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Michael Graves and Hand Drawing


I have always been a big fan of Michael Graves (b. 1934) who is an American architect and designer of universal products.  I had the opportunity to attend a lecture he gave in 1986 outlining his design theories which included the extensive use of color on the exterior of buildings.

imagesToday his greatest fame is with his universal designs for domestic household items sold at retail stores.  It is exciting for me find that he agrees with my theory that hand drawing is an important aspect of the creative design process. Above is a freehand sketch of the south facade of the Denver Central Library that he designed.

In The New York Times, Sunday Review, The Opinion Pages, September 1, 2012  Michael Graves weighs in on the importance of hand drawing  called Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing.  Check out this quote in the middle of his article:  “Architecture cannot divorce itself from drawing, no matter how impressive the technology gets. Drawings are not just end products: they are part of the thought process of architectural design. Drawings express the interaction of our minds, eyes and hands. This last statement is absolutely crucial to the difference between those who draw to conceptualize architecture and those who use the computer.

Of course, in some sense drawing can’t be dead: there is a vast market for the original work of respected architects. I have had several one-man shows in galleries and museums in New York and elsewhere, and my drawings can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper-Hewitt.

But can the value of drawings be simply that of a collector’s artifact or a pretty picture? No. I have a real purpose in making each drawing, either to remember something or to study something. Each one is part of a process and not an end in itself. I’m personally fascinated not just by what architects choose to draw but also by what they choose not to draw.”

images-1Read more of this article where he identifies three types of architectural drawings, the”Referential Sketch”, the “Preparatory Study” and the “Definitive Drawing”. The image on the left is his design of the St. Coletta School in Washington D.C. Check out his product and architecture design on his website Michael Graves & Associates .


  1. Marianne Kelly says:

    I agree that the computer will not eliminate hand drawing. Including Architecture and Design field. Hand drawing puts a connection between the designer and the work. It is part of the process, even if you’re just drawing small pieces of the whole.

  2. Sharon Glover says:

    I enjoyed this article. I particularly like the statement about ‘hand drawing being a part of the thought process of design’. Drawing by hand helps me to think about the scale of the elements that I am drawing and their proportion to one another. I have to figure out how to bring the image to life on a flat piece of paper. I would like to master CAD for the time and precision benefits that it offers when needed, however, I believe that hand drawing is fundamental. It’s also the most flexible, even in today’s i-pad society!

  3. Guelmary Mendez says:

    A very good article. My favorite hand drawing from the slideshow was Domus Augustana, 1961. Hand drawings are the original and unique expression of the artist.

    • drawinghand says:

      Totally with you about hand drawings being original and unique expressions. We each bring our own “flavor” and “style” to our hand drawings. Prof. Stephanie

  4. Lindsay Duttera says:

    I really enjoyed this article, especially after in class you pointed out conceptualizing and drawing took one part of the brain while conceptualizing and going straight to the computer takes another side of the brain. I love Michael Graves, what a successful career to range from architecture to retail products and to excel in them both. I imagine a lot of hand drawing is done on scraps of paper while grabbing coffee or waiting in a dentist office, etc.

    • drawinghand says:

      Glad you enjoyed Michael Graves article and his view point on hand drawing in the beginning stages of design. I agree that ideas can pop into your head at odd times and getting them down on paper is important. Prof. Stephanie

  5. Eder Mendez says:

    I love your blog. I’m an architect from Peru.
    I am teaching architecture’s drawing on computer and sketches by hand.
    And I always recommend to my students to practice whenever they can.
    A few years ago, the university had stopped teaching freehand drawing and when I entered teaching, My surprise came when I have noticed the deficiency in design.
    The creative process is interrupted by the use of standard tools that are unable to facilitate the transfer of ideas to the project.

    • drawinghand says:

      Hello Eder, Fabulous to get your note. I am interested to hear your experience with hand drawing. I would appreciate quoting your words if you would allow me to do so.
      I am pleased that you are enjoying my blog. I am passionate about the importance of hand drawing in communicating and expressing ourselves. I love to be teaching and promoting this skill.
      My best you – with appreciation – Stephanie

  6. Claudia Wright says:

    We mentioned before the interesting connection between the hand (drawing or writing) and the brain and “priming the pump” getting the creative process going. I appreciate the metaphor of the doors as another step into the creative journey, moving from the mundane into the spiritual world. Which I guess is what separates art from copying (which a machine can do as well or better). Similar journeys apparently take place throughout the disciplines – I remember when I was in college my physics professor referred to Physics and Philosophy, a great book which describes the inevitable leap into deep understanding and the movement into the metaphysical world when studying the physical world. Can this creative process be accomplished by a computer? I guess we will soon find out.

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