The Environmental Design Student Society (EDSS) hosted an urban sketching workshop March 4 and 5 on campus. While this event was open to students, industry professionals and the Edmonton chapter of Urban Sketchers, it was staff and students of the Landscape Architectural Technology program who primarily attended.
This “program provides specialized training for the production of man-made environments that are ecologically appropriate, functionally successful and aesthetically pleasing” to quote the NAIT program website. Sketching proposed architectural landscapes is a fundamental component of the program.
James Richards, a prominent landscape artist and urban designer from Texas, was invited to NAIT to instruct a workshop on hand rendering. While computers and pro-grams like CADD (computer-aided design and drafting) are used extensively in architectural design, there is an industry standard for sketching by hand and a need for architectural technologists and designers who have the ability to sketch clearly and quickly. Students are trained to hand render for illustration but what is often required is an ability to listen to a concept and render it during the brainstorming phase of the design process.
While there was only one session on Friday afternoon, those who attended on Saturday enjoyed two distinct sessions: The fundamentals of urban sketching in the morning followed by the design concept session, which covered putting a perspective scene on paper, quickly. Each session had two parts, a theory tutorial and a practical application where the students actually sketched and coloured alongside the instructor.
Richards who has travelled widely and worked in many different capacities in the architectural design and drafting field, advocates practicing the fundamentals every day, just as a music student would run through their scales. This entails practicing shading techniques, drawing people and using perspective. Training these techniques into the muscle memory allows for ideas to be translated to images quickly.
He also suggests travelling extensively, sketchbook at the ready, in an effort to create a mental portfolio of images that can be drawn on when articulating a new design.
Richards explained that hand rendering has distinct advantages over computer design programs. Sketching can be done quickly and it can be detailed or it can be a rough approximation, perhaps only a few lines. This versatility and the need for little or no equipment are ideal in the field. The seemingly effortless image helps to clarify ideas being discussed and those who respect the artist’s time and process are more likely to present changes to the original drawing when such little effort is expended in its creation.
“It is important for people to under-stand that you don’t have to be an artist to be able to draw,” said Bev Bruyere, associate chair of the Landscape Architectural Technology program.
The students who were interviewed reiterated that everyone can draw; it just takes getting over the fear of the blank page. Even Richards is stymied when faced with a new slate, so he starts with what he knows – the principle common denominator of every urban space: the people that are enjoying it.
If you missed this informative and creative workshop, keep an eye out next year at this time as EDSS is hoping to make this an annual event. There is student friendly pricing for those attending NAIT as Richards, NAITSA and NAIT come together to help with funding. For those who would attend, supplies are provided along with lunch. Attendance has been consistent with 40 to 50 participants.
For those interested in sketching the urban environment, the Urban Sketchers group in Edmonton meets the first week-end of the month, check out their website at edmontonsketchers.wordpress.com. Urban Sketchers is a non-profit group that is dedicated to the artistic, storytelling and educational value of artists who practice on-location drawing.
Richards is currently an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at The University of Texas at Arlington, co-founder of the urban design firm Townscape, Inc, and a member of the advisory board of the global non-profit Urban Sketchers.
His book, Freehand Drawing and Discovery, is available on amazon.com. Check out his blog at jamesrichardssketchbook. com.
Image features sketch by Cecile Novel