Sketch It

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“As soon as you put pencil to paper, a whole world of detail, previously unnoticed reveals itself.” –Bill Pavlak

In issue three of Mortise & Tenon Magazine Bill Pavlak made a case for drawing as a way to better understand the ornamental details of period pieces. Even though I’ve spent little time at the drawing board in the last several years Pavlak’s article inspired me to get back to it. And the more I think about it, I’m convinced that drawing in general can make you a better woodworker.

Sketching forces your brain to slow down and observe the details. Even when you are just making a quick sketch to get a basic form on paper you have to look at an object long enough to register details that you would normally overlook. I’ve yet to prove it but I think this could translate into seeing details even better at the bench. I seem to remember someone once saying that the difference between good and bad woodworking is attention to detail (If you know who said this refresh my memory).

Sketching is also problem solving. When I was working on the hillbilly hat rack I had two criteria for the hats: I wanted to be able to get one hat out without removing another and I wanted to be able to see each hat. Making a sketch of a hat in the position I wanted it helped me solve the problem. As a project becomes more complex a detailed drawing is even more important, if for nothing else than helping you remain sane.

Sketching helps you record ideas. For years I’ve kept an “idea file” on my computer that is full of images of furniture and other things I like. But I can’t tell you about a single one of them. About a month ago I came across an article featuring a chair made by Walker Weed. Instead of taking a picture I chose sketch it. As a result, I remember more about that chair than any other.

Sketching fosters new ideas. I didn’t sketch Weed’s chair to steal his design (well maybe but not for commercial purposes). I did sketch it to get a different sense of the chair and while I was at it many other ideas came to mind. I watched an interview with Wendell Castle who says, “I draw and a lot of times they are just silly things that may never turn into anything.” It is clear that he draws because it fosters new ideas and the ones that do turn into something make it worth the effort.

Sketching is also a great way to focus some energy when you’re unable to get to the shop too. Keeping a sketch pad with you is a great way to make progress on a project when other obligations (like your kids swim lessons) have to take priority. And you’ll be prepared for when inspiration strikes.

What if you’re only able to draw a stick figure if you’re wearing your lucky underwear? Two thoughts; first you’re not trying to create fine art. There is a big difference between da Vinci’s notebook and his paintings. Sketching is about conveying an idea not creating a finished product. You don’t have to be good at it. Second, drawing is a skill. It can be learned and practiced. The more you do it the better you will be.

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