“Just draw, and the ideas will come”

This topic and talk, titled ‘The Thinking Hand’ was inspired by the book of the same name by Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa. In it, he details the importance of the art of sketching in the creative process for architects; one writer describes the book as a ‘call to arms for a return to a fully embodied design process’.

We were privileged at DENFAIR 2017 to have passionate drawer Chris Connell take us through a sketching masterclass. Chris has over 40 years experience in the architecture and interior design industry, as well as product design. Chris Connell Design the practice has been running for almost 30 years, with Chris at the helm as design director. His Pepe chair designed in 1992, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York — and these are just a few of his achievements.

Chris shared his own design process, saying that he often begins sketching when the client is talking — “before I’ve even got the job,” he says. For him, it’s a tool to visually clarify, explore and expand on verbal ideas. Chris generously provided attendees with a small Moleskine sketchbook and pen, so that they could get right into the sketching action as the talk was happening. “Whether you draw or don’t draw — draw,” he directed, “Just start drawing”.

Chris showed sketches of pieces of furniture that were on show at the event — giving us a great opportunity to understand the importance and simplicity of the early concepts. “They’re not meant to be beautiful,” he said. “I think that everyone gets a bit paranoid and thinks that when you put pen to paper you should draw like Da Vinci or Michelangelo, but it’s about communication, about getting the message across. The simple squiggles can mean so much.” And definitely, the few lines he showed us to represent initial ideas about a table were able to express all the important elements — the look, feel and details — very simply.

“Some products and projects don’t need a lot of elaboration, so I try not to overcook it,” he shared. The Split table for MAP Furniture, for example, “hasn’t deviated too much” by his own assessment from the original drawings. Of course, this is just one step in the process — from the sketch, the product moves into a CGI format. Other sketches of the Lean Storage demonstrated Chris’ ideas about “How things fit, how they work. It conveys the message, how things can be constructed and possible materials.”

Importantly, with drawing, Chris believes, “There are no rules. I haven’t made a mistake, I’m just making my own rules.” At this point in his career, “After many years of drawing and designing stuff, I don’t know what’s floating up there [in my head], it just comes out.” Sketching is crucial to each discipline that Chris works across — architecture, interiors and furniture — however, he doesn’t set out to draw a table in the morning and then work on a home design after lunch. Rather, he has a daily drawing practice that is more like a meditative method to get the gears of the hand into action and the ideas from his head onto a page, where it can be deciphered and refined — often by collaborators in his studio.

Chris then took live briefs to respond to with sketches — “like Mr. Squiggle, isn’t it?” he quips — which he shared via a program called SketchBook Pro, in the process helping some audience members to explore ideas in their current design jobs and uni assignments.

“I’ve been doing it for so long that it becomes natural, just part of what I do. You can’t teach someone to become intuitive, or be fast, but it happens over time. I’m not afraid to draw something and make a mistake — if that’s what you want to call it. It’s a starting point, it’s a bit of inspiration.” So the message is clear — just draw, and the ideas will come, along with (eventually) ease and speed.

Podcast Part 1


Podcast Part 2

Related Topics:

Australian Design - Chris Connell - Connect - Designer - For Design