Best Tool for the Job

In the 21 months since I posted ”Why I Prefer Using a Pencil” on 2H Pencil, technology has marched on. We’ve been through slightly more than one cycle of the phenomenon described by Moore’s Law, that integrated circuits double in performance every 18 months. Devices have gotten smarter and smaller and more connected. BIM, 3-D modeling, 3-D printing and the Cloud are the current darlings of architectural office technology.

In this time period, I’ve continued to think about my relationship to technology. Rather than classify myself as a “tech geek” or a “non-tech geek”, I am, simply, VERY selective about the technology I adopt and use regularly. I prefer a car with a stick shift, because I like to feel the workings of the engine. I prefer not to have a phone on my person at all times, because it feels intrusive and distracting. I prefer to have GPS available when I am on the road. I still prefer using a pencil when it comes to drafting.

For a while in my career, I was in sync with my professional peers with regard to architectural office technology. And when offices began to replace manual drafting with CAD, I learned the fundamentals along with everyone else. But by then, I was more involved in the management than the production side of projects; at that time, CAD was used strictly for production of construction documents. So I used a red pencil on printouts more than I sat at the Microstation.

I was not in the habit of using CAD when I started my own firm twenty years ago. Laura Kraft  Architect is intentionally a one-person firm, structured so that can follow my preferences as I see fit.   As a solo practitioner, I have no need for in-house team coordination/collaboration/sharing. Processes and findings are all stored in my head or on paper, or as digital files in Word, Excel, WordPress or ArchiOffice. In addition to these technologies I do use, I’ve got an iPad on which the mail, web and portfolio apps are the most useful for my architecture practice. However, I find that in the course of a day, I still prefer a notebook to a note-recording app.

I’ve got Vectorworks and Sketchup on my office computer, and can get around both programs. I use them on rare occasions when they can do something that the combination of a pencil, an enlarging & reducing copier, a scanner, a digital camera, and/or a quick chipboard model can’t do.

As mentioned in my first post, for the scale and one-off character of custom residential design, the focus of my practice, I believe manual drawing is a viable and appropriate tool. Hand drawn/drafted Pre-design and Schematic drawings are perfectly expressive, informative, loose and evocative for clients’ needs. Custom residential construction documents do not necessarily require the extreme precision available and inherent in CAD.

For me, some significant points against CAD are these: in my office, there is no IT department except for a portion of my own left-brain. When glitches occur, as they do according to Murphy’s Law, it’s incumbent on me to figure them out and fix them. Problems are eventually solved, but at often at too high a cost of time and aggravation. Add to this the necessary, frequent, and expensive upgrades to keep the system viable. Sometimes, advanced technology can take more than it gives.

However, when an un-filled need arises, I can enthusiastically embrace a high-tech approach, if it holds a workable solution. As an example, in the past 7-8 months, I have given free rein to a strong artistic impulse, which has expressed itself as digital art, created with Photoshop Elements, and then printed on a high quality printer. The process I have chosen to work with would seem to fly in the face of my hands-on proclivity.

This is a primary reason I currently make use of a digital process: the first image below is an oil painting I started over 30 years ago, reworked numerous times, and never finished. Re-working the gradients led to a loss of freshness and luminosity, which I desired. You can see that the multiple layers of paint have begun to slough off. I never gave up on wanting to resolve this image. There was something about the rotation of forms, the gradients, and the ambiguous relationship of foreground to background that intrigued me.

 painting _edited-1Hand painted with oils on canvas

Rotation test_edited-1Digitally created

The second image is a recently created digital version. With the computer, I was able to try many versions of the composition, adjusting the characteristics of the gradients, the colors, and the forms in a relatively short time interval. The Elements program allowed a range of explorations that were not within my grasp with the paintbrush. After 30+/- iterations, I came to a resolution that feels right to me. I don’t think that the manual process would have ever been the way to work out the problems in this painting.

