A lesson in drawing

In conversation with Dan Hogman
Discussing the nuances of architectural drawing and sketching, Dan Hogman shows us the ropes on how to construct perspectives and how to perceive construction.

by Mrinalini Ghadiok Published on : Jun 03, 2019

Dan Hogman (DH) believes that a good eye and good hand are essential skills of a good architectural designer; but as an avid architectural and urban sketcher, a sharp eye for material and form and a passion for documentary and space, is what makes his work exceptional. With a focus on ‘capturing the essence’ of the subject, Hogman draws perspectives as Mrinalini Ghadiok (MG) observes his perspective of drawing.

MG: What is your preferred medium of expression – art, architecture or photography?

DH: I think that creating architecture is a goal in itself. Art and photography are just ways to dissect, represent, illustrate architecture. They are representational of the greater goal that is architecture.

MG: As an artist, you sketch the built environment, as an architect you design the built environment. How does one aspect of your work inform the other?

DH: Ideally, they would. Architecture is a form of art, or at least this is how it looks from the outside; but from the inside, we know that architects are becoming more and more building technicians, really… Art is in a way meant to compensate for the lack of art in the architecture that we do. The ultimate goal remains to combine the two. This might be a lifelong search though…

MG: As an avid sketcher as well as a photographer, how does one medium differ from the other? Is there a stark difference in how you perceive architecture with a pen in hand versus through a camera lens?

DH: I remember what Le Corbusier said - “I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster and leaves less room for lies.” This is partially true. Drawing offers a way to selectively illustrate what fits and the way it fits what we want to show. In other words, sketching is an interpretation. Photography, on the other hand, is not. It’s really a true representation of the reality, except some relatively minor input from the photographer.

Dan Hogman Image Credit: Tay Othman / Dan Hogman
While a photo is a direct representation of a subject, a sketch looks deeper into the author’s feeling and state of mind, at that time and place. The process of freehand sketching today is more relevant than ever. It’s not just a way to ‘interpret’ a subject. It’s a way of seeing, observing, understanding the space. - Dan Hogman
MG: Does drawing come naturally to you, or did you have to put yourself through a rigorous training process?

DH: Good drawing comes with training. It’s 90 per cent effort, 10 per cent skill (maybe…). I train myself on a daily basis. I look at the drawings that I did a few years ago and I see the progress I’ve made. I am still only a fraction of my way in…

MG: How do you choose your subjects and frame your compositions?

DH: My subjects have to be visually interesting to me. This is one thing that my photography and illustration have in common – they start from a common, dynamic subject, that I might find inspiring. Sometimes I both photograph and sketch the subject, as a way to better understand what I am looking at. I really don’t have a theory on how to frame the subject – I just need to see some inspiring vanishing lines as a starting point. The rest just follows…

MG: Could you identify the fundamental steps of creating a simple sketch of a building?

DH: One thing that every single good sketch has in common – it has to ‘sit’ correctly. Basically, the correct vanishing lines are key as a start. This is why I pencil out the main lines before inking them. Pencilling the main lines is under 5 per cent of the effort, but a critical step that I never skip. Once this is done correctly, everything falls into place. The rest is just personal style.

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MG: Is there a given framework that you follow religiously or does the process alter with respect to the subject at hand?

DH: We all develop a personal style, routine, process when developing these sketches. The important thing is keeping the process flexible and adjustable to what the subject dictates. That is the only way to learn and evolve.

MG: Why do you never use a sketchbook? Do loose sheets of paper enable a sense of freedom for your sketches?

DH: I think sketchbooks are confining. You are forced to keep sketches in one bind, simply because you did them within the same period. Sometimes you fail, but it’s part of a sketchbook, so you keep it, unless you rip it apart. Loose sheets offer the freedom I need, whether in the studio or in the field.

MG: When sketching in ink, do you attempt to erase mistakes, incorporate them into the drawing or ignore them and continue your process?

DH: I never erase ink. I never try to do the perfect sketch. I make the mistake look as part of the sketch. My sketches are loose, so every line looks like a mistake. It’s part of the process..

Pont de la Tournelle Image Credit: Dan Hogman
MG: Your signature style is pen and ink on Bristol paper – why the refrain from using colour in your works?

DH: I believe there is a level of purity that I can only achieve in black ink. I feel very strongly about this. And when I say ‘ink’ I really mean liquid ink, applied with a steel or gold nib. Fluid ink is inspiring. Cartridge(d) ink is weak, confined. Much like bottled water versus free-flowing water in a stream.

MG: Do you ever feel that your drawings romanticise the subjects at hand? Have you ever finished a work and looked up to realise that your sketch is perhaps more appealing than the subject before you?

DH: I would not say that the sketch is more appealing than the subject. It’s just a personal interpretation of the subject in front of me. This is like saying that a sketch is more appealing than a photo. It might be, to some. To others, it’s just another way of looking at the same subject. I do think that the sketch brings a personal flavour to the representation that a photo or the real subject is sometimes lacking.

MG: Is sketching an iconic building any different from sketching a commonplace site? Is there an unspoken pressure in ‘getting it right’?

DH:It does offer a better interaction on social media. My followers might recognise the subject and might be intrigued in commenting on it; but from what I do, it’s just another subject that made the cut in my selection.

Heidelberg Image Credit: Dan Hogman
MG: When you revisit a subject to sketch it again after years, are your observations any different from when you first drew it?

