Book review: Freehand Drawing & Discovery

Why am I reviewing a book on drawing? Because a happy journal is one with some drawings and sketches in it, and I’m happiest with my journaling when I draw a bit. I love Urban Sketchers and the drawings people make there are amazing, but don’t invest the time in making their level of drawings. Instead I want to try capture enough to relive my time in a place without the drawing being the focus of the visit. I’m finding that is a tough objective to reach, but I found a book that helps.

Freehand Drawing & Discovery, by James Richards is an expensive book, but it is worth it.

It’s a book written for architects. The title says it covers “Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers.” It’s aimed at urban planners, architects and other folks who have to make sketches to show other people their designs. Those sketches have be efficient to create and attractive enough to sell the concept. Fortunately those are also my needs when I have as long as it takes my slowest kid to eat a cheeseburger to draw what I see out the restaurant window.

When I sit down to try to capture the scene, and the feeling, but not necessarily every detail. How do I decide how much detail to capture? This book provides a bit of framework for that.IMG_2279

While it won’t teach basic drawing, it serves a rare purpose amongst drawing books. Most books on drawing work to either teach technique, like You can Draw in 30 days or how to see, like Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain they both want to replace the symbols we tend to draw as children (like the football shaped eye) with what we’re really seeing.

Freehand Drawing and Discovery worth of works to reverse this a bit. It shows a lot of neat ways to make simplified drawings of things that we’d like to include, but don’t need to include accurately – like people in crowds, trees, vehicles, etc. Those details really enrich the drawing, but take a very long time if drawn accurately.

There are three major sections. Learning a Language shows the various elements and techniques. This section breaks things down – like what what to draw first, how to handle perspective, and things like that. It also covers the use of color in a simple way.

Urban Skething focuses specifically on drawing urban scenes. Gabriele Campanario, author of The Art of Urban Sketching This section includes more work by others, and also subjects like “working quickly”, more on color, and editing – i.e. deciding what to include in the drawing.IMG_2278

Concept Sketching focuses converting a concept into a convincing drawing, but also includes digital sketching techniques like using a tablet. I’m not sure why digital techniques are included here, but it’s where they ended up. This section was the least relevant to me, as it’s where the most architect-specific material is. Such as using a photograph of an existing intersection as the foundation for a sketch of proposed changes. It’s still interesting, just not as actionable as the rest of the book.

Overall the book is very actionable and comes with access to online videos that are instructive.

The down side is the cost. The book is printed, bound, and marketed as a textbook and is priced accordingly at nearly $60. I had this book on my Amazon wish list for a long time before I bought it, but I’m glad that I have it. I went through it quickly at first and tried some of what I learned, and later I will go through it again to pick up some more. It is a reference book, so the cost of deferred a bit in that I will be pulling it off the shelf and enjoying it many times.

You can see the book here: Freehand Drawing and Discovery: Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers (An affiliate link – if you decide to buy this book, you’ll help support my work here by using that link.)

Pen Review: Monteverde One Touch Stylus

Ron at Pen Chalet asked me to review a pen, and I chose the Monteverde One Touch Stylus. I’m into ballpoint these days, I like click pens because they’re so easy to deploy. They also give me a good outlet for fidgeting by letting me click them repeatedly.

The pen arrived quickly in fine condition and upon opening the box I was greeted by a pen quite a bit fatter than I was expecting. This pen is pretty girthy compared to an Ecridor, Jotter or Fisher AG-7.

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The click mechanism is fairly smooth, reasonably quiet, and seems to be positive. The pen has a fair bit of reveal – about an inch – with the clicker having a shape that makes for very easy pen extraction from whatever pocket or sleeve you put it in. This is good especially because the pen is fat is likely to be a snug fit in sleeves.

The clip has a big ball on the end so it should be easy to get it over most pocket hems. The clip has enough clearance for a suit-coat pocket for sure, probaby enough for most winter coat pockets. It grabbed a shirt pocket hem just fine.

The Monteverde Soft Touch refill is black, and in extra broad. In actual practice it’s not that broad unless you press fairly firmly but it is a very smooth and easy rolling experience.

To replace the refill you have to unscrew the cone of the pen, and there you see an exposed spring. The spring is retained by a bit of friction and it didn’t fall out for me, but I get a bit worried about changing cartridges in places where it’s not easy to retrieve any pieces that go missing, like when sitting on an airplane in coach. The cone is also small and can’t be put down in a way where it doesn’t roll. These are pretty minor complaints.

