Architectural illustration – where next?
Twenty years is a very long time. For me it’s a career. Now seemed a good time to produce a booklet (still in production) and new website, to remind some clients that I’m still working and to show a few of the projects I’m proud to have been a part of.
I’ve rather enjoyed looking back over the work. Jobs become personal mile posts, measuring memories and new challenges. It’s reminded me of the many interesting projects and clients I’m involved with, in the UK and overseas. The industry has seen many changes since the 1990s. Not just in the way we work day to day, with CAD and CGI, but with big changes architecturally too. My style has certainly progressed: I hope you can see it’s cleaner, sketchier and I’m much quicker too.
Most of my clients are in London, but projects are now proposed in many parts of the UK and mainland Europe. And since the Eastern block countries joined the EU, I’ve worked on a few schemes there too. In particular I worked a lot in Lisbon, starting with an office site called Quinta da Fonte through to Expo Urbe ‘98. Mostly I worked for Sua Kay, who recently won awards for their colourful new retail schemes around Spain and Portugal. It’s been a valuable experience, working closely on many varied projects from their inception.
I’ve radically changed my workflow in the past 10 years or so. As CAD rendering is now often used as the finished marketing image, I’ve moved into an area where the computer generated image can’t really compete: in the pre-plannning process, early design ideas and small run presentation packages. These need to be turned around very quickly and efficiently, and my drawing-based work- flow is well-suited to this. The visuals need to sell a design efficiently to the client, well before the building is fully realised or finalised.
I love working this way, my sketches can show how a project ‘feels’, without showing the macro-design. You glimpse the scheme, without the need to commit to a formal finished concept. This has been utilised a lot in planning material, and is especially useful for any problematic project that risks encountering local objections to a scheme with ‘sensitive issues’. Watercolours simply look ‘friendly’, more human and can reach out, make contact in a less intimidating way. I’ve always been interested in computer technology, ever since using the first little Apple Classics in the early 80s, so I’m certainly no Luddite. But recently I’ve been concerned about the importance of drawing, especially in the sense of its place in an architectural legacy. I worry that when we look back at projects from our era there won’t be many archives containing beautiful drawn images, as there are from the past. Instead, unbuilt projects will be seen as CAD renders – looking more like photographs of completed buildings. I think that’s a pity, I think the drawn image will be missed.
If we look at architectural monographs, the sketches stand out on the page.Visually they work well with photos of models and drawn up plans, and help show a sharp clarity of thinking in the design process. CAD imaging is obviously never going to go away, but I hate the idea (not just in terms of my work flow) of the hand-drawn image disappearing from the creative process. People keep telling me that drawing is making a ‘come- back’, and that’s great. But if graduates continue to enter the workplace with undeveloped drawing skills – perhaps not able to express their ideas through thumbnail sketches – how will this affect the way they design? It’s not long ago that a typical design office had mostly A0 drawing boards, whereas now it’s hard to find a parallel motion or even a large flat work-surface.
I propose we all get our sketchbooks out, see my twitter mobsketch link. Group drawing sessions of local landmarks in the evening; maybe exhibitions too.
At its best, a good drawing can quietly influence within a design process in a creative, energetic and positive way (unlike CAD design which sometimes feels more like the tail wagging the dog). I was originally encouraged to go into architectural illustration commercially by Derek Birdsall at the RCA. Earlier, working at the AA I had come across the timeless images of Cyril Farey, Greek Thompson and Raymond Myerscough-Walker in exhibition catalogues I helped produce. These were produced during the golden age of perspectives, and Farey did some beautiful images for Edwin Lutyens which are now part of Lutyens’ legacy. Understandably, few have heard of him, it’s the architecture that’s important. I hope you can see a little of these influences in my early work especially.
It was the architecture of West End theaters that first got me into drawing buildings. When I first moved to London – and with added luxury of some time on my hands – I set out with a small fold-up fishing stool to draw my favorite West End facades, sometimes spending days sketching ‘en plein aire’, very old school, great fun. The combination of illuminated type hanging from the front of elegant buildings seduced me, bright neon colour and Victorian wedding cake ornaments fighting for attention on the street. They still attract my eye.
I now have quite a few sketch books of pen and ink drawings, some are on this website. Now more often my camera is more likely to be close to hand to do a similar job… and maybe drawing has a touch of the busman’s holiday about it. But sketch books should be the spine of any artist’s visual work. They show how the mind is working while the hand is doing the work, they record the great ideas in ‘real time’. A nice sketch considers the scene or an idea in a uniquely simple way, it tells a sweet short story of how the artist works and their conceptual practice. Look at the books of Turner or even Joseph Beuys, they are every bit as beautiful or interesting as the finished artwork. It’s similar with architects, their early sketches are intriguing; what you see are first ideas and bold analysis at its most lucid. The 3D doodles by architects, sculptors and designers are often more exciting than work that’s laboured over. They’re a bit like looking inside a cluttered workshop, with its dusty mess.
It’s amazing to see how big things are made and how they start with something so small.When the imagined 3D object is sketched, a new shorthand style is used. It doesn’t require a great level of detail to get close to the truth, but a looser, liquid quality that emerges in the line; it’s stripped down and the drawing gains a bright lucidity. Perhaps it’s the impatience of trying to just get something down on paper when the idea is still fresh in the head which helps invigorate the image. Recording the idea becomes paramount, almost obsessive, before it fades in the mind’s eye. The drawing must often describe the concept in just a few simple smudges, marks and quick annotations.
What I try to do for my clients is to attempt to understand the design brief and then imagine the scene in their mind’s eye. I like to think that I can produce a sketch halfway between what the job demands and what we would see if the building existed – it’s a half truth, but tries to be as honest as a sketch can ever be. Sometimes it’s as simple as producing a sketch as if I were stood in the street, in front of the project. Sometimes there’s little to go on. Sometimes there’s so much information that it’s harder to cut through it to the essential elements. That’s the thing I really enjoy, bridging all the requirements. It should be fun and it’s what makes my job so utterly rewarding.
As Confucius said, ‘Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’, that’s worked pretty well for me.