Michael’s Sketch of Villa Capra (Villa Rotunda.) Vicenza, Italy.

John Ruskin had once said, “To draw the Leaf, is to know the Forest.” For generations this has been the practice of architects on their sojourns throughout Europe and the world; sketchbook in hand, recording buildings, details and landscapes- recording life.

“Trees in a Lane, perhaps at Ambleside,” 1847. John Ruskin (1819 – 1900). Pencil, black and brown ink, and ink wash, 17 5/8 x 22 5/8 inches. Ruskin Foundation (Ruskin Library, Lancaster University)

Regretfully, this practice has been relinquished over time to the camera, and now onto the even more convenient mobile phone. One can race through cities, villages and fields snapping shots without ever losing step. We can even share it with our friends instantly, or immediately post it on our wall- our modern day documentary of our exciting lives. But do we see what we are shooting? I mean, do we really see?

“Mountain Rock and Alpine Rose,” 1844 (or 1849). John Ruskin (1819 – 1900). Pencil, ink, chalk, watercolor and gouache, 11 3/4 x 16 1/4 inches. Ruskin Foundation (Ruskin Library, Lancaster University)

Although, I carry a sketchbook when I travel, I’m all too guilty of relying on my camera as I race about my day. Now, with digital photography, one doesn’t even have to stop to frame the perfect artistic shot. We can shoot thousands of pictures intending to edit to the one that captured the image we were seeking. Upon our return, these pictures are often quickly stored on a computer or server for future retrieval when needed for precedent.

A quick study before a light rain shower drove me to shelter in Tivoli, Italy.

Michael sketching at Drayton Hall, South Carolina during our office’s 20th anniversary retreat.

So why a sketchbook? Who has the time? I often find that going through these thousands of digital images I’m not only uncertain of the time and place the image was taken, but why I even took the picture to begin with. My sketchbook is different; with my sketchbook I’m not so much documenting an image, but I am actually stopping time. When I sketch, I absorb the moment; not only the detail, but the way the light strikes the object, the texture of the object, the coolness of its shadow. I feel the space about the object, the sound, the smell, the hum of life, the silence. Often, a quick watercolor was done with water from the canal at my feet, or a street fountain that quenched my thirst, or sometimes it’s actually the coffee that woke me up. Technique and artistry isn’t the point. The point is the sketch- it’s the moment.

The Grand Canal by Author. Venice, Italy.

Heliocaminus Baths, a precursor to the Pantheon, at Hadrian’s Villa by Author.

Then, when the sketchbook goes back on the shelf, among the other sketchbooks of my life, I am left with the places. They are now a part my experience; it is now a part of who I am. I no longer have to get out my sketchbook to remember, they can be recalled at any time or be revealed in my work at any moment.

Temple of Karnak, Egypt. 2015.

A west Texas landscape and cloud shadow study by the author.

A volcanic flow in Papua new Guinea.

A side street in Guatemala.

So although my camera is a vital instrument, I always carry my sketchbook while traveling. That way, I can always really know where I’ve been.