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American Society of Landscape Architects


November 2007 Issue

Freehand Renaissance
Principles for updating hand drawing for a digital world.

By James Richards, ASLA

Freehand Renaissance

Why draw? In an ever more digital world, with all the technology available to us, is hand drawing still relevant?

Increasingly, it depends on whom you ask. A generation of new landscape architecture graduates and young professionals is wading into complex projects without the drawing and sketching skills that have sustained designers for millennia. Many young landscape architects say they see no need for them.

At the same time, six-figure executives from Nike, IBM, and Microsoft are lining up to learn freehand drawing skills in seminars with names like “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci.” It’s the ultimate irony that as design offices rush to become paperless, cutting-edge company leaders are learning to draw in order to become more creative, whole-brain thinkers. What’s going on?

Equally ironic is that, as more tech-savvy graduates enter the marketplace and better digital visualization tools become available, my work as a consulting designer—diagramming and sketching on the “front end” of complex projects—has exploded. I’m hand drawing more now than ever in my 30-year career. I’m convinced that this demand isn’t because I’m a particularly gifted designer, but because the ability to capture visual impressions by hand, very quickly, is increasingly rare. And with the loss of these skills, our design firm clients tell us, a measure of spontaneity and creative freshness may have also been lost in the process.

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