Why I Love The Pencil

Chris Schwarz over at Lost Art Press contacted me back in February to see if I would be interested in doing a hand drawing in a late 19th / early 20th century style for a limited-edition poster to commemorate the 5th anniversary of his excellent book, The Anarchist Tool Chest. I was more than happy to agree to the assignment not only because I consider the book to be a classic, (Schwarz has been a leader in not only creating a hand tool renaissance among woodworkers but creating a whole new philosophy in the way we look at furniture and the process of creating it) but I was also excited to do a drawing entirely in pencil., something I hadn’t done for quite a while.

Except for the occasional quick sketch, it’s rare I don’t do a drawing now on anything except the computer. After digging out my good pencils and tools and some good vellum from storage, (the new stuff is made for plotters not pencils and gives horrible results when you try to erase something), I made a test drafting just to refresh my pencil skills as well as brush up on my hand lettering technique.

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As I began to layout the drawing I suddenly began to realize both the differences and advantages of hand drafting over CAD:

1 – There are no in-your-face interruptions such as email, instant messaging, software update notices, news alerts, etc.

The process of creating a working drawing has been hi-jacked by software. There is this fallacy, particularly among those who don’t draw, that the computer is doing the bulk of the work. This is patently false. The computer is just a fancy pencil. It can give the veneer of respectability to a drawing if you don’t know what you are looking at, but the document is worthless if the operator does not understand the basics of creating a working drawing. Also, the process of creating a construction drawing happens to a great extent in your head, not in the computer. A lot of the work on the screen is preceded by a good deal of mental gymnastics, which is why set designers hate to be interrupted. Stop us in process and it will take 10 to 15 minutes to return to the zone where the true work gets done.

When you are drawing with a pencil you are in a completely different mental space that requires you to constantly visualize the object in your mind. This not only makes you work in a much deeper state of concentration but forces you to think many more steps ahead in the process of breaking the object down into what needs to be drawn to communicate its complexities.

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2 – You have to think differently about the drawing.

The draftsperson is no longer spending brain power on software or hardware concerns. There is also the endless-zoom mentality where the operator does not have a realistic idea of the scale of the elements. The ability to zoom it 10,000 percent on a document is what leads to prints in which the dimensions and notes are virtually unreadable unless you’re using a magnifying glass. There is also an economy in a hand drawing that is absent from a CAD drawing. You only show what is important for that sheet.

Also a line is what you say it is. With CAD and 3D modeling there is this expectation of perfect scalability throughout the model. That may be a good thing if you are designing a high-rise where there are dozens of other engineers and companies involved but for set design it adds a layer of unnecessary work.

Where you were once chastised for drawing too many brick details on a facade, I’ll regularly get a digital model where every fastener is completely detailed with threads. This is why during the pre computer days it was considered that a good working rate for a draftsperson was a sheet a day, while the rate for most modern computerized Art Departments is calculated at 3 to 7 days per sheet. We used to fear that the computer would make things so much more efficient that less people would be needed. Just the opposite happened. Where a typical feature film used to have 4 to 10 Set Designers, on bigger shows now, there will  be as many as 30.

Proof for final offset prints. photo by Chris Schwarz

Proof for final offset prints. photo by Chris Schwarz

Detail of nice crisp detail of the poster by Steamwhistle Press. Photo by Chris Schwarz

Detail of nice crisp detail of the poster by Steamwhistle Letterpress. Photo by Chris Schwarz

The print is being offset printed by Steamwhistle Letterpress in Newport, KY. Only 1000 of the prints will be made and copies will be available on the Lost Art Press website.

Here is a video Chris made at the shop while the first prints were coming off the Vandercooke press.

 

Letterpress Print Run from Christopher Schwarz on Vimeo.

 

 

The Original Pre-Viz Tool – A DIY Lens Angle Calculator

 

Some of my collection of traditional studio lens angle templates. The ones on the left are for long lenses while the ones on the right are wide-angle lens. The third from the left is a zoom lens template.

Some of my collection of traditional studio lens angle templates. The ones on the left are for long lenses while the ones on the right are wide-angle lens. The third from the left is a zoom lens template.

 

 

Pre-vis Before Previs

Before the term “Pre-visualization” ever existed, there was the lens angle template. These were a staple of any Hollywood studio Art Department and were used when laying out a set to determine camera angles, backing sizes needed, rear projection screens and planning back-projected set illustrations for the producer and director to approve sets long before there were 3D computer programs.

