Spend Time Drawing

Drawing, like many things, writing, craft work, woodworking, if you want to do it well, starts out as an interesting notion and then develops into a discipline. You can enter the portals of institutions and learn there or you can find some other way. All will be equally good. I draw for myself and mostly do so to help me see what I might miss otherwise. Drawing forces me to look harder, garner the pertinent and then too the unimaginable hidden elements we are in danger of missing otherwise. When I start to add up the increments for a M&T joint in a rebated door I can see what the proportions will be in relation to the thickness of the tenon and the thicknesses then of the walls of the mortise. When I flesh out an idea on paper, add a few notes, I often reveal issues that might compromise my working. For the purpose of a customer needing a perspective sketch of what they are considering, a sketch without specific joinery details is usually all that is needed. Working with other craftsmen and women to build a project I need exact measurements to avoid confusion and mistakes. Drawings are a way of cross-referencing our work, the equivalent of double entry bookkeeping which enables us to satisfy the equation assets equals liabilities plus equity. Seeing things multidimensionally through drawings and sketches and a few added notes to ourselves often shows us negative possibilities and probabilities versus the fully orbed ideas that will make our project work.

Working on our own we might convince ourselves that there is only us and therefore no need for a drawing. In my view it is always worth a drawing of some kind or another. Seeing then that drawing makes me think about issues I might otherwise overlook in the building of a project. I will at some point usually regret not drawing a project up ahead because I simply didn’t think through certain proportions that later led to me scrapping what I planned in my head but did not plan out and flesh out on paper, cardboard, a piece of wood or the back of a napkin. Also, once completed, joints are often hidden inside themselves, whether wholly or partially and can be completely lost to the outside world. When that happens, and I have failed to draw out the details, I have to retrace my steps one by one and use logic to regain what would have been simple with the addition of a drawing.

In some of my habits I’m old fashioned. It’s not that I shun more technological solutions so much as like what I have and can do that most others don’t and cannot. I like the organic look I get when I draw as I still draw with a drawing board, T-square and scale rulers. I also sketch every day for one reason or another. I like the way it looks and feels and I find it relaxing because it’s at a pace set by me that fits my woodworking and planning. I know it will seem silly, but interspersing my day with a break or two to draw and write gives me punctuation points when meaning is evaluated and crystallised into reality for me. I actually like the periodic interruptions like sharpening my pencils. These I see as commas, apostrophes and then semicolons. I know, “Paul get a life!” I like sweeping away the eraser residue to though. Mostly it’s about my preserving the fine hand movements technical drawing and then sketching requires—”Use it or lose it!” —You know! Beyond that, as there is with handwriting, another thing I practice daily in my journalling, there is the development of your own style in all things and especially in your drawing. Style only develops when you do something regularly. The flourish in a signature, the speed of it, the identity of it become yours when you do it. Which kid didn’t see someone write their signature in that grammar-defying way that said now this, this is something i alone own. This name is mine and when I write it down as a signature the very signature belongs to me. Drawing is an extension of who you are from the very minute you start. Why not develop a style of drawing and writing that belongs to you by and in the doing of it?

16 thoughts on “Spend Time Drawing”

  1. Thank you for striking a blow for drawing by hand, Mr. Sellers!

    In my opinion drawing by hand leads to an “if we can draw it, we can make it” approach.
    Additionally I like to advocate for free hand drawing, even technical sketches – at least for our own projects. Every scrawly line, every egg-shaped “circle” becomes more accurate over time.
    And it’s the fastest way to visualize something.

    Do you have recommendations for books about freehand (technical) sketching techniques in English?
    In German the book “Technisches Freihandzeichnen” (Technical Freehand Drawing, Ulrich Viebahn, ISBN-10: 3662546531) is very good regarding content, despite the language is in some cases not appropriate.

    1. Ecky,

      Look for a copy of ‘Thinking with a Pencil’ by Henning Nelms. Might find it on AbeBooks.

      1. Thanks Coop.

        This book seems to be a classic and apparently there is a reprint available.
        So probably I can order it in my local book shop.

  2. I am lucky in the sense that I always was good at drawing and good at art, I remember drawing a lot as a child and I used to do it every day, like you say it is relaxing, starting woodworking a couple of years ago has got me back into drawing again, after many years of not doing it, reminded me of how much I love it.

  3. Thanks Paul. My wife is an artist. She would be quite excited should I try to work on my drawing skills. Her skills are amazing to say the least.

