(in conversation with Sanjay Mohe)
Words are ideas, a line has the potential to be an idea. An idea starts with a dot, it becomes a line, The pen moves subconsciously, the decisions happen without analysis. It is an intriguing and exciting process to see the evolution of ideas while sketching.
Every artist sketches for different reason- I sketch in order to learn to do better architecture, not so much to make a good sketch. Through this process, I understand the space, feel the space. Sketching makes me generate ideas, helps me think and calm down. I am at my most relaxed when I am sketching.
To sketch with a childlike quality is one of the most difficult things to do. You are free from inhibitions. As an adult, you are always cautious of being watched, you have a lot of baggage which is not easy to ‘unlearn’.
I started sketching as a child, like everyone does, and back then a cousin of mine was studying architecture abroad. When my family saw me drawing, they would comment that I would become like my cousin. He was one of my first idols, and I used to love looking at his sketches from college.
While I went on to study at the Sir J J College of Architecture, I was surrounded by students who were excellent at fine arts. In this environment, I was never really considered as one who was particularly good at drawing. Until I moved to Saudi for my first job, I actually didn’t know I could sketch. I would sketch on paper that came in rolls in those days. One day, a colleague who’d found the roll of my sketches, had cut out each sketch separately, and framed them. Everyone who was passing by was noticing and complementing them. Looking at them displayed, for the first time I realised that I could sketch.
The framing had made all the difference, and this is applies to the process of design too- when you frame certain vistas in architecture, you are putting them up on a pedestal.
Sometimes, you draw a sketch without knowing why, you just draw something because you felt like it. It may have no meaning then, but the sketch has potential- you keep looking at it, and ideas start to generate. It is kind of like when you keep looking at an old wall where there is moss that is formed- the more you stare it, it starts forming patterns and a picture develops.
I find that for me, sketching has a quality of ambiguity and incompleteness, it allows you to imagine. It helps you ideate, generate thoughts. Like hand-eye coordination in cricket, sketching needs hand-mind coordination.
It is kind of like two kinds of sculpture- one is when a sculptor sits with a sketch or a photograph in front of him, and sets about carving what is in the picture, he knows what his outcome is going to be, he is directly responsible for the form that is going to evolve.
The other kind is when a sculptor just sits with clay, and starts playing with the forms. As he moulds the clay, a form gets evolved; a lot of it is subconscious- he does not know what his end product is going to be. And each move depends on the previous move that was made.
In architectural design, you need both- you start the second way, where you let the design develop and take shape. Once you get some clarity and have an idea of what the outcome is, you start working like the sculptor who has the image in front of him, to develop the end product.
When we are sketching, we are constantly trained to relate to the scale, by putting yourself into the sketch and relating it to the human scale. For instance, I know my height, and I often put myself into the sketch to really understand the scale and feel the space. This way, I am completely into the design.
Technical accuracy is also important in a sketch, the correct perspective and proportion. I had in my early days trained under an Egyptian architect who was a perfectionist- he would always ask us to keep relating a sketch to a floor plan, to get the right perspective and scale using the vanishing point. With many, many years of sketching in this methodical way, there are lesser chances of going wrong with scale.
Technology has changed a lot of things, and the physical connect and involvement that you had with the sketch has reduced. There is usually an intermediate element, like your mouse, or the software, that is generating your drawing. And while you are zooming in and out all the time, it is easy to lose track of scale. It is important to not let technology take over completely.
But things are getting better too. After the iPad came, it gave me a new dimension. I am very comfortable sketching on an iPad and do it every day, some purists may not agree with me, but many of my sketches are done this way. Sketching on the tablet still has the element of touch, a direct sensory connect. And there are options of texture and colour which give room for experimentation.
But there are little things about traditional sketching that will never be the same- like when you are using a 4B or 6B pencil, and you stop to sharpen the pencil. That pause is important, it gives you time for an idea. We need to find out how to gain that pause when using technology.
Often when you want to concentrate, you need to be doing something mundane, a routine activity that you don’t need to think to do. This is why a lot of great ideas come when you are walking, when you are in the shower, when you are just tapping your feet.
When you are sketching, the line has power, sometimes it begins to have more power than the content. But for me, sketching- whether it is buildings, animals, people or anything abstract, it is always to help and understand the process of architecture. It is not about the sketch as the end product, so it actually takes guts to pull yourself out of the power of the line.
But I cannot be comfortable working on an idea without a pen and paper, these are guiding elements for me.
The freehand sketch always has something beyond the mechanical quality, it as an expression from the heart. It has the heartbeats. It is a part of you; it is an extension of your body.
(As told to Archita S)