There was a time when a basic knowledge of optics and lenses was considered mandatory and was necessary not only because the Art Director would design the sets to be shot in a specific way but this information was needed when designing effects shots such as forced perspective sets, glass shots and the like.

Todd AO template

A template for a 100mm to 300mm zoom lens in the Todd AO format. Todd AO was an early 70mm film format with an aspect ratio of 2.20.

The templates were for a single lens, usually a prime lens, and were made using 1/8″ or 1/4″ thick plexiglas. The projection lines were scratched or engraved into the acrylic, sometimes by a Set Designer but other times they were made by the studio sign shop. Some of my examples are obviously done with a hand held engraving tool while others have been done with a lettering template and have inked letters.

Todd AO lens template

Each template had two sets of projection lines, one set for the horizontal plane (for use with a plan view) and another for the vertical plane, for use with scale room elevations. Most are made for use with 1/4″ scale drawings but they are accurate for any orthographic drawing because the angle is unaffected by the scale. Most will have markings to note the distances from the lens entrance pupil in 1/4″ scale.

angle of view

The “Quick View”

By the 1990’s, there were so many different formats and lens combinations most of us in the Art Department in Hollywood carried thick manila envelopes of acetates of the various focal lengths, but I always seemed to be missing one that I needed and I found some were inaccurate from being cloned so many times. In 1998 I designed a device that had all the available formats and prime lenses  so you could just dial up the one you needed. I redesigned it in 2008 to include the digital formats but sold out of them a year ago.

I stopped having them made since they were expensive but hated to see them become obsolete since they are still so useful. For a director, they are the perfect way to see if a shot is possible at a location or see the limitations of a particular lens on a set when you can’t rely on wild walls.

Making A Quick View

Yours won’t be on Lexan like the originals were but will be sturdy enough plus cheap enough to replace if it’s damaged or lost. Download the files below and take them to your nearest copy center and have both the dial and the nomen printed on clear acetate. They don’t have to be printed at exactly 100% but they should be at the same scale to each other. Then you just line up the center marks and use a compass point or push pin to pierce the centers, creating a pivot point in place of the brass rivet as in the photo above.

The diagrams from the original instruction manual will explain how to use them. You’ll note that I’ve added a feature that wasn’t on the originals, a protractor which will tell you the angle of a selected lens.

Quick View II User Manual_2

Quick View II User Manual_3

QuickViewII_nomen

QuickViewII_dial

The Digital Bookshelf – Furniture Mouldings

“There is a tendency among those accustomed to the large-scale of moulding detail on exterior work in wood or stone to make their mouldings on furniture and interior woodwork too large. The full-size furniture moulding so carefully drawn by Mr. Warne should be of the utmost service not only to furniture designers but to students of architecture and interior decoration.”

plate 21_warne

 

plate 4_warne

 

“This book covers many different types of English furniture; bedsteads, bookcases, bureaus, cabinets, chests, cupboards, chairs and others. This book illustrates cover this book covers molding details on English furniture from about 1574 to 1820 molding is the method adopted by the cabinetmaker to give definition to the lines of his work and the sections of molded detail very very much as one style has succeeded another through the oak, walnut, mahogany and satinwood periods of English furniture the workings of moldings was then so laborious that the craftsman use them with greater restraint and obtained more pleasing effects by their use than is frequently the case today when profusion often eliminates interest.”

H. P. Shapland, 1923

 

E.j. Warne’s book, Furniture Mouldings, is still one of the best resources on 16th to 19th century British furniture. Almost never out of print, copies can be had for as little as $1.

Until you get a print copy, you can download a digital scan of the book below. Scanned from an ex library copy, there are a number of damaged pages but you can get a good idea of the scope of the book.

FurnitureMoulding_EJWarne_1923

 

– R.D. Wilkins

 

The Digital Bookshelf – Free Download

The Classical Orders by R. ChithamYou never know what you’re going to find among the digital reference sites of available scanned books. Usually the only free books available are ones that have been long out of print but sometimes you run across one that is current and for some reason being offered as a free download. My latest find is The Classical Orders Of Architecture by Robert Chitham which I think is the best manual available on designing and using the orders.

