Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Map displayed on back of airplane seat. SF-Newark-Lisboa-Barcelona. 2013.
Everyone has their zone, their area of happiness. When you are in this zone you are at peace with yourself, and the unpleasant or difficult things in your life have temporarily been put on hold. There is no prescriptive list of zones, and no limited number of zones each person can have. It’s almost as though you have no control over this area - your zone chooses you, and this place of peace can keep you going in times of trouble. I heard the artist Jim Dine state in a lecture that drawing saved his life. It can be that extreme.
Santa Maria Novella, Firenze, Italia. Alberti, 1456-1570. Drawn summer 1985. Alone and unlimited time to sketch.

It is possible to sometimes forget about one our magical zones, and it is not until we find ourselves in that forgotten zone that we are shocked into that ‘ah-hah moment’ - yes, I feel as good as I can possible feel at this moment. It is always a pleasure to be in one of our zones, and equally pleasurable to discover a new zone. It is part of what shapes us and defines us.

I have several zones of peace and comfort - swimming, cycling, cooking, drawing. Traveling is also one of my zones. I love to travel. I will travel anywhere and have traveled far. Beginning many years ago with a red backpack and a Eurail pass, I saw a certain part of the world. I had unlimited time but little money. Moving from backpack to duffle bag, rail pass to 125cc motorcycle, but still more time than money, I saw another part of the world. As time became more limited and money a bit more plentiful, traveling changed from camping and hostels to hotels and sailboats (and camping), from eating bread and cheese to hot meals in restaurants (and cooking over an open fire). The type of travel changed over time, but the joy of travel remained. 
Map showing international date line. Drawn sitting on a beach in Baja, California, summer 2012. Pondering where to travel next. Pilot razor point felt pen, pencil, water color.
So why do we travel? To learn, to see, and to understand. To get lost, to escape, and to experience. There are a million reasons to travel, and reasons change, as does the type of travel we do.

A significant change occurred when I became an architect, when I learned to draw. When I travel, I draw. I draw maps, buildings, streetscapes, anything I see that I find interesting or evocative. My sketchbook is my companion, my documentation, my method of understanding. I am a true believer in the idea that drawing teaches us to see. “In the process of recreating with our own hand what lies before our eyes, we seem naturally to evolve from observing beauty in a loose way to possessing a deep understanding of its constituent parts and hence more secure memories of it.”  (“The Art of Travel” by Alain de Botton).

Paris rooftops from hotel room while on the Branner Fellowship, 1986-87. Rotring pen, wash.
London pub near the British Museum. Waiting for a friend. Rotring pen.
While sketching in a café on my last trip, a Dutch man struck up a conversation with me, and asked how many sketchbooks I had. I had never considered this question, and responded that I probably had a few dozen sketchbooks. When I returned home to California I counted 78 sketchbooks in my library. When I open any of these books I remember the details around each drawing - the precise location, the time of day, the weather. If I was alone and taking my time drawing, or drawing quickly, as I did not want to keep a companion waiting in the rain, the cold, the heat, while I sketched. Kindly, my husband frequently points out a café and tells me he’ll be waiting there until I’m done. My children are fantastically patient while I draw. Loosing myself in thought (or non-thought) while drawing causes time to freeze, frequently resulting in companions wandering off, and the subsequent search for each other in an impossibly crowded museum or in an expansive garden. 

Cordoba, Spain, 2013. Quick sketch of courtyard and interior of the Mezquita.

Chateau Le Windsor, Plorec, Bretagne, France. Nick-named 'Chateau No-where'. Worth the drive to find this remote hotel. A very cold pool.
Everyone can draw. Some people draw naturally, but most people need to learn to draw. And the only way to learn to draw is to draw - to be patient, and just draw. Drawing reinforces place, shape, relationships  - how a tree branch attaches to a trunk, how the tree trunk connects to the earth. The same may be said of a building – how does a building connect to the earth, its roof to the sky? When you draw you see differently, and memories of places and objects become indelibly etched in your mind.
Unite d'Habitation, Berlin. Block building by Le Corbusier. 1956-1959.  Drawn on a very cold winter day. 1987. The first Corbu Unite building I'd seen.

Sant Pere de Rodes Monesterio, near Cadeques, Espana. Benedictine Monastery founded 945. In use until 1793. Drawn with 4-color Bic pen, November, 2013. Cold, windy, and raining.

Drawing is a universal language, one that has not changed since Galileo’s drawings examining the relationship of art and science, all the way back to the Lascaux cave drawings. It is a universal language of communication with others, but it is also a communication with ourselves. Drawing is a skill I think all good architects should have, and many do. Years ago when I decided to become an architect I was told by more than a few people that I couldn’t be an architect because I couldn’t draw. And so I learned how to draw.
Dubrovnik, former Yugoslavia. 1986. Drawn with a soft pencil. Continually approached by ganja sellers while sketching.

Split, former Yugoslavia. 1986. Waiting for midnight ferry to Italy. Alone with lots of time.

Globe rescued from junk day pick-up in Portola Valley, 1998. Drawn in Tahoe, 2014. Pilot razor point pen, purple pencil.

Sketching in Cadaques, Espana. 2013. Cold, windy, but not raining.