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It was a year ago that I wrote ‘The Matt Ward Manoeuvre Part 1’, with the good intension that I would write this post soon after. As life gets busy, I find myself having done another year at AHO, teaching a new and improved class on design ideational methods. So here are some of the techniques and exercises I’ve developed over the last 7 years to aid the drawing process. Many of my drawing exercises have been influenced by my colleague Terry Rosenberg who continues to be a brilliant drawing teacher, so this post is a big nod to him.

I’ve ran these classes in different forms and situations for over the last seven years, what you see here is a selection of highlights that try to give a overview of the approach. Ultimately, I’d like to write a book about the approach. Until then, a blog post will have to do.

The warm up; reconnecting the hand, eye and brain

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I start my workshops with a drawing warm up; A set of exercises that are common on foundation courses and life drawing classes around the country. The idea of the warm up is three-fold:

First, it acts as a diagnostic; giving me insight into the skills and abilities of the group. It’s allows me to assess the levels of the participants, whilst starting to see the good and bad habits they have evolved in their drawing practice. It’s important to know their strengths and weaknesses in order to pace the session. Strangely enough many people with very good drawing skills find these classes harder – I think this is due to a more developed (entrenched) way of using their hand, eyes and brain.

Second, it allows me to set out the relationship between the hand, eyes and brain within the drawing process. The exercises isolate each part of the body to explore the role it plays in the drawing process. It gives people insight into how practice builds strength in all three. By isolating looking, thinking and moving I highlight how each contribute to the production of ideas. Deconstructing the physicality of drawing identifies the bodily nature of the imagination.

Finally it allows me to discuss the difference between representational and ideational drawing. Drawing to make a representation of something that already exists and drawing to generate the new. It is here that I argue that drawing, even at a representational level, is the construction of ideas. Therefore the conscious manipulation of ideas through the act of drawing becomes highly fruitful for a designer.

The exercises are timed (between three and ten minutes a drawing) and are delivered with a sort of military charge (I was once accused of being a Sergeant Major of Drawing “Drop and give me 50”). I do this on purpose, the tight time restrictions give people little time to think and critique their own work. This means they relax and become less precious with their marks. This is essential, as it’s impossible to generate ideas through drawing if you spend your time fearful of ridicule and critique. The students are asked to draw portraits of each other, this also acts as an ice breaker. They laugh at each other with mutual generosity.

I move from finger tips to shoulder, isolating parts of the body to highlight the effect of bodily movement on the mark and mode of representation. I show how shifts in bodily relations change the nature of the mark and therefore the idea of the drawing. I end the warm up with a series of ‘continuous line drawings’, again these act as a great leveller. It gives everyone the same ‘style’ and aesthetic, relieving tension and expectation. It helps remove hesitancy and nervous ‘hairy’ lines, building a form of false confidence. It also forces the participants to locate their subject within their environments. The web of lines move across the page connecting disparate objects and ideas, they form a visible network of things, aiding connections and relations.

Drawing at AHO

Investigate and deconstruct

After the warm up we move on to drawing things. I normally ask the students to bring a collection of interesting and unusual objects, it starts with the familiar feeling of a ‘still life’, a pile of unusual objects (found, scavenged and treasured) ready to be observed and documented. I start with a series of continuous line drawings, at this stage it’s really important to keep the momentum going, it becomes easy to fall back into old habits. It’s also important to emphasis detail and dimension; things are made from materials, they have weight, density and texture, using continuous line technique it’s easy to make shorthand assumptions about an object; a slow abstraction towards an icon.

Once the objects have become familiar, I ask students to draw an exploded diagram, still in continuous line, we deconstruct the constituent parts of an object to see it in its complexity. Obviously, at this stage, it’s not possible to break the object to pieces, it’s here that the drawing moves from observation to assumption. By asking for an exploded diagram, I challenge the students to deconstruct the object in their imagination, giving them an access point into understanding manufacturing and construction. A form of engineering fiction.

Explode view diagram

In our current climate of conservative ‘design research’ it’s hard to imagine how a drawing practice can be rigorously investigatory; how it can shed light on ideas, objects and forms, how it is part of knowledge production. But I’m keen to encourage our students to use drawing as a way of knowing the world. It’s through the act of drawing, the to and fro of idea to observation, that objects can unravel their meaning. Drawing acts as a process of forensic examination of materiality, demystifying meaning and generating new.

Conjoin and mutate (bridging reality and the imagination)

conjoin

My next activity centres around the move from representation to ideation. From drawing things in the world, to inventing things. I get students to select and draw two objects, one on the far left of the page and one on the right (see diagram above). I then ask them to fill the gap with 3-5 new drawings/objects. As their drawings move towards the centre, they should imagine a hybrid form, a mutant offspring of the two objects either side. By the time they reach the middle, they have a 50:50 hybrid, but either side of the centre is a less dominant mix. I commonly ask the students to use continuous line, this allows them to drift from one form to the next.

As with most of my drawing exercises, the outcome is often not the main goal. It’s the thought process that the act of drawing evokes. In the example above, we start from the familiar and move towards the strange. Drawing allows a space for the careful consideration of materials, construction and form, whilst opening opportunities for the examination of function. By trying to splice together incongruent objects, a slow consideration of their context and use comes into play. Again it is the fluctuation between objects as they are and how they may be.