I found this book over 25 years ago and it went out of print. Chitham wrote an updated edition in 2005 which includes a 96-part module as well as the traditional 100-part system that makes computing the proportions much easier if you’re working in feet and inches.

This book basically replaced Robert Gibb’s Rules For Drawing which had been the standard classical manual for over 200 years.

Ionic Capital and Entablature

The proportions are easy to understand and there is an excellent section on the use of the orders as well as a very good glossary of classical architecture terms.

If you only have one book on classical architecture for design purposes, this should be it.

You can find the pdf for download here.

–  R.D.Wilkins

The Measuring Tool At The End Of Your Arm

I like photographing architectural details. But they’re only really useful if I have a scale in the photo. Measurements written down in a journal somewhere are bound to get separated or lost and the photo won’t do me much good if I want to replicate the detail. I rarely carry a tape measure with me all the time and usually carry a small paper ruler in my wallet, but that often gets lost of left behind.

When those times occur where I need a scale in the photo, i just use my hand. It’s handy because it’s always with me, I know how big it is and I can always refer to it later when I’m scaling the photo. It’s my built-in story-stick.hand photos_1

The hand has been a measuring device for thousands of years and is still used as a measure of the height of  horses in the U.S. and UK. The hand’s width was standardized at 4 inches by Henry VIII in the 16th century, the hand’s breadth, (just across the 4 fingers) at 3 inches, making the average finger width 3/4″.

hand measurements_1

The first joint or distal phalanx makes a handy scale for small details as well.

finger photos_2

And don’t forget your shoe makes a good scale object too.

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So what do you do with these? How do you translate these into working documents? Next time I’ll explain the basics of scaling from photos using dividers.

But in the mean time, this video by writer and woodworking instructor Jim Tolpin and animator Andrea Love gives a great intro into designing with hand and body proportions.

 

 

For more on proportional design, get Jim and George Walker‘s book, By Hand & Eye from Lost Art Press. George also writes a great blog on design you can find here.

And if you want some hands-on help, Jim will be teaching a class based on By Hand & Eye at the Port Townsend School Of Woodworking on March 21-22.

-Randall Wilkins

Google Earth Pro Price Drops From $400 To $0

Google announced last Friday that they were going to start offering their Pro version of Google Earth at no cost. The Pro version was meant mainly for developer, architects, contractors and real estate agencies who need both more advance measuring tools than the basic version offered plus higher resolution printouts.

 

 

Here is a table showing the differences between the two versions.

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The Superdome is 66.82 Smoots In Diameter

Unlike with the free version the Pro version allows you to measure diameters, heights and 3D paths and polygons.

Google Earth Pro 2 Google Earth Pro

 

How Accurate Is It?

I decided I’d test the measuring tools on something small to test the accuracy. I zoomed over to Colonial Williamsburg Courthouse which I built the model of years ago based on HABS surveys. The footprint measured out to be accurate within 99% and the height to within 98% accuracy. That’s pretty amazing.

williamsburg courthouse

 

You can download the model here and check the results for yourself.

10 Design Reference Books You Should Have On Your Shelf

 

design book montage_1

I think I’ve already made it clear that you just can’t have too many books, especially ones on design and architecture. But it’s also a real pain dragging a lot of them around with you from job to job and it becomes a bigger job to keep track of them once they’re out of your house. So, I try to only take books to my current workplace that I either don’t have a digital version of or just really need to have close at hand.

If I had to limit myself to just 10 books, these would be the books I’d take to start a job.

Here is my must-have list with sources:

1. Architectural Graphic Standards – 5th Edition – This was when the books were filled with great hand drawings and actually showed you in detail how things were built. Lots of period details as well. Out of print for over 50 years (at least in this edition) you can still find copies for anywhere from $20 to $200. The 3rd edition would be a suitable replacement. the first edition is also good to have and has been reprinted several times. Check Abebooks for copies. Not available digitally.

If you are in Great Britain, McKays is the closest equivalent, and is actually superior in a number of ways from our standpoint as set designers. On the Continent, an older copy of Neufert’s is a must. See this earlier post for details. Not available digitally.

