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  • Writer's pictureSteph Sells

Balancing Paper and Screen



To put pen to paper is magical. Or charcoal, colored pencil, and other forms of media. No two motions are alike, nor are they meant to be. Hand rendering is dynamic and complex, which is why it is the spirit of Landscape Architecture. So why has this beloved art form been abandoned in recent years? In short- we are in the midst of a societal transformation. The digital age is at our fingertips and we are seeing new technologies emerge from the shadows.


It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a….. drone? This is one device that is shaping the way we take inventory. It flies through trees and ascends to new heights, capturing high-resolution photographs of natural and built elements. Along the same lines, Virtual Reality (VR) has begun to prove itself as a valuable tool for visualization. It uses modeling programs such as SketchUp and Lumion to turn 2D linework into live 3D objects- walls, buildings, pavers, plants, and so on- as a unique way to build spatial awareness. Other prominent software that is being used in our field includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Rhino, and CAD. The list goes on.


So where did we go wrong? A digital world appears to be great. It allows us to quickly gain information and communicate our ideas. The problem is that we have become tunnel visioned and blinded by its beauty. We are passionate about landscapes, yet most of our day is spent indoors in front of a computer. Do you see the irony? This begs the question, how can we balance paper and screen? Well, one answer may be to channel our inner child: get outdoors and use sketching to understand the “feeling” of place, its context, and the emotions that it evokes. This newfound knowledge can then be compared with the data that technology provides. We must also weave sketching into the conceptual phases of design to reveal the ephemeral qualities we wish to invite: the swaying of fountain grass, the rustling of birches, the fluttering of a butterfly. I find that hybrid drawings are a nice middle ground that offer both accuracy and character. So must we expand our graphic toolkit and get creative? Are traditional practices meant to live on?


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