by Paul Keck

“Oh, it’s just a sketch.”

You hear that pretty often, especially at a design school. It’s easy to dismiss the sketch, messy and informal as it usually is. It only takes a few seconds, minutes maybe, to rough one in. You show it to someone else, they frown, point out something that’s missing, you take a second look, maybe you argue or ask for clarification, then it’s tossed to the side. That quick, that simple. 

Or maybe not. What’s happening when you sketch? Aren’t you committing some of yourself to that idea, to communicating this thing that’s trapped in your head, floating in the air between you and someone else? A timely sketch (not necessarily a ‘well-done’ sketch) can resolve an argument, save hours of work and frustration, and serve as a teaching tool.

Lately, I’ve been turning to sketching more in conversation as I’ve noticed just how often I, and others, can get lost waving our hands about in the air, trying to describe some abstract, complex idea. It’s amazing how a few shapes on paper, hardly what would qualify as a sketch even, can get a conversation back on track. 

It’s this role as intermediary that I find interesting. A step away from blank nothing, towards some fixed “something.” When you extend that thought forwards, doesn’t everything qualify as a sketch, something unfinished to be improved upon? When we work on anything, aren’t we treating previous efforts as we would a sketch, something to be learned from, and ultimately improved upon? Doesn’t that describe who we are now, as merely a step towards some “other” in a hopefully better future?

Images are from a recently self-initiated weekly sketching assignment by John ShinNate Jiang and Paul Keck.