In Germany, the best book on period construction I’ve found is Konstruction Und Form Im Bauen, by Friedrich Hess. There are lots of very nice drawings and measured details. Long out of print but you can still find copies second-hand. In Sweden, an excellent book on traditional construction is Stora Boken Om Byggnadsvård, by Göran Gudmundsson. This is a current book and still in print. Neither are available digitally.

2. Time-Saver Standards for Interior Design and Space Planning, 2nd Edition. This is the design complement to Architectural Graphic Standards and covers nearly every situation regarding building interiors. You can find used copies for around $75. There is a digital version available but it’s not only difficult to navigate because of the size of the book but at the price you’d be better off getting a hardback edition.

3. Styles Of Ornament – Alexander Speltz.  Originally published in 1904, this book uses over 4000 drawings to illustrate 6000 years of historical design. As a general design reference I don’t think it has an equal. Architecture, furniture, text, carving, metalwork are all covered. A must-have. (Handbook Of Ornament by Franz Meyer would be a close second.) Available from a number of publishers for as little as $10. A digital version is available.

Low Budget Option- download the online PDF here.

4. The Stair Builder’s Handbook – T.W. Love – Not a design book per se, but a book of rise and run tables that make stair layout a breeze. Available from Contractor Resource for about $18.

Low Budget Option – download the PDF Common Sense Stairbuilding and Hand-railing. Skip the mind bending section on handrail layout and skip to page 99. Also, Stair building, which has a nice section on ornamental ironwork.

Also, In April a new book will be out called  Simply Stairs – The Definitive Handbook for Stair Builders, by Mark Milner, published by Whittles Publishing in London for £25. Pre-release information on the book makes it look very promising.

5. Backstage Handbook – Paul Carter. Originally a technical manual for theatrical designers, the book is full of great information for film work as well. There are more details in this earlier post from several years ago. Available from Broadway Press for about $22. No digital version is available.

6. American Cinematographers Manual – The new 10th edition will cost you about $80 in hardback and almost the same in it’s digital version through the iTunes and Android sites. There’s a free pdf of the 7th edition here, but much of the latest technology isn’t in it. This is the go-to book for all things dealing with cameras and image capture. A lot of people will tell you you don’t need this. I’m sure you could also have a great career as a car designer without knowing anything about how cars work. Because when it comes down to it, all we’re really doing is designing big, pretty things to bounce light off of. Just remember, if the department names were based on physics we’d be the Light Reflector Design Department.

7. Building Construction Illustrated – Francis Ching. An excellent and thorough book about construction details including wood framing systems as well as masonry. About $30. No digital version is available.

Low Budget Option – access the online PDF here.

8. The Classical Orders of Architecture – Robert Chitham. I think this is the best modern book around that deals with the classical architecture proportional system. This book was out of print for quite a while and fortunately is back in print. The new edition deals with the proportions for both metric and Imperial systems. Used copies can be found for about $45.

Low Budget Option – Get the PDF American Vignola by William Ware and The Five Orders by Vignola. Also, download the very nice PDFs on classical architecture from the The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.

9. Illustrated Cabinetmaking – Bill Hylton. I covered this book in an earlier post. If you want or need to know basic furniture design and how furniture goes together this is the book you’ll want to refer to. It’s been referred to as the Grey’s Anatomy of furniture building. Full of exploded drawings of many kinds of pieces. Available from Fox Chapel Publishing for $24.95.

10. By Hand & Eye – George R. Walker & Jim Tolpin. Just because this is number 10 on the list doesn’t mean it’s the least important. In fact if you’re just starting out in set design this is the first one I’d tell you to buy. Most bad designs are caused by bad proportions. This book will give you a solid understanding of proportion and keep you from making simple mistakes. You can download a sample chapter here. Also, I wrote a longer post on the book earlier. Walker and Tolpin are promising a workbook that will come out later this year based on the book’s concepts so look for that. Available from Lost Art Press for $38, hardbound.

Low Budget Option – Cut back on the Starbucks for a couple days and buy a digital version for $18. The mental stimulation might be just as good as the caffeine and it’ll be a lot healthier too.

So what have I missed? There are other books I could list these are the best. What’s on your shelf? What books would you say are ‘Must Haves’?

Share your titles with the rest of us. Let me know the important titles I’ve missed here, I’m sure there are a lot. As an incentive, everyone who posts book suggestions goes into a drawing at the end of the week for a free digital version of By Hand & Eye.

C’mon, give us your list.