There I was staring at some drapes pinned to the wall, with a giant clipboard on my lap, some sticks of charcoal, an intimidatingly big piece of paper, thinking, “how the hell am I supposed to do this?”
It was the “Summer Workshop” at my college, a sort of extended freshmen orientation / May-Mester type of studio, in the summer, before freshmen year.
One of our first assignments was to draw drapes with charcoals on an 18×24 sheet of paper, and I felt like I was completely thrown into the pool. Before getting to architecture school, I always told myself I couldn’t draw. I was used to pencils and paper though, I filled out enough worksheets in grade school to destroy all faith in the public school system. Drawing with THAT would have been less intimidating, but instead I had sticks of charcoal (not pencils) and the “piece” of paper that was four times bigger than my comfort zone. I was freaking out.
We had until the next day to finish it. Before going to dinner, I went outside and called my parents. I was like “I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into, I can’t do this, and even if I make it past this, there’s no way I will make it through five years of this, I should just change majors to Business Administration!!!” My mom and dad calmed me down, and reminded me that “all you can do is your best” (my parents are awesome.) So I got back inside and kept at it.
We got the assignment at about 2:00pm and it wasn’t until 10:00pm when it finally started looking like something. The problem was that I was working on one quadrant of the drawing before moving onto the next, so it sill looked like smudges on paper instead of drapes. The key was to fill out the whole frame by putting a light even tone everywhere. Then suddenly it looked like flat drapes with part of it bunched up where I had been working. BOOM. Then I just had to fill in darker shadows to show the ripples in the drapes and it began to resemble the real drapes on the wall.
But why am I telling you this?
The first lesson I learned was: when in doubt, just do something.
It was better to have an even fill over the whole page, than to have untouched paper. With the tone filled in there, I could darken things it to make it look more accurate. But with nothing, I had nothing to work with.
This lesson is one I have to relearn form time to time. But it is a critical one. I finished up my big charcoal drawing by midnight (which I thought was SUPER late, but little did I know…) and walked back to my dorm room completely amazed at myself that had done something that I thought I would never be able to do…and it looked damn good if I do say so myself (well, above average at least.)
Since I never thought I was able to draw, the whole first year of architecture school was challenging, but also really rewarding, because I was breaking down the barriers that I had set up for myself. Ultimately, my experience in architecture this whole time has been largely about challenging myself to do the things that scared me. Overcoming those fears is really liberating and worth all the effort. And now I look back and feel silly that I built up something as simple as drawing to be something worth being intimidated over.
This is the point where I should tell you where I have the big drawing hanging up somewhere, but there was one more lesson I learned from that exercise: Nothing you do is precious.
I got home from the orientation class for a week or two before the real semester started, and somewhere in the shuffle, I actually lost that drawing. I had all the other drawings and models I did in those three weeks except that first one which I was the most proud of. All I have this this terrible picture I took with my flip phone on the floor of my dorm room. But funny enough, I’m not even salty about it at all. Because like I have said before, nothing you do in school is precious. None of it is as important as what you learned from doing it. The biggest benefit of that drawing is how it changed my own limiting beliefs about what I am capable of, not how good it would have looked hanging on my wall. So with one simple charcoal drawing, right out of the gate, I really learned a lot, or I at least planted the seed, for important lessons I would figure out later.
A lot of students entering architecture worry if they have to be good at drawing, or math, or public speaking, or whatever. But actually that thing that scares them the most isn’t worth avoiding, instead they should run head first at it, and conquer their fear. It makes the journey a much more liberating EXPERIENCE. And it’s the experience that’s worth the most, not the models or drawings you take home at the end of the semester.
Note: This is a post in a group series called #ArchiTalks in which Bob Borson of Life of an Architect gives a group of us architects a theme or a set of questions and we all post our response… this month’s theme: Work / Life to read how the others had to say please click the links below…
Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
My First Project: The Best Project Ever Designed That Wasn’t
Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
My “First Project”
Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
My First Project – Again
Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
first project first process
Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
Our First Architecture Project [#ArchiTalks]
Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: My first project
Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
The First One — A Tale of Two Projects
Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
Why every project is my “First”
Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
The Early Years of My Architecture Career – My Role
brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
I Hate Decks
Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
[first] project [worst] crit
Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
My First Project – The First Solar Decathlon #Architalks
Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
Daniel Beck – The Architect’s Checklist (@archchecklist)
Fake it ’til you make it
Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
Anthony Richardson – That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent)
my first project
Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Top ten tips when faced with a challenging Architectural project
Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Samantha Raburn – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
6 Major Differences between my 1st School Project & my 1st Real Project
Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
My First Project – The Contemporary Cottage
Nisha Kandiah – TCDS (@SKRIBBLES_INC)
The Question of Beginning