In Milan, Savannah College of Art and Design Students Disprove the So-Called “Death of Drawing”

“Kids these days.” The phrase summarizes Michael Graves‘s lamentations published in the New York Times last September on the so-called “death of drawing” at the hand of CAD and parametrics. Fearing the digital age’s toll on the creative process, he asked whether “our hands becoming obsolete as creative tools” as they’re “being replaced by machines.”

During Milan’s mammoth Salone del Mobile, we found the answer is no — in Savannah at least, where handscraftsmanship in design is still alive and well. The Savannah College of Art and Design showed eight pieces of handmade furniture last week at SaloneSatellite, the young, up-and-coming portion of the world’s largest furniture show (they were the only American school invited to attend). The emphasis on craft shouldn’t cast a Luddite air on the students’ work, however: “We’re trying to learn how to use digital technology and hand skills to create some kind of balance,” senior furniture design student Jerri Hobody told ARTINFO.

The SCAD booth at SaloneSatellite

This balance was evident in her crocheted stool, a leather cushion resting on four hand-sculpted walnut legs. Although her final draft was designed on a computer (Graves approves: “The definitive drawing, the final and most developed… is almost universally produced on the computer nowadays, and that is appropriate,” he wrote), the first several iterations were by hand, and the pièce de résistance of crocheted alpaca wool had not a stitch of computer assistance.  “The concept is centered around using natural materials and taking the most basic unit of something, and amplifying it so that the whole is greater than its parts,” Hobody explained. She crocheted two miles of yarn into a basic chain and crocheted the resulting chain into another and then another, compounding the material until it was the density of a rope. As of now, there’s no machine capable of performing the same function.

Drawing serves as more than a step in the production process; Graves describes it as an expressive medium between fellow designers.

“Years ago I was sitting in a rather boring faculty meeting at Princeton. To pass the time, I pulled out my pad to start drawing a plan, probably of some building I was designing. An equally bored colleague was watching me, amused. I came to a point of indecision and passed the pad to him. He added a few lines and passed it back. The game was on. Back and forth we went, drawing five lines each, then four and so on. While we didn’t speak, we were engaged in a dialogue over this plan and we understood each other perfectly… We had a genuine love for making this drawing.”

Funny enough, Hobody had a similar story to share about French design students she had once been paired with for a Wanted Design project during last year’s New York Design Week.

“We had to collaborate with these students to design and fabricate a light,” she recalled. “There were these language barriers — I speak a little bit of French, but not enough to talk about design. It was good though, because we just sketched to talk. We put a piece of paper between us. I had a pencil and they had a pencil, and we would sketch on each others’ sketches. ‘I like this, I disagree with that.’ It grew us as designers.”

As it turns, “kids these days” aren’t so out of touch.

— Janelle Zara