum as a means to explore an idea, or develop a thought that has been rattling around in my brain.  Then I return to completely ignoring my blog, until the next time the urge strikes.  None the less, blogging gives me this (occasional) opportunity to play with ideas and jot down thoughts. 

This post certainly falls into this category of ‘ideas to play with’ in the future.

Over this past winter break (yes, as an educator I have that luxury) I read the short TED book, The Art of Stillness, by Pico Iyer.  In it, Iyer argues for stillness in our distracted, fast paced world.  As a renowned travel writer, Iyer is surprisingly advocating for going nowhere.  By stepping back and doing nothing, one can become more attentive, and more introspective.  Being alone, being still, taking time to simply be present with our own thoughts, according to Iyer, is a means for happiness in our ever stressful contemporarily existence. 

“In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow.  In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention.  And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still” Pico Iyer. 

So how exactly does this relate to sketching?  I am not exactly sure, but for some reason I found myself thinking about sketching while reading this beautiful short book.  Sketching, for an architect, is about observation.  Learning to sketch is essentially learning to see.  It requires singular concentration and focus.  This is exactly why so many of my students dislike the activity, because it is hard to sketch and simultaneously multitask on a mobile device.  Sketching forces one to sit still, be present, observe, and record.

Over the past few years I have, on occasion, brought my sketchbook with me on visits to downtown Chicago.  Some of these sketches (illustrated throughout this essay) were created during class trips with my students, others were drawn by myself during the rare occasion that I could carve out some time.  On class trips, I have used these sketches to model the types of drawings that I would like to see my students work to achieve.  These sketches are not beautiful works of art, nor are the meant to be.  They do, however, fulfill me in a way I cannot justly describe.  When I am sketching, time simply stands still.  I become completely immersed in the act of drawing.  It is both invigorating and refreshing, a mental break from all the chaos.

So I begin to think, for us architects, maybe what we really need is to learn to observe.  Sitting still, in one place, sketching and observing – makes us more aware.  This awareness (of our inner self for Iyer, and of the build environment for me) might just be the antidote to our distracted lives.

Perhaps in our hyper-connected, everywhere at once, image saturated existence - what we really need is to sit in one place, and sketch.