I ordered the pen in carbon fiber finish, with a yellow accent on the clip. The yellow is more like gold – it’s just not bright enough in my opinion. The carbon fiber looks good, although I can’t be certain if it’s really carbon fiber or some kind of effect. There is a seam in the weave that runs the length of the pen that suggests it’s not a printed wrap but the real deal. It shimmers when the pen is rotated, something my CF Namiki Vanishing point does not do. The finish on the body is matte while the furniture is gloss. This is the right combination for a pen that should look manly without looking tactical.

Last but not least is the stylus. On the clicker is a small rubber hemisphere that can be used on touch screens. It worked fine on my iOS devices, and it was part of the reason I chose this pen. I do a lot of writing on my iPad these days, and some of the controls in Ulysses are small. I’d also like to keep the screen cleaner. Time will tell if this a feature I use or not.

Overall I like the pen. It’s more than fancy enough for the office, takes parker-style refills, and feels good in the hand. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble taking it with me since it’s about the same price as an AG-7 and the shape makes it easier to grab out of the pen sleeves in most of my bags.

Monteverde One Touch Stylus at Pen Chalet.

Disclosure: The pen was provided at no cost to me. The words and opinions are my own.

Is Your Journal A Liability?

Do you keep a journal? Ever have someone pick it up while you were across the room, and they start paging through it saying “Hey, whatcha writing about?” Did you feel hopeful, like your writing might inspire them or lead to a fun discussion? Or did you leap, in slow motion, yelling ’Noooooooo’ as you arced across the room to snatch it out of their hands. Or maybe you did the cool-dude approach and acted totally bored, hoping your bad handwriting and disdainful demeanor would save you, and they’d decide it wasn’t worth the effort and put it down.

This is no way to live, man. In my mind, a journal should be a body of work that can be shared. Maybe not publicly, maybe not with everyone, but certainly family & friends should be able to take a peek without feeling uncomfortable. Make your journal an asset instead of a liability.

What? How can that be? We’re supposed to bleed on the page and all that. Spew our emotions for further reflection. That’s where the real growth is.

I respectfully call bullshit. Spewing doesn’t make for good reflection. Spewing makes for a liability. A literary boobytrap waiting to go off in the hands of the unexpected reader.

Spewing is necessary sometimes but it’s best done on something disposable, that is quickly disposed of.

Instead make something you’re content, perhaps not happy or proud, but content to show others. Include thoughtful reflection on the things in your life. Just do it in a way that results in sharable work not a liability.

How is this accomplished? By following just a few rules:

Don’t make your journal a liability

Don’t write anything you’d be embarassed to show to literally anyone. Ok, I do write some things that, when fresh, might be a little rough to show the person I mentioned but that’s ok. Years later the roughness is gone.

What I’m writing about here is the afore mentioned spewing/stream of conciousness stuff. Stuff that starts conversations that don’t end well when read by the wrong person. Sensitive stuff is unavoidable, but secret stuff should be left out.

The difference between sensitive and secret

Sensitive is something that for a moment is not for public consumption. Secret implies life-long celibacy.

Let’s say I’m thinking about making a big change at home. I’m going to ask my wife to buy a cat. I know she hates cats, and I’m working on my arguments in my journal. That is sensitive – I don’t want her to read the work in progress, because it’s a work in progress, but once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, it doesn’t matter.

You’ll always have a few things that are sensitive – potential life changes, things that haven’t been all the way thought out, etc. – but there’s going to come a time when they’re no longer sensistive.

Secrets? They tend to have real staying power. They’re usually things the keeper does not want revealed to anyone. Why do they need to be written down in a journal?

Ok, if you had something in your past that was potentially embarrasing and still raising issues for you, and you were writing about it to work it out, then yes, perhaps that should stay secret. It should also probably stay in it’s own notebook.

Write like a man.

Take responsibility for your emotions and the resulting words, and use the English language. No pissy blaming and name calling.
So, when writing that your boss, Mr. Blemish, has angered you by refusing to authorize your new budget, instead of this:

“Mr. B was a total asshole again today, wouldn’t approve my budget, because he’s being an idiot as usual.”

You write what a professional would write:

“Very disappointed today that Mr. Blemish refused to approve my budget. I disagree with his point of view, I don’t think he’s looking at the situation clearly, but I often struggle to get him to do so.”

So at first you might seem the second bit is not very genuine. Well, perhaps when it was written maybe not, but it conveys the same feeling and it does so in a way that doesn’t paint you in a bad light. It also puts the blame where it belongs – on the failure to communicate and persuade. Sometimes peope are genuinely intractible people, but most of the time we’re just lazy in dealing with others and fail to deliver the goods. Writing like a man means we state things as they are, and take responsibility for what we need to do.