    Tied to this, Paul do you plan on teaching us at some point on how to design? Being a beginner, right now I’m mostly focused on just learning the woodworking skills and am quite happy to follow plans. At some point, I’m sure I’d like to learn a bit more about the design process. Of course, I am paying lots of attention of widths of wood, construction techniques, looking at books of furniture styles I like and would want to build for around the house etc. Maybe by just doing, design will slowly come. I just don’t know. I look forward to your thoughts.


  4. David Muschamp

    Hello Paul
    I think I would have been an apprentice about the same time as yourself, when an architect drawing landed on the bench for a door or a window we used to set out the item on what was called a rod, this was often an offcut of plywood six foot long and about eight to ten inches wide. A full size plan and section would be drawn out, all marks on the material used would be taken directly from the rod, all rebates and mouldings were on the rod so shoulder lines and scribe lines could all so be taken. As an apprentice it was my job to clean the rod ready for the next project.

  5. I was lucky enough to have an “industrial technologies” course option in high school in the 1990’s. The first semester was all drafting with t-squares and pencils. Semester 2 was a brief intro to woodworking using hand tools (which is much as you have described at length in other posts.) Quickly, they ushered us to machine woodworking.

    Before we could pull wood from the racks to begin a project, we had to have an approved isometric drawing, fully dimensioned, and the board feet of lumber calculated. The drawing ALWAYS came first.

    Still, I learned more in those classes than all the rest of high school.

    Sad to say that few schools in the USA still offer “shop class” because of the liability factor. And as artistic and musical skills are not something that gets students into many colleges, most schools are slowly letting those programs die as well. I know many teachers that echo your sentiments that not all students should go to a university. and they too decry the loss of teaching these valuable skills.

    Thank you for all that you share. You’re helping to fill this cultural void in a valuable way.

  6. Hello Paul,

    Drawing by hand most definitely stimulates the brain’s creativity!

    Don’t know where to begin when wanting to design something? Then follow the advice of an architect for whom I worked more than 40 years ago: “DRAW WHAT YOU KNOW” he would bellow at me when I was stuck on some detail.

    Draw what you know about what you want to design (what space does it need to fit? what is its purpose? how big can it be?…..etc,) and before you know it, that simple activity will make you realise just how much more you do actually know about what you want to design.

    Exploded diagrams are an excellent explanatory tool too. They show on one page what would otherwise need reams to describe in writing or even other drawing projections.

    A point of clarification: on your exploded sketch of the stair construction, it is difficult (for me!) to determine the direction for the wedge that tightens the riser board into the stringer housing. I believe it should be driven up from below, after which it is locked into place by the wedge for the tread below.

    Drawing is where you can explore the proportions of things like rails and stiles for doors, the number of panels into which an area can be divided, etc, and using tracing or ‘butter’ paper overlays is even more helpful.

    It defies my imagination how anybody could design something (intended for human use) by using a keyboard, mouse and screen. Perhaps I’m just getting old and cranky, but I do still really enjoy drawing.

    Many thanks for all of your videos: the accuracy of my woodworking (hand tools only, as my shed is not connected to electricity) had improved in leaps and bounds since following your advice for a few years now.

  7. Eric van der Kolk

    When I was seventeen, fresh out of school and not knowing what to do next, I decided I wanted to build guitars and enlisted for a technical school that (I thought would) teach me woodworking.
    What I had not fully realised was that this school was meant for those that wanted to run a company, so basically most of what was taught there did not interest me at all, and the woodworking part was mainly with machines, no one ever tried to show me the right way to use a plane or how to square up stock by hand. Schools never agreed with me, so I quit and did my army service. What I did learn there, the only useful skill I now cherish, was making and reading technical drawings.
    Now, at past fifty, I decided I wanted to learn play the banjo, soon finding out that if I wanted the banjo of my dreams, I was going to have to make it myself, or take a chance on UPS and see what would be left of it after ordering one from the States.
    I started out with a drawing and three months later I was the proud owner of a fretless gourd banjo, made by me.
    I make a drawing of everything I make, it’s like building without the wood part. I try to use as few machines as I can, which is not hard if all you have is a drill, scrollsaw and router. Thanks to you Paul, I am now working on my skill set and keep surprising myself when I finish something I thought I would never be able to do, like mortice and tenons.
    So thanks again for the inspiration, and, let’s keep it sketchy!

  8. Paul, I am with you.

    I have doodled and drawn continuously since I was old enough to work a pencil Still going after 69 years.

