The Lost Art of Handmade

Over the past quarter century a tremendous amount of progress has occurred on the digital frontier.  When adults of my generation were first born, the internet didn't exist--and as Schmidt says with shocking realization regarding a 19-year old girlfriend of his roommate during an episode of The New Girl, "She's not old enough to remember Netspace."

We have produced a digital generation.  I have often thought of coining the phrase "Generation 2.0" to refer to the one directly following the Millenials.  For myriad reasons, the paper world is fleeting and the digital landscape is ever-expanding.  As a result, an unintended consequence of this switch to digital screens and pixels is the erosion of the ability to draw, make things by hand, and appreciate the tangible.  Talk to anyone in the newspaper, magazine, or architecture industry about how things have changed in 25 years.

For architects, the advent of Computer-Aided Drafting rendered the mechanical pencil and ink pen sets irrelevant.  My portfolio which still includes hand renderings is met with such shock and appreciation by many older architects because they have lost touch with the medium.  And now, in a feeble attempt to combat the digitization of everything in our world, Moleskine is attempting to relate to market to Generation 2.0 a new notebook that can easily be translated to the web via Evernote.

Part of the beauty of notebooks, is the tangible quality of pencil or pen on paper.  It requires multiple senses: visually inspecting the area for notes, scribbles, and sketches, feeling the texture of the paper and weight of the notebook in hand, smelling the well worn pages or brand new card stock, hearing fingertips across the page or flipping through items.  Virtually all of these sensations are lost the minute a snapshot is taken and the resultant image is beamed into the ether and we stored in the cloud.

The handmade sketch is something loose and incomplete.   In contrast to glossy, photo-realistic renderings in magazines and in newspaper articles, the handmade sketch allows the viewer to fill in some of the details.  Like anyone who enjoys reading novels as opposed to seeing the movie versions, you create your own setting, look of the character, and fine grained details of the story.  The handmade sketch allows for that, where as the digital screen prevents it.  

I also think it is somewhat telling that in parallel with the last couple of years' exponential increase in e-readers and handheld devices for books, has been the creation of large bound books designed and crafted with great detail.  Perhaps it is the last gasp of a dying art, or perhaps it is the appreciation of the handmade that is still desired by many individuals and can only be satisfied in real life, not a virtual one.  For example this one from eVolo which is a purely on-line magazine but chose to produce a tome of years worth of design competitions.

eVolo Skyscrapers

eVolo Skyscrapers

While I am not just lamenting the lost art of the handmade, I am also trying to inspire the next generation to put down their iPads and reconnect with the pencil and paper.  There is something more permanent about committing line to paper as opposed to cursor to artboard.  Drawing is not an innate talent that some people are born with, it is a skill, using muscles, just like juggling and shooting a basketball.  The people who are better at it are more determined and have had more practice.  And there is no judgement when you are outside shooting hoops in your alley about how you compare to Michael Jordan, it is just you, the hoop, and the ball...making it happen by hand.

Unless of course you are playing NBA 2K3.  Don't even get me started.  And yes, I do appreciate the irony in that I am writing this on a blog and have taken Instagram photos of my hand sketches.  The world is not without its own inherent hypocrisy.