By Meghan James

We’re starting a new office activity to keep our drawing skills sharp, fuel new design ideas, and just spend a little time together outside: sketch outings!

Thursday, during the lunch hour, Drew and I strolled over to Occidental Square to sit in the sun and sketch.  It was a gorgeous day and the bricked plaza was filled with people sitting in the sun, eating lunch, and listening to live music.  It took us a minute or two to find a spot to sit, as the place was so crowded.  We eventually settled on a seat near the bakery and next to the chess game.

I decided to focus on the chess pieces in front of me.  I was drawn to them because they were so huge; each one stood at least two feet tall.  I worried that the pieces would be moved around before I could finish sketching each one, but the game was nice and slow.  Drew had his eye on paving patterns in the plaza, and capturing people as they relaxed in the sun.

Sketching is a critical tool for designers, even today when nearly everyone has a digital camera on their phone.  Sketching is not just about recording the facts of a sight; sketching is about truly seeing your surroundings.  Sketching forces you to deeply observe a place and capture it on paper with lines, tones and textures.  In this way, you see the space much more vividly and sear it into your memory.  Taking a snapshot is certainly faster, but sketching makes the place your own.

Observation – through sketching – trains the eye to see patterns, composition, and themes.  We all tend to see the world with a visual shortcut.  We see: car, building, child.  Sketching teaches us to really look and see how the car has a dented bumper, how the building has a torn awning, and how the child has an ice cream stain down the front of his shirt.  Ice cream stains may not directly translate to good landscape architecture, but it’s a richness of detail that does turn into excellent design.

We’re planning to make our new sketch outings a weekly event.  Although this first trip was just the two of us, this will hopefully become an occasion that the entire office looks forward to.  In fact, I have a new sketchbook and a handful of watercolor pencils which need to get some exercise.  Keep an eye out, because we’ll keep posting selections from our sketchbooks.