ye olde draughting table

In a fit of frustration and maybe a small bit of nostalgia, I installed my old drafting table in my office the other day.  I have for many years devoted all of my drafting time to the computer and that is not likely to change, but sketching and drawing on a regular table surface is out.  Not to mention that I have been saving drawing table parts – maylines, lamps, clamp-on lead pointers, spirolls, etc. – for years and it is time to either us ’em or toss ’em.

Of course the return of the drafting table has meant the return of all the other hand-drawing paraphenalia like lead pointers, electric erasers, eraser shields, triangles and templates, and lead pointers.  I even discovered what only the really old school architects would recognize – a greatly degraded bottle of sepia eradicator.

Before the days of computers, late phase changes to drawings were a difficult and painful series of tasks.  If you were drawing simply pencil on vellum simple erasing did the trick.  But not too much because the paper would soon tire of all this attention and fall apart.  So you often hardlined your projects in ink on mylar, the semi-transparent plastic-like paper.  Tough stuff mylar, but also liable to multiple erasure problems.  Too much time spent with the electric eraser “polished” the mylar, removing its matte surface.  Once gone, the surface was no longer able to properly take ink and that section of the drawing became a ghost image after prints were made.

At some point in the design process, usually after a significant event like a permit set, you sent out the mylars to have sepias made.  And they are as they sound – sepia colored full size reproducible prints.  Sepia ink was fairly easy to erase using the noxious eradicator liquid.  However, a full set of copies of a full drawing set was expensive, many hundreds of dollars, so you had to choose your time wisely.  God forbid you would make a lot of changes to the mylar set of drawings without having a sepia set to be able to retreat to in the case of a client with cold feet.

All of this is to say that along with my new old drafting table, I had to have the little rolling cabinet, the taboret, to store all this stuff.  Eradicator, leads, pointers, even the little round brush that you slide down the Spiroll to clean out the erasing-bits.  These were our tools.  Now these are software.  Our capabilities have increased dramatically and I would hang the soul who tried to take away my SketchUp.  However, the daily satisfaction of making drawings with your hands, of deftly turning a pointer as it slide across the sheet, all these are gone.  Not mere nostalgia I think, as the hand-eye-brain connection was not only the holy trinity of our daily work, but the source of some daily satisfaction as well.

The technologies of our production change with each generation.  The limitations of ink on mylar or watercolor on linen were profound.  But with limitations comes rigor, something I think sadly missing in our current high-speed computer generated production of drawings.  I am not about to venture forth on the pros and cons of computer technologies versus hand drawing.  I frankly don’t care which methods anyone chooses to employ. But with each is a clear choice that in part determines the outcome and greatly effects the user.  That later part, ‘effecting the user’, is what has brought about the re-emergence of ye olde draughting table at my studio.

notebook sketch, Chicago bridges


Chicago has more bridges than any other major city in the United States. Not the large, majestic, Golden Gate type, but the short span, working bridges. This bridge is typically in the raised position and sits as a railroad-only bridge for a rarely used spur west of the Merchandise Mart.

Sketch by Mark Gerwing, 1999

Boston, 1991


Between undergrad at the College of Architecture at the University of Kentucky and grad school at Yale, I spent a couple of years living and working in Boston. I was attracted to the history of the place, a bit put-off by the unrelenting snobbishness.

For a while I lived on the poor side of Beacon Hill and walked down Charles Street and across the Public Garden to work in the Backbay.

This is a quick sketch of the Public Garden from the pond edge – unfinished on a cold day.

Watercolor sketch by Mark Gerwing, 1991.

Chicago, 1999


The finest panorama in all of Chicago I think is from along the immediate north shore looking back to the city. The Hancock Tower looms large and the contrast between the man-made vertical edge of the city and the flatness of the lake is severe. This is a quick sketch done on a warm September day. I moved to Chicago after graduate school and really continued my education there among the bold and sophisticated architecture of Sullivan, Wright, etc. and the vast landscape of strong, confident, anonymous industrial buildings.

Sketch by Mark Gerwing, 1999.