amreading Art

Drawing with Adam Savage

Chapter 6 from Adam Savage’s new book Every Tool’s a Hammer ripped me in by the necktie.

I knew Adam would talk about screws and cardboard. I knew there would be tips on organizing your workspace. But an entire chapter on how drawing will transform your critical thinking?

I’m in.

First Adam reminds us, despite all of the planning technologies that exist, a piece of paper and pencil are still formidable planning tools:

Today, the maker space is not lacking in planning tools. There are software and mobile apps and various mechanical apparatus, and they all work the way they’re designed, but none of them seem to do what a simple pencil and piece of paper can. Because unlike those other methods, drawing out your idea shares the physical, tactile character of the building and making it is meant to precede and facilitate. Drawing is your brain transferring your idea, your knowledge, your intentions, from the electrical storm cloud at its center, through the synapses and nerve endings, through the pencil in your hand, through your fingers, until it is captured in the permanence of the page, in physical space. It is, I have come to appreciate, a fundamental act of creation.

Then fellow maker savant Gever Tulley provides a solution to the timeless excuse I can’t draw:

“The pushback I often get is, ‘I don’t know how to draw,’ and my response is ‘Well, how about you go home and spend the summer drawing every day and then we’ll talk about it in the fall when you show me your notebook,” Gever said, rightfully indignant. “Because we know that practice can move your mark making over to something more precise and controllable.”

Adam explains how drawing works as a translation tool:

From a planning perspective-whether it’s for current or future projects-I look at drawing as a translation tool from my brain to the physical world, where I have frequently found words wanting in the explanation of complex objects and operations, which, of course, is the entire purpose of every plan ever made. What is a plan if it isn’t helping you understand what you’re building and how you’re supposed to build it?

Adam also uses drawing to topple creative blocks:

I frequently use drawing as a tool or a technique to break through that dam. Drawing always gives me a new vantage point on the project and allows me to see the thing I’m building with enough distance to identify the next step more clearly. In that regard it’s almost immaterial what I draw. I might draw some reference pictures for a collaborator to understand what I need from their contribution, or to see where their contribution fits in the wider picture. I might draw some mechanical subassemblies that are kicking my ass. I might re-draw the item I’m making for fun, just to stay inside the construction in my head. I might draw a case for an object, or a case I’d like to build for it when it’s done. Sometimes the exercise of thinking about what might contain the thing I’m working on can help me define better what it is I’m actually building and help illuminate what has me stuck. It’s all information. A conversation between my brain and my hands.

And shares his drawing inspirations:

I draw inspiration from the drawings of others. I never tire of poring over the drawings and graphic novels of Moebius, for instance. I get a lot out of looking at Ridley Scott’s storyboards (he’s a wonderful draftsman). Since I was a kid I loved all those old drawings from the mid-century issues of Popular Mechanics. Something about their clean lines and multidimensionality and the way the artists kept all the pieces separate yet constantly oriented to each other, spoke directly to how my brain looks at ideas.

Remember young ones:

You don’t have to be great with a pencil for this to work. Like I’ve said, I’ve never considered myself particularly good at drawing. For the longest time it never felt like the line did what I wanted it to do, yet I continued to draw. One, because it continued to be useful, and two, because it clearly helped me get better at communicating my ideas more precisely.

Enough reading about drawing. Grab a stack of paper and draw.