Here be Dragons: On the Value of Incompleteness in Drawing

Layered transformations: interventions + site dialogue. The drawing functions as a site of exploration and invention. Image: Melissa Andrea Cortes, The Ritual of Contemplation: Shifting Landscapes (Gainesville: University of Florida, 2014), 7:05. Spring 2014 Masters Research Project. Faculty chair: Martin Gundersen; Co-chair: Bradley Walters.

Layered transformations: interventions + site dialogue. The drawing functions as a site of exploration and invention. Image: Melissa Andrea Cortes, The Ritual of Contemplation: Shifting Landscapes (Gainesville: University of Florida, 2014), 7:05. Spring 2014 Masters Research Project. Faculty chair: Martin Gundersen; Co-chair: Bradley Walters.

As a warning to unwary seafarers, the Lenox Globe (ca. 1503-07) included the following cautionary inscription on the eastern coast of Asia: “HC SVNT DRACONES” (hic sunt dracones). The Latin phrase offers an ominous warning, translated directly as “here be dragons” (1, 2). For some, this alludes to the presence of mythological figures lurking unseen, just beneath the surface of dark and/or turbulent waters. But for others, it is a reminder of the unknown and/or unknowable, of territories that frighten us and send us in search of familiar waters and safe harbors.

The architectural design process requires students to move from the known into unknown regions, places where they lose contact with the familiar. In the search for meaning, form, and space, students are asked to speculate in open-ended ways, where one idea and formal operation can lead to new, unanticipated possibilities. It is a method of design inquiry which values incompleteness in drawing. Multiple readings and re-reading of the graphic constructions allow for alternative paths of inquiry and exploration. The work itself also has an opportunity to come alive, providing valuable feedback to students and design professionals. As suggested by author Andre Debus III,

“I began to learn characters will come alive if you back the fuck off. It was exciting, and even a little terrifying. If you allow them to do what they’re going to do, think and feel what they’re going to think and feel, things start to happen on their own. It’s a beautiful and exciting alchemy. And all these years later, that’s the thrill I write to get: to feel things start to happen on their own.” (3)

This paper will begin with historical ideas embedded within gestalt theory, and the manners in which these self-organizing tendencies encroach on and at times limit architectural speculations. It will then explore design strategies that explore “incomplete” non-representational drawing and model strategies for the mapping of natural and urban sites. Watercolor, pencil, charcoal, and digital tools are used in the drawing studies; the model work includes large-dimensional lumber, wire, turnbuckles, string, paper, and plexiglass. These graphic palimpsests seek to bring together diverse and at times contradictory information to allow the students to develop a better understanding of complex relationships on existing sites.

Speculative perspectival drawings are similarly used not to represent an absent/imagined/deferred future reality, but rather to probe spatial relationships and to suggest possibilities that are re-interpreted through subsequent iterations. It relies on an openness within the work, as described by Michael Graves:

“There was an insistence, by the act of drawing, that the composition would stay open, that the speculation would stay ‘wet’ in the sense of a painting. Our plan was without scale and we could as easily have been drawing a domestic building as a portion of a city. It was the act of drawing that allowed us to speculate.” (4)

In contrast to those drawings that seek to provide conclusive and complete representations of complete ideas, this work exists as fragmentary and incomplete first-order presentations, challenging students and faculty to read the spaces between the marks, and to use those spaces as opportunities and sites for continued study.

This paper was presented at the 2014 Bi-Annual Conference of the Design Communication Association. It was subsequently published as:

Walters, Bradley. 2014. “Here be Dragons: On the Value of Incompleteness in Drawing.” In  Design & Graphic Palimpsest: [Dialogue-Discourse-Discussion]: Proceedings of the 2014 Conference of the Design Communication Association, edited by M. Saleh Uddin and Christopher Welty, 233-238. Marietta, Georgia: Southern Polytechnic State University. ISBN 978-1-4951-2763-2.

Notes:

  1. Robinson Meyer, “No Old Maps Actually Say ‘Here be Dragons:’ But an Ancient Globe Does,” The Atlantic Monthly, 12 December 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/12/no-old-maps-actually-say-here-be-dragons/282267/, accessed: 17 April 2014.
  2. Erin C Blake,“Where Be ‘Here be Dragons’?” MapHist, April 1999, http://www.maphist.nl/extra/herebedragons.html, accessed: 17 April 2014.
  3. Andre Debus III and Joe Fassler, “The Case for Writing a Story Before Knowing How it Ends,” The Atlantic, 8 October 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/10/the-case-for-writing-a-story-before-knowing-how-it-ends/280387/, accessed: 8 December 2013.
  4. Michael Graves, “Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing,” The New York Times, 1 September 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/opinion/sunday/architecture-and-the-lost-art-of-drawing.html, accessed: 1 September 2012.

 

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