I discovered an ironic reversal of the architectural “tech geek” ethos. In architecture, technology such as CAD, BIM, and 3-D modeling are embraced and preferred as predominant tools, whereas hand-drawing and manual processes are seen as oddities/novelties (though much appreciated by contractors, I find). However, in the art world, digital art is often stigmatized as less authentic than, and inferior to “hand-made” art.   As a category, it is commonly excluded from calls for work in competitions, awards, shows, etc.

Now I’m in the position of, on one hand, extolling use of the pencil for my technical drawing (no longer a conventional method), and on the other hand, extolling use of the computer for creation of my art images (also a non-conventional option). This apparent contradiction is, in fact, consistent because these choices, and all of my technology choices, are based on evaluation of how the pros and cons of each tool adds up for me. I hold that technology is best when it serves unobtrusively as a means to an end. When I find a tool that improves my process, I embrace it. When I find a need that can best be met by some new form of technology, I use it. If a tool impedes my process, I reject it. If some new gadget or program fills a need that I don’t have, I pause and reflect; adoption of such things can create a need where there was none before, and then there is no going back. So in these instances, my tendency is to resist the seduction of “the next new thing,” in order to keep life, architecture and art as simple and uncluttered as they can be.

All Images courtesy of Laura Kraft.

Feel free to share any of these copyright-protected images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

What do you think? I invite your comments.

 

The Camera as an Artist’s Tool

I am taking a drawing class in which we sometimes work from photos, which by their nature, capture 2-dimensional records of 3-dimensional things, fixing a composition, and in so doing, eliminate several fundamental challenges of drawing.  I have long believed that it is preferable to draw directly from life, and to wrestle with the illusive third dimension, than to draw from photos.

But I am learning that there are opportunities in letting a camera do some of the work.  Compositions can be tested, cropped and re-cropped with ease, enabling quick explorations and unexpected discoveries.  A universe of subject matter can be accessed from the comfort of the studio.

Here is a painting by Charles Sheeler that I love for its stillness, sense of space, composition, color and subject matter.

Image

 American Interior, 1934

From the website of the Yale Art Gallery where this painting resides, “American Interior is the last and most complex of Sheeler’s paintings of interiors. A master photographer, Sheeler used his own photographs as the basis for many of his paintings. He modeled this composition on one of a group of photographs he had made in 1929 documenting the living room of his former home in South Salem, New York. He photographed the space from above to create a steeply rising floor. In the painting, the cropped composition, oblique view, tilted perspective, and distilled contrasts of light and dark that flatten the forms and emphasize their geometry reveal the artist’s eye as a photographer. His modernist vision responded to the purity of forms and patterns found in American crafts, shown here in the Shaker box, textiles, and chair. In American Interior, Sheeler celebrates both the clarity and precision of the camera and his love for simple, handmade American objects.”

The camera can be an artist’s best friend.

In researching this blog post, I found that Yale Art Gallery’s website, in addition to access to its collection, includes an intriguing online magazine called “What is Art and Why Does it Matter?  I am reminded that computer is a great tool for virtually visiting museums and galleries around the world.

Reverse Glass Painting

 grandpas sampler 1

This Art Deco painting was made in the 1920’s as a gift for my grandfather by his older brother Jacob, a sign painter in New York.  Within the 6”x 8” frame are featured 6 painted marble examples, 8 painted wood varieties, gold and silver leaf, and a miniature picture of their long-gone home of origin, in what is now western Ukraine.  The initials are those of my grandfather, Abraham Warshaw.

The technique of reverse glass painting is an Old World skill.  Unlike the sequence of ordinary painting, fine details go on first, followed by the background. Colors and details remain vivid, protected by the glass.

Sign painters of that time were, on occasion, called upon to produce faux finishes and other trompe l’oeil effects.

The skill and care that went into the creation of this object make it a family treasure.

This photo is courtesy of me.

