Just Diagram It

My sketchbooks

I like to draw. Most architects do, but I’ve enjoyed art from an early age and learned to oil paint from my grandmother who lived next door to me when I was in grade school. Some grandmother’s homes smelled like cookies; mine smelled like linseed oil.So, I wasn’t one of those kids who took the Legos or Lincoln Log route to architecture that you hear about. As a kid I went to art camp (which was probably second on the “dork” list to band camp). In college, I only found architecture after taking my first drafting class and transferred into architecture from graphic design (thinking it was a better career choice). Oddly, it seemed that I also transferred out of artistic expression and into a much more ordered and technical world. That isn’t all bad (the order part, I mean) but I’ve always been best at conceptual thinking and, luckily, when I started my career I found a place that demanded I use (quick) drawings and sketches to convey my thoughts and ideas. It was the sweet spot for me. In addition to drawing as part of my daily job I find time to sketch for fun, especially when I am on vacation and my bookshelves are filled with numerous well-worn sketchbooks in all sorts of sizes.

I also draw because I’m a person that thinks (and understands) in pictures. I’ll get lost with a list of turn-by-turn directions no matter how detailed; but draw me a map and I’ll get there. With a hand-drawn map I can “see” where I’m going. The “seeing” is the critical part to architecture and why I believe that the initial project concept diagram is so important; because it can direct and give understanding and meaning to the project team and especially for the client. Everyone “gets it”!

The architect books I enjoy collecting are more about the design process than the finished work. Most of these books are filled with drawings and diagrams… which provides another benefit in that I don’t have to read much! (Ooh, look at all the pretty pictures!) I did read once though that if a project or idea can’t be diagrammed it probably isn’t even worth discussing, meaning that it’s hard to understand or figure out. If you have to talk too much about your idea it probably isn’t that good.

We all know that good advertising is best when it involves the fewest words. A diagram often conveys something which cannot easily be put into words – you just have to look.


So, don’t think you can’t do this or that you have to be good at drawing; you just need to be comfortable with a pen in your hand. Just look at what children produce, especially before they are introduced to the lines in a coloring book. Good sketches or diagrams aren’t rehearsed. They just flow. When you draw there is a release that occurs and an innate connection that is made between your mind, your eye and your hand. There is no on-off switch or app to update. So, just do it diagram it.

Perhaps I should turn this computer off now.

One Comment
  1. Ruth S Chambers | July 17th, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Awesome Jim. Nice writing, too!! I can ID with looking at a map versus written instructions. I have some of Bart’s sketchbooks, and always enjoy looking through them from time to time. The design process is far more interesting than the finished product. Maybe I’ll get into those dusty sketchbooks of mine again…..