DH: Yes, definitely. I believe that my style is changing for the better. Better in being more and more particular, less and less accurate. To me, this is gain. The style is evolving; tools are changing. I still need to have a larger body of work to really observe this, but I learn as I go…

MG: How much time do you typically spend on each drawing? Given that they are mostly completed ‘on-site’, does the changing nature of daylight play a determining factor in the final render?

DH: I keep most of my drawings to under one hour. Yes, the light does change, even within one hour. It might not be noticeable unless you are particularly following the light/sun angle. This is why I keep the light as the last thing I want to represent, for consistent angles.

Arc de Triomphe Image Credit: Dan Hogman
MG: Light and shadow seem to play a critical role in bringing the drawing to life. Would you consider this to be the final layer of the sketch or an integrated part addressed as you proceed?

DH: Absolutely. I prefer deep shadows and strong bright surfaces. This adds depth to any subject. I do add strong darks in areas that fit me, mostly for the purpose of stronger contrast or deeper depth. It’s a personal choice that might/might not always reflect the true shadow values in the field. As always, what I look at is a mere ‘interpretation’ of the subject.

MG: What is the relevance of darkness in understanding and subsequently drawing an object?

DH: Darkness has many feelings. I use it as the basic shadow. Many times, if reflects depth. Some other times, it represents cold, distant, foreign. I believe that my work is improved by limitations. Using black, exclusively, forces me to re-use the darkness of ink for various purposes.

MG: Besides drawing realised and realistic forms, do your sketches manifest abstracted visions?

DH: I used to. That was before the social media took off. Nothing of that is public. I still need to re-perfect that field before talking about it….

  • Binghatti Image Credit: Dan Hogman
  • Binghatti Image Credit: Dan Hogman
MG: How does your practice of sketching enable you to articulate your own architectural ideas and proposals onto paper?

DH: It does and it does not… The daily architectural work has little connection with my architectural sketching. I work on large-scale projects, in teams of dozens of professionals. It tends to be quite technical. Besides sketching a quick detail on occasions, I have little use for it. However, my conceptual work and architectural sketch go together perfectly. This is a long-term project. I will go public with it once I am more comfortable with it.

MG: How critical is it to define a scale to your work? What are your go-to tools to determine the same?

DH: If we are talking about the physical size of the drawing and the scale that goes with it, I rely on many items – the scale of the subject and amount of detail I want to represent, tools I want to use and the amount of time I have. Fat ink-nibs fill the page quickly but would not work on a small-scale paper. This is a decision I make on a case by case.

  • A sketch by Dan Hogman Image Credit: Dan Hogman
  • A sketch by Dan Hogman Image Credit: Dan Hogman
MG: In this age of digital media, do you take your sketches to the computer to refine or edit them? How much would you rely on digital media to finalise your work?

DH: I rely very little on digital media. I think that the more we get into digital media, the more we appreciate hand-made pieces. I don’t think I spend more than five minutes per sketch, for a quick touch-up, before publishing it.

MG: Why is it important for you to continue to sketch when digital photography and computer graphics offer a plethora of options to capture the built environment?

DH: I think computer-produced visualisations are cold and more and more distant from human touch. We do accept them and take them for granted, as the way to illustrate our designs. It offers a level of accuracy that we can’t deal without.

MG: Do you think drawing/sketching should be given increased importance in design and architectural study?

DH: Yes, I do. I think drawing and sketching have a double purpose. It’s not just about being able to represent a subject. It’s really about ‘seeing’… You don’t just develop the hand, but really, the eye, through the act of sketching. So yes, this is just as relevant as ever.

Heidelberg Image Credit: Dan Hogman
MG: What are the biggest challenges of sketching by hand?

DH: I think the bottom line is, you need to enjoy what you do. Once you reach that stage, nothing is a challenge, really… Not to say sketching is easy, but you start seeing challenges as a provocation, as an incentive to try harder and do more. Sometimes you fail, sometimes you do well; it’s a part of the process.

MG: Besides creating drawings on paper, you also undertake larger projects and private commissions such as from wall murals. How does the approach differ from smaller scale drawings to larger expanses?

DH: I occasionally receive commissions to decorate larger space and use the wall as the medium. The only downside – you can’t fail. Everything is immediately public. There is a certain amount of pressure that comes with it, but I see it as an incentive to do well.

MG: You use social media actively to share your work and processes with the public. When exhibiting in a formal environment, do you prefer print or digital media?

DH: I think that electronic format is only suitable when paper is not accessible, such as social media. When there is a choice, paper always wins. This is true for my portfolio, job interviews or any presentation I need to make. I think print offers a more personal dialogue with the audience. It is true to the original medium of the work as well.

It’s a mattter of preference

MG: Dan Hogman, the artist, architect or photographer?

DH: Architect always comes first. But not in the way defined by the California Architects Board, for instance. The way I see it, art and architecture are one and the same.

MG: Sketching buildings, streetscapes or landscapes?

DH: Buildings.

MG: Drawing historic, contemporary or imaginary buildings?

DH: Historic - probably because they were drawn and designed with the same medium that I use.

MG: Using fine tip pens, fountain pens or pencils?

DH: Fountain pens with free-flowing ink (not cartridges).

MG: Sketching at dawn, midday or dusk?

DH: Midday when indoors – light temperature is more consistent with video capture. When outside, then later in the day, ideally one hour before sunset for lower light angles.

MG: Outreach through Facebook, YouTube, Instagram?

DH: Instagram.

  • A sketch by Dan Hogman Image Credit: Dan Hogman
  • A sketch by Dan Hogman Image Credit: Dan Hogman

(See here for Dan Hogman's sketching trysts with Hong Kong and Los Angeles)

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