How Magport Made Me Question: Draw by Hand, or Computer?

As a designer, I've been hand drawing furniture for years.  It's a physical, meditative act that can leave you feeling either proud or frustrated, and surprisingly exhausted.  The biggest downside to drawing by hand is that making changes to the drawing is labor intensive.  Even minor changes in dimension, thickness, or proportion require tons of erasing, tracing or redrawing, and lots of time.  I had taken a few years of CAD in high school around the year 2000 and enjoyed it, but at that time we were drawing only in 2D.  SketchUp was brand new but my initial attempts to learn it were frustrating and I gave up quickly.  Several  years later I was accepted to the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts and although I'd done some hand drafted using a T-square and triangles, this is when I began intensive drawing training.  From the very beginning we were taught the tricks and techniques of technical drafting using compasses like how to subdivide lines and how to create regular shapes.  We were tested on how  to draw classical details like scotias, cymas, flutes, reeds, ellipses, pateraes, and cabriole legs with all the different feet.  Not only that but we drew everything in full size from the front, side, and plan views.  Full scale patterns can be generated from these drawings and joinery can be developed as well.  In my drawing training I learned about furniture construction, aesthetics, and history.

Now, 11 years into my career as a furniture and product designer, having been frustrated with the limited illustrations I can provide to clients and potential clients, I am bidding jobs that require a higher level of detail, flexibility, and excitement to compete with design firms here in St. Louis.  I never expected that an idea for a woodworking product I'd been dreaming about would force me to make the switch.  Finally, through the process of developing Magport, a magnetic dust collection fitting used in woodworking, I had no other option than to take the crash-course in digital design I'd been waiting for, but not actively seeking.  My first Magport drawing, as usual, was done by hand.  I figured I would be making the first prototypes by hand and would be able to use these drawings.  But when I realized I could be far more productive using 3D printing, I reached out to a good friend, and carbide tooling designer, to draw the design digitally so that my brother, who had been 3D printing for years already, could print some of the first iterations.  I was blown away at the speed and accuracy of digital drawing and 3D printing and to continue development, I'd email endlessly to my friend and my brother, asking for favor after favor.  The problem became that as new ideas and details developed on Magport I felt I was becoming a burden to my friends and family by asking too much of them.  That's the moment it had become essential that I learn to use SketchUp. 

For years now I've been drawing primarily in SketchUp, making beautiful scale renderings for clients that accurately represent the settings in which these  products will actually appear.  I do, however, feel very fortunate to have years of practice in hand drawing because I believe it helps with problem solving and strategy when drawing digitally.  Not to mention that the act of laying out precise dimensions on wood for joinery or pattern making is nearly the same as drafting on paper.  However, as much as I appreciate these skills, the 3D renderings, the textures, and  the speed and ease of drawing digitally has won me more jobs, no question.

If you are beginning learning drawing by hand, an amazing resource for drawing just about any shape or curve is a book called the The Victorian Cabinet-Maker's Assistant. 


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