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Tradigital * Visualisation

Current projects, professional practice, tips, techniques and inspiration. 

For my first blog post, I wanted to talk a little about how I work, my process and how it has come about.

Back In 2001, I was working as an interior designer and visualiser for a design consultancy called The Design Solution in London. More often than not, after work, everyone would go to the pub down the road, (known as ‘the Smelly’), and on this occasion I was having a drink with my colleague, Dhiren Jethwa. The beers would be flowing and conversation would get heated. One of Dhiren’s favourite subjects was how the days of traditional architectural drawing were numbered and he would often announce, loudly: “In 10 years time, there will be no such thing as hand drawn anymore, all visuals will be done by computer.” I would put up a spirited argument, but there was little point after a couple of pints of Theakstons.

The last 20 or so years, has seen the old school, drawing board-based design office alter radically, as now computers figure in just about every aspect of our working lives. Indeed, the profession of Graphic Design was virtually created by computers, or at least re-invented by them. It’s hard to believe now, how we used to work, drawing plans and elevations on to huge sheets of tracing paper, first in pencil, then in ink. Mistakes had to be scratched out with a scalpel blade in the days before cmd Z. An architect friend of mine once boasted she could do this 6 times, before having to give up and get another sheet of trace. No one would want to go back there and swap a seamless digital workflow for a cumbersome, messy, space hungry drawing board and all that paraphernalia.

Quickly, 2D drafting packages became 3D visualisation suites, everyone was running to keep up. The capabilities of these programs to render spaces and forms, finishes and light so thoroughly and convincingly, meant that traditional visualisers were left out in the cold. The skills to manipulate markers and paint it would take a gifted artist an entire career to build, could be achieved by a school leaver using 3DS Max. True, there are still clients out there who like nothing better than a watercolour perspective, but there are not many.

The design companies themselves also stressed the visual output of their work, and consequently, when it came to hiring they needed graduates who could immediately jump onto a computer and start producing 3D visuals, walkthroughs and animations. The response from Universities was to make sure they could.
So much so that students become consumed with mastering these tools to achieve a convincing end result. Creative investigation inevitably becomes seen as less important.
This is how it happened that traditional drawing skills started to become lost.

Why should we care about this? Isn’t it the same as scratching away on a piece of papyrus as opposed to tapping on a keyboard? Any of my former students will know exactly where I am going with this…

Drawing is central to the design process. The generation of initial design ideas needs to be fluid, sketching out one’s thoughts quickly and seeing where they take you.
There is a unique connection between the brain, eye and hand interacting with physical media. Often mistakes, like a slip of the hand can generate new ideas and take you in a new direction. Making marks and the brain’s interpretation of those marks is what stimulates ideas, the creation of more marks, then more ideas and so on.

The connection between drawing and creativity is also firm in the mind of the client. Hand drawn work gives a design kudos. Clients are impressed by a skill they don’t see everyday and flattered that their project is being handled by an artist. In addition, the client can see a process, a craft which takes time, thought and skill. Not something which they may mistakenly think can be produced in no time by the push of a button. As many commenters have said, If an image is too finished, the client can feel like an observer and believe that things cannot be changed. S/he may be less inclined to comment or worse, get locked into the image and start to negatively pick it apart.
Loose sketches on the other hand require the client to be more than a passive audience. S/he is required to participate, to ‘buy-in,’ engage his or her brain and imagination. If an image is open to interpretation, it can be more than what is seen. This stimulates conversation, which is where the best ideas come from.

So where are we now? The good news is, the battle lines between these 2 forms of presentation are blurring. You don’t need to have one or the other. You can have both. The speed and efficiency of digital workflow with the expressiveness and creativity of traditional hand drawn visualisation.
I am not talking about the Photoshop filter which turns your digital image into a watercolour, but a new hybrid form of image making.

The growth of the games industry has seen a surge of interest in the area of digital painting. Coupled with that, a renewed interest in comics and Manga has prompted the development of drawing software which is not vector based like Illustrator, but much more immediate and ideally suited to new users.

Programs like Artrage mimic traditional tools and media with amazing accuracy. Sketchbook Pro** is a drawing program which includes in its brush-set, a chisel tip marker, a felt tip pen, a biro and even a dirty brush. The minimal interface avoids lots of fiddly floating palettes and resembles a desk. This means that traditional artists can transfer their finely tuned skills straight to the new media without having to undergo the steep learning curve associated with new software.

Central to these developments is the tablet. Wacom is the industry standard and it’s entry level Bamboo pen has over a thousand levels of pressure sensitivity. The Intuos line includes on board buttons allowing the user to configure their own shortcuts avoiding constant use of the keyboard. At the top of the range are the Cintiq tablets which enable the user to draw directly on to a screen designed to feel like paper. These are probably still prohibitively expensive to all but the professionals who can justify the outlay. But they represent where this is going.

And with the latest consumer tablets all offering a touch screen experience it would seem that technology has caught on to the idea that people need to physically interact with media to get their ideas across.
This offers a real integration between the drawn and the digital, the Tradigtal, opening up new ways to create fast, engaging and creative visualisations.

I think, Dhiren, it must be your round…

* Phrase coined by Jim Leggitt. www.drawingshortcuts.com
* * www.autodesk.co.uk/sketchbook

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