Conjoin @ AHO

Infection and connection

The last process that I’m going to explain, is probably at the heart of the ‘The Matt Ward Manoeuvre‘, it’s the most challenging to master and the hardest to teach.  In this process my aim is to unlock a state of mind that allows the designer to make connections, interrogate ideas and invent new objects. It becomes hard to describe without falling into theories of ‘flow‘, ‘unconscious cognition‘ and ‘radical plasticity‘, but I’m no neuroscientist or psychologist (although I think there’s a killer PhD in there), and the theoretical reflection of this work has never been the drive for my engagement (I’ll leave it for another time/post/life/paper).

First, I ask student’s to compile some lists. If working on a brief, the lists should be related to a central topic, if not, random lists can suffice (but can lead to difficult dead ends). I ask for five lists containing at least ten items of the following:

  • Objects (artefacts related to their interests/context of investigation)
  • Sites (places where interactions occur)
  • Situations (events that take place in the network of culture that surrounds their objects)
  • People (professions, personalities or characters relevant to their object/context/project)
  • Qualities (adjectives describing of the interaction, behaviour of material involved)

Making lists is an important part of this process, it gives participants the chance to draw up an ecology of ‘actors‘, understanding the constituent parts of the context for which they’re designing. It allows for the mapping of places of action and ultimate the opportunities for design intervention.

I ask the participants to select an object from their list and draw it at the centre of an A3/A2 page. The central object should be something that resonates, something they can imagine designing, enjoy drawing, or something that is key to their interests. I then ask them to write one word from each of their lists in each of the corners of their page (see diagram below).

infection

I then ask for the object to be re-drawn 3-5 times toward the edge of the paper, as the object moves towards the word, it becomes infected by it e.g. as the object get redrawn toward the ‘site’ it becomes more site-specific. This allows for students to start to re-imagine objects through the cultural complexities of the context, it allows actors to merge and agency to become physicalised. In this process form gives way to environment, context becomes reflected on the surface of the world.

As I describe above, the important outcome of the drawing isn’t necessarily the objects that emerge, it’s the thoughts that are triggered, it’s drawing as ideational practice. Therefore, it’s important to jump straight into drawing, I encourage a leap of faith, where the drawing is started without knowing the direction or outcome. If time is spent pre-thinking the outcome, the power of the process is lost. I try to encourage the embracing of dead ends, the power of ideational drawing is in the new beginnings and monstrous births.

These processes can be morphed, adapted and mutated, highlighting different elements of the design context with each iteration. The activities need repetition and practice, as with all drawing, it is through practice that familiarity and flow occur.

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Concentration
Over the last six or seven years I’ve developed a series of drawing activities and processes that I’ve taught to my undergraduate students. The course emerged out of a need to teach our students a diverse range of ideational processes; activities to adopt and adapt to aid their design practice. Over the years I’ve also run the exercises with creative professionals, I’ve started to see that they have value outside of a design education. They aid the thinking process, allowing people to think previously unthought of ideas. They also act as a space of thinking, a slow space where ideas grow, mutate and propagate.

A few years back I had the pleasure of doing some drawing with the lovely Jack Schulze, from BERG (then Schulze & Webb), were we explored ideas during the early stages of Olinda. Since then Jack and Matt Jones have taught some great projects employing some of the techniques, naming them ‘The Matt Ward Manoeuvre’. By giving the excercises a name they’ve elevated them to point that I now feel a little embarrassed that I’ve never written about it. I’ve always felt there is a book in this, but for now, a blog post or two will have to do.

I’m currently at AHO in Oslo running a workshop about non-linear, disruptive creative processes. Re-presenting the activities to a new audience has forced me to reconsider how to explain and contextualise them.

My starting point is this drawing, by me in 1997. The drawing was for a college project, it was the drawing that changed everything. At the time I really didn’t like drawing, I continually fell back to a position of comfort where I’d write and read in order to generate ideas. I was aware that to become a ‘good designer’ drawing was necessary, so I set out to practice. It took months of painful failure, until one morning something snapped, I didn’t care anymore. I drew and what the result looked like didn’t matter, with this came an immense sense of relief and with relief came a relaxed calm, where ideas flowed freely and drawing started to work for me.

Over self-awareness and the weight of a poor school education are the main factors that stop people making the most of their drawing. We are constantly told what a ‘good’ and ‘correct’ drawing is, with these preconceptions we miss the true power of drawing; the intimate link between mind, eye and hand and its effervescent ability to stimulate invention. Striping back preoccupations of ‘reality’ representation and the need to build confidence in order to allow the mind and hand to meander are two of the main challenges in drawing education.

Ideational drawing is always ‘in action’, it happens in real time and therefore the focus needs to be on the moments it provokes not the product that results. Ideational drawing sets up a thinking space, where ideas can be spatialised, connected and tested. By locating ideas in a visual form on the space of a page, you can see new relationships and opportunities.

Cyclical drawing machine

Although the drawing I advocate provokes a state of mind in which ideas grow and develop, the value of the drawing doesn’t stop generating meaning after the act. The drawings I complete, act as a resource for future action, ideas are held in latent form, ready to emerge at a different time in a different context.

Drawing is one of many possible ideational strategies, it works best in combination with other techniques: Draw, scan, print, model, make, draw, photograph, film, model, draw… repeat. When drawing is placed against other techniques, it changes and adapts, this allows for a layering of textual complexity.

Once you have developed a fruitful drawing practice, it is a deeply personal process, you can start to build a language of cross-referencing. Drawings start to connect with each other, shortcuts are used and a form of drawn intertextuality allows for a conceptual shorthand. It’s here that practice (your 10000 hours) is needed, it takes an extraordinary effort to reach a form of zen enlightenment with drawing, but once you get there, you can unlock a fantastic resource.

Thinking of @schulze whilst drawing this...

Next post: Techniques and tips… exercises in drawing