Feel free to share the content of this blog, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

Too Much Information

Like many people, I am awash in a magazine tsunami. I subscribe to eleven magazines*, and several more come unbidden. This wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t want to actually read through each one.  The small piles build up into large incriminating piles, an ever-present reminder that I have fallen behind. The magazines on my list frequently have great photos and interesting, informative articles, so once they are read, it seems just wrong to say goodbye and recycle them.  But archiving so many titles would fill every square inch of my space in no time.

Always a believer in systems, and a fan of order and simplicity, I started a system 13 years ago to deal with my magazines. I keep a pile of each title, with the oldest issue on top.  This way, I can read them in chronological order and get something out of the letters and responses to the previous issue.  I carve out 45 minutes to read each issue.  Longer, if it is interesting enough.

“Fine Homebuilding” and “Consumer Reports” are always archived because they are useful references; each is well-indexed and easy to search. For the other design magazines, any image, article, paragraph, poem, chart or advertisement that catches my attention, whether because it is great, awful, curious, odd, poignant, beautiful, or funny, gets clipped out and saved.

On a rainy day, (plentiful in Seattle), I go through the clippings. Those that still strike me as noteworthy are glued into blank spiral notebooks.  The clippings are arranged rather casually, and lightly annotated.** Here’s a peek at random selections from several notebooks:

the amazing work of  E. Fay Jones, architect of the Thorncrown Chapel

Carlo Bugatti Chair, c. 1900, woven chair, Reversatables,  “My Go” chair, cute lion

use of transparency at Liberal Arts and Science Center,  Quatar College, by Kazuhiro Kojima + Kazuko Akamatsu/C+A with Arata Isozaki & i-NET

a soaring flat roof can make a building—Indianapolis Motor Speedway Pagoda on left, Danforth Plant Science Center by Grimshaw and HOK

lyrical sky bridge by Wilkenson and Eyre Architects

red house by Jarmund/Vigsnaes, color inside cabinets and on door jambs

I’m now up to my seventh notebook.  Culled from a tsunami of magazines (13 years x 12 issues/year x 7 design titles = 1092 issues). Pleasingly distilled, fun to look through.

* My magazines: Architect,  Architectural RecordConsumer ReportsDwellFine HomebuildingThe Funny TimesMetropolisThe New YorkerPreservationThe Smithsonian, and Sunset. I got the following until they were discontinued: Nest, Progressive Architecture, and Architecture.

**My only regret, now that I have a blog, is that I didn’t write down complete attributions for the material, so that most of it can’t be directly reused. From now on, I will clip the author and/or photographer’s name with the material so that it can be properly credited.

All images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.

Instantaneous

This is a famous 1919 small concept sketch by architect Erich Mendelsohn for an astrophysical observatory in Germany. With a few marks of a broad pen, he captured the essential form of his vision.

The completed observatory is as rounded and pliable as the sketch portrays. The energy of a living organism emanates from both.

Mendelsohn is famous for his visionary sketches.  I think he is a source of the notion that architects’ designs can come to them fully formed, and they can easily dash off ingenious and wonderful sketches on a napkin or any nearby scrap of paper. I think his caliber of talent is rare. Truly visionary sketches only occur in exceptional circumstances.

In ordinary circumstances, the analysis, and the trial & error of the design process take significant time.  Sketches are often done in series to work out, clarify and compare concepts. Most parts of the process require focus, repetition, and evaluation. It can be messy and frustrating, with crumpled tracing paper piling up in and around the recycle basket.  Eventually, when enough thought has been invested, there is a point when the design comes together. After that, and not before, a seductive little sketch can be drawn.

Design is both rational and irrational. Like any creative process, it is somewhat mysterious. Mercifully, we do not have to explain everything about how we arrive at our solutions.

Photos 1 & 2, courtesy of wikiarquitectura.com.

Cartoon Copyright Sidney Harris 2006.

 Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.