You might also notice a small shift of responsibility – in the first paragraph Mr. Blemish seems to be incapable of doing what we need. In the second, the focus is more on my lack of ability to persuade. This isn’t to say Mr. Blemish doesn’t have issues, but they’re issues I can’t change directly. I can’t change his behavior except by changing my own. The second paragraph promotes a much better mindset for solving problems.

Besides, years later, when you read the second example’s words, you’ll remember how you felt at the time. Reading a bunch of victim spew isn’t going to be much fun anyway.

Lastly, when I read statements like the first it reminds me of my weakness. When I read the second, I remember the problem.
Another way to think of this is Write like the person you wish you were. Think of someone you respect and look up to – how would they describe it?

Facts first, reflection second

Stick to the facts when reporting life’s punches, disappointments and challenges. First report the facts, then record how you feel and what you want to do. Reporting on the facts helps promote objectivity. Focusing on the facts leaves out the assumptions that tend to blind us to opportunities.

Yes, spew if you must, but elsewhere

Buy some Field Notes notebooks. They’re small, easily hidden, inexpensive, and most importantly, burn well. Spew in those. If you have to keep deep dark secret writings, do it in something that is easy to hide and easy to destroy is my advice.

Save your journal for the good stuff.

LBI14DWPAP Day 14: Write Someone A Letter

Woo hoo! The last day of Live Better In 14 Days With Pen And Paper! Today we’re going to do something a bit rare these days. We’re going to write someone a letter.

Go on, think of one of those people (maybe a relative?) who you haven’t kept in touch with very well.

Get a piece of paper and an envelope. Write a letter by hand. Just tell them what’s going on. It doesn’t have to be prose. It doesn’t have to be neat. Tell them what’s going on and ask a question or two.

More than half of the value of a letter is just in seeing it in the pile of mail. A real god-damned letter written to just that person that isn’t a bill or junk mail. They’ll thank you for it.

If you’re lucky (and this is pure luck, by the way, don’t take it personal) you’ll get a reply some day when you’ve forgotten about the letter you sent. Then you’ll get a nice surprise as well.

LBI14DWPAP Day 13: Give Yourself A Pat On The Back

On the penultimate day of Live Better In 14 Days With Pen And Paper we’re going to take a moment to give ourselves a pat on the pack and make a list of things we’ve accomplished in the last year that we’re proud of.

If they involve curing a major disease so much the better, but “Finally emptied the last box from our last move” works just fine.

The point here is to understand that you do make progress. You do accomplish things.

We often forget what we do, its value, and that we matter to people. If we look backward and see what we’ve done, we feel better. It blunts the sting of some of the things we didn’t get done.

Pro tip:

Ask your spouse, family, and friends. Asking your kids yields interesting results, and a much different perspective.

LBI14DWPAP Day 12: Write Some Fiction

In the home stretch – day 12 of Live Better In 14 Days With Pen And Paper.

So why fiction? Because often we need to tell a story. I’m not just talking about copywriters selling you new soap, I’m also talking about students selling the professor on why they need a makeup exam. Or your potential mate/lover/boss/financier on why they should pick you over the rest. A lot of effective communication involves telling a good story.

A good way to learn to tell a good story is to tell them. Start with a short one. It doesn’t have to be a classic tale. In fact, the stranger and the goofier, the better. It’s also fun.

You don’t need a complicated story with lots of plot twists or characters. Shoot for a page or so in length. A novelist would call it an outline, but it’s a complete story in brief. It doesn’t have to be about anyone or anything you know, but it can be. It’s fiction. That means made up, so make something up.

It does have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. A conflict arises, the conflict is experienced, the conflict is resolved.

LBI14DWPAP Day 11: Write a letter to yourself in the future

Just a few more days! On day 11 of Live Better In 14 Days With Pen And Paper we’re going to do something new – at least I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere.

I want you to write a letter to your future self. I don’t want you to waste any time giving yourself news. Instead write about what you hope your future self will have done/been/taken care of/found etc. Write it out by hand, just like you would write, you know, a letter:

Dear ___________,_

I’m writing this because even though I’m X years old, I want my life to be as awesome as possible. For that to be true, for my life to be awesome, here’s what you’ll need to have done. I hope you haven’t let me down….

Why do this? A couple reasons:

First, I find that most of the grief in my life is caused by a mismatch between reality and expectations. So any opportunity to bring that mismatch to the surface, where I can deal with it, is a good thing.

Second, it’s going back to that pesky knowing what you want thing. When you wrote the letter, did it match what you freewrote about a few days ago? Did this exercise reveal anything new?

For an extra kick, spring for a stamp and mail it to yourself, and open it in a year or so.