    What really boosted my youthful interest in woodworking was a combination of high-school shop classes and drafting classes. They transformed me. The habits I learned in both are still with me.

    I have used AutoCad. I have SketchUp, which I rarely use, save for downloading plans, etc.

    For me, everything begins with pencil and paper — and thinking. I find it much easier to think when I am not continually sorting out software commands. Big surprise, tight?

    Drawing not only helps me refine ideas; drawing generates more ideas in the first place. It is also relaxing and enjoyable. Meditative. Therapeutic.

    I recall a comment by Mario Rodriguez, a well-known U.S. furniture maker. In response to the question, “What is your most essential tool?”, he immediately replied, “My sketchbook.” That comment still resonates with me years after that interview.


  9. My process for drawing is…1) A sketch of my project from the side or front. 2) A series of sketches that provide details of the joinery and dimensions.

    When I make a project the first time it is never the dimensions that I sketched; close though. When the project is finished, I go back and change the original dimensions I first sketched.

    1. That can be a luxury rarely afforded to most as the purpose of a good set of plans and drawings is indeed ti have something concrete to work to, so, really, it wouldn’t work for most people, especially those like myself who’s drawings were to sell the piece before it’s made. Now a good sketch ahead can do that and that’s what we tend to do if we don’t want to get into too much detail without our expense in time have been established and factored in to the build itself. So, that being the case for most makers, the drawing being the representation of intent, subsequently drawings must match the end result and vice versa. More technical drawings are often the outcome of several preliminary sketches, be they mental or paper copies and even a trial joint, made section or whatever. As far as I know working drawings are always fixed to work to. Most designers, engineers and architects of such intent develop their ideas on paper and now computer for them and especially others to work from and to. I don’t think your system would work for industry but it may well for you as an individual. Not altogether sure what the use of the drawing would be after the event though? Archiving?

  10. Can anyone suggest a book that a beginner could use to learn how to shade to get basic forms? I can draw a circle, but I cannot draw a sphere. I can make a perspective line drawing of a cube, but I cannot make it come to life and sit on a table with its shadows and shading.

    The relevance to furniture is bringing a perspective sketch to life by conveying depth through shading, especially if there are curves and mouldings of any kind. Look at the man in Paul’s first sketch, for example or the stair riser below it.

    1. You could place a ball on a table facing natural light from a window say, that way the shadow can be adjusted to your liking by moving the ball to cast the shadow in different points. The idea in drawing and sketching is to ‘make‘ you look twice and more until your mind captures what it sees. This then becomes the inner registration you reference for placing the initial lines representing shadow from hard shadow at the darkest point to the fading edges emerging into full light. Remember this too, ‘if you haven’t drawn it, you haven’t seen it.
      Also, Ed, Ellie and I are working on a video for perspective sketching with regards to furniture and wooden objects like boxes or sideboards.

      1. I can try that. What happens when you try to draw something from your imagination? After a lot of practice, do you just have a memory of all of those details and can put them into the drawing of something that’s only in your mind?

        I’m looking forward to the perspective sketching video. Great idea!

        1. Personally, as a non psychologist, I have seen what I feel are results where the mind releases its chemistry when you work three-dimensionally in craft work of any kind. Provided things do indeed go well, the sense of wellbeing becomes markedly heightened, significantly resulting in what might be called positivity. In my view, with the working physically to manipulate tools and material creatively, part of the result, a major part, is the release of specific neurochemicals such as but not only dopamine, the chemical that rewards us for effort when we overcome difficulties. The chemicals alter our state of mind. I have often wondered if this reaction in our brains engages other elements that help us to record images in the same way we record phrases and words, quotable concepts and such but now we are recording images in multidimensional realms that we can actually manipulate with our minds so we in effect roll the ball from one focal point to cast shadows on it and from it to other parts. I am mentally doing this as I type, and, I can see the ball with the shadows moving and indeed I see the shadow fall on the table from the ball. I do not think I have always been able to do this. It has been a development to use what is commonly called ‘the mind’s eye’ which of course is not technically an eye but perhaps more the nerve the hundreds of neurochemicals being constantly released. Only a small fraction of neurochemicals have actually been identified by scientists to date. I’m sure that that will change. the truth is that we have the capacity within ourselves to stimulate an increase as we work progressively with our hands. I doubt that we will ever know how all of these molecules work. Albert Einstein gives us a brief insight in that… “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I personally have no clue how these things work, but I do dwell on them and it helps me to accept what I do not know with my mind but feel with it as I work with my hands and body. Something I never achieved with a computer or with a machine.

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