The Power of the Sketch

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Courtesy of The Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara

There is a calendar on my desk—small, flip, spiral bound—each day’s square marked off with diagonal lime green highlighter mark. (A terribly linear habit I’ve had since I discovered calendars and how they can be used to mark not only significant happenings but days we are just plain happy to have behind us. There can be as much satisfaction in the passage of time as there can be remorse. Or perhaps the line is another simple sort of accomplishment—a reminder that we did something. See, look, I have been so busy counting down the days of my life with a highlighter. But I digress.)

The magic of this particular calendar, however, has very little if nothing to do with my personal passage of days. It is the sketches I cannot stop staring at, studying, wondering about the talent before me. This calendar, produced by The Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara, has graced my desk two years in a row. I kept the first one, and I’ll keep 2016 as well. 400 are distributed every year, available for purchase through a local bookstore as well as the Foundation, something that has been happening for the past 27 years. This leads me to believe I am not the only one collecting. You see, the sketches are incredible for many reasons, one of them being that they were created by children ages 4 to 15.

Kids Draw ArchitectureSince 1989, the Foundation has organized Kids Draw Architecture. Every April, for two weekends, anywhere from 20 – 40 children are invited to come for a couple of Saturdays. They learn some drawing techniques, something of historical significance about the particular location they are about to sketch, and then away they go with paper and pencils. and then given carte blanche at a historical location. Draw what you see as well as what they feel about the place.

Through this weekend of instruction, interaction, engagement and camaraderie, the kids, and some of the adults even, sharpen their pencils and hone their skills and learn how to look at the world and thusly translate what they see onto paper. This is in no way a competiton—it does not serve to foster any sort of competitive nature. Instead, it serves as a way to look at things differently, and then to draw them.

Kids Draw ArchitectureCalendars are then made from some of the chosen sketches, representing a wide variety of age group. The 400 printed, distributed, and sold to help offset the cost associated with the program. (You know, items such as pencils, paper, frames for the December show.) Yes, December show. You see, those who don’t make it in to the calendar also have a chance to show off their work at an art show in December. This year, it happens to be Dec. 9 for anyone able to attend. Imagine for a moment, being a child, and headed to your first art exhibit where the art on the wall is yours. Do you feel pride, shock, excitement? Perhaps all of the above. It’s a tremendous opportunity on so many levels for so many—the children, the parents, the volunteers, the architects.

“We don’t babysit. We teach them and we draw, often times with them. And the parents are invited too,” said Cassandra Ensberg, FAIA, of Ensberg Jacobs Design.

Kids Draw Architecture was never intended to be a babysitting session. Ensberg remembers sitting in the Executive Director’s office and looking at a crayon-drawn rendition the director’s daughter had completed. This conception grew into a weekend of sketching. “We would do one public building. Architects would join in to volunteer and help, and everyone would be sketching together,” she said. They did, and it continues on in pretty much the same way.

Kids Draw ArchitectureAnd while the purposes served are many, imagine the future architects that could potentially arrive at the profession because of an event such as this. One of the reasons Ensberg considered the program was because of the significant drop in the arts in public schools, and she wanted to provide an environment where talent, or even exposure to sketching, could be nurtured.

And architects are very aware that sketching is more than the simple ability to draw. It is a necessary skill despite all of the technological advancements. It’s a way to communicate, express ideas to others, help clients understand, help other designers understand. “You can’t design if you don’t sketch,” said Ensberg. “It’s a critical skill that must be nurtured.”

However, there are those, such as myself, who could use more sketching in their life. Whether one aspires to become an architect or artist, or mathematician for that matter, it’s a way to see something differently.

Lives are lived differently when one has the confidence and the techniques down to sketch what they see—when one knows the horizon line as opposed to the vanishing point. Drawing is about looking; seeing; thinking in a more intense way.

Kids Draw ArchitectureNotebooks, journals, diaries, essays, business plans, could use more sketches. Think about it.
I plan to head down to Santa Barbara in April, even though I am not in grade school; even though I am not an architect. I’m going to look at a building that weekend, and attempt to draw it, and see what comes of said experiment.

For those who are interested in starting a program such as this one in your area, Ensberg and the crew are working on a “How-to” manual to get you started. In the meantime, be sure to visit Kids Draw Architecture and learn how you can be a part of the fun.


Shannon Calder

Shannon Calder, a Sacramento-based writer, joined the AIACC in 2013. She is the author of, “Jack and Abigail Make a Compass,” a novel about people, birds, and orchids. She spends her days both on and off hours, looking for connection, which is a good hobby to have when linking the value of design to public perception.

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