Imagine the scene — I’m just 18 years old, and have landed my very first job in a drawing office. I was given a white coat, a professional engineering drawing board, and a set of drawing instruments — a tool kit that would see me me venture off down the road of being a fully qualified production engineer. From noob to pro, I learned how to design products, and the machines to make them on my trusty and imposing draughting machine. It was my tool kit and my home for 7 years, in which time I not only learned the manual craft of draughtsmanship, but also combined it with my more creative and artistic tendencies to push out illustrations that said more about me than just raw engineering drawing ever could. I learned the basics, and then embellished.
Sadly none of these drawings exist anymore. The company is long closed, and a housing development full of 2.4 child families exists where the drawing office once stood. But that creative voice is calling nay shouting my name, and as I find myself without a manual creative outlet, I’m treating myself to a proper A0 draughting table for my 50th birthday, and dusting off my pens and pencils with a mission to recreate iconic DJ gear (and maybe design some new stuff too) in hand measured and drawn form. They will be labours of love, and when they’re framed and hanging on the Worxlab wall, I’ll be able to stand back and say “I did that” and be proud. I’m particularly relishing my first project — an exploded projection of a Pro X Fade.
I was conveying this desire to break out pencils, pens, and paper again to a good friend of mine, who must have only half read the Skype messages, because back came a stream of words and images about how amazing Google Sketchup is. And I have no doubt that it is, as are all the other similar drawing and 3D computer based applications out there. The ability to construct simple shapes, and have them fully and automatically dimensioned is amazing. I’ve lost count of how many hours I’ve lost having to manually stencil instructions. Even the simplest of things is that much easier and efficient with modern systems.
And then you move onto the things that couldn’t be done with pen and paper — the generation of 3D models, not just in wireframe but in full photo render form. And being able to generate animations, and exploded view videos is mind-blowing. These new tools not only time save and minimise errors, but they also make the impossible possible.
But my desire to draw again is not about the quickest and most efficient route to a perfect end result, but is all about using my hands to create something from nothing with just my hands. For me this is a very manual activity, one where I can practice my manual drawing skills to imagine something manually that I can be proud of. It’s about applying a craft that I’ve practiced over the years to create something by hand, and feel a sense of achievement that I can do that.
Now… if I wanted to design products in a professional environment, I’d be availing myself of the latest CAD and 3D design tools available, frankly because they’re a hell of a lot easier to work with, and offer a level of productivity and functionality that a drawing board and a piece of paper cannot hope to provide. You can do more, and do it quicker.
And I have no issue with trainees learning and using said computer systems exclusively either. Do they need to know about the finer points of isometric projection? Are they a better engineer if they have a solid understanding of the chemistry of an ozalid blueprint machine? Of course not. Nor does their design and engineering skills come down to their knowledge of software, or even the ability to draw a vacuum forming machine with a pencil and t-square either.
When I reflect upon the conversation with my friend, the parallels with DJing (and any other industry transformed by technology for that matter) were crystal clear. Being able to draw with pencil and paper does not make me a real engineer, nor does putting anyone in front of the most expensive CAD and 3D workstation that auto dimensions and renders 3D make them fake engineers either. These are mere tools, and an engineer’s skills come from practical experience and knowledge of their chosen speciality.
More than anything, this epiphany demonstrates to me that there are two things at play here, and they can be in conflict with each other, and that’s the process driven vs results driven dilemma. As a creative type, I love to use my hands, but I appreciate that it’s the long winded way that’s fraught with potential problems. It’s so much easier to throw some lines up on screen and just get it done. But my endeavour is all about using my hands. It’s not efficient, and might go wrong, but that’s not the point.
Here’s the thing though — nobody can sit down in front of a drawing board or a computer screen and create things without first having a solid grounding in mechanical and production engineering. They need to understand about using materials, and what can and can’t be achieved with production processes. They can’t just press a button and out the other end comes a finished working product — it needs a skilled experienced person to do that. But those skills are nothing to do with using a pen or a mouse.
Summing up, I say this — absolutely use all the tools available to you, because you can do so much more with them than previously thought possible. But just remember that sometimes, it’s more fun and fulfilling to do it by hand.