INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr IMAGES courtesy of the participants
VISI chats to architect Lorenzo Nassimbeni about his LINEWORK drawing workshops, and the concept behind these collaborative and inspiring sessions that bring artists and creatives from different sectors together in creation.
Tell us about your history with art?
In my university training and formal practice as an architect, I have always sought to include artistic layers in any creative process. Whilst studying in Venice and then working in Johannesburg, I would spend countless hours making sketches of urban spaces. It was then that I realised I had a real calling for visual art.
After a good few years of working as an architect, I branched into the world of surface design by creating a collection of textiles and wallpapers. For this, I drew upon my archive of sketches recorded during my meanderings through various cities. This exploration led to a new chapter in my career where I painted large scale murals for interior spaces. Here I translated the language of line drawing from the scale of a sketchbook to the scale of a large wall as the ‘canvas’.
Another stint of living and working in Johannesburg saw my portfolio develop to include public artworks in the form of painted, tiled and concrete relief murals in interior and exterior spaces. I am currently developing this further to extend more formally into the architectural realm of practice – where architecture, landscape and art .intersect. Throughout my artistic journey, the discipline of drawing has remained a constant, and a medium through which I study spaces, create ideas and translate concepts into reality.
What inspired LINEWORK?
With drawing as a centrepiece to my practice, I was inspired to create a drawing workshop to share my passion for drawing, and teach people about the link between drawing and conceptualisation. The workshop aims to engage with architects, interior designers, landscape architects, urban designers, graphic designers, artists and other practitioners in the creative field. I have been teaching drawing and architectural design for many years at university level and through private mentorship, and I thought to expand this in my private capacity as an educator. It had always been an idea of mine to do this, I just needed the right avenue and time for it to occur. The advent of the first lockdown in 2020 brought with it an intensification of online education, and thus a wonderful channel through which I could reach people far and wide.
I realised that with the birth of the digital age that many students and professionals in the creative industry no longer draw by hand in their practice, and that there was an opportunity to revive this practice for them. Particularly in professional practice, designers are enveloped by computer drawing software and have lost touch with the visceral and conceptual interface of drawing by hand. Some participants in the workshop to date have commented that they had not drawn by hand in many years, and expressed how wonderful it was to reignite their passion for drawing.
Another great inspiration was to use the workshop as a form of research for the investigation of certain artistic, architectural and design concepts that I follow in my practice. Through the discussion which occurs around the work in the workshop, my process is enriched. I learn a lot from the process and am therefore able to teach others from a body of knowledge that grows with each workshop.
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What is the process behind creating the drawings in the workshop?
The drawings created by the workshop participants are guided by a brief designed specifically around a particular conceptual theme. Each brief consists of between one and three drawing exercises which relate to one another and culminate in a clear set of drawings and models. Typically the briefs look at the relationship between architecture, a particular aspect of design, and space. For example, we have done workshops about the relationship between architecture and music relative to the notion of space. Often participants are briefed to bring printouts of images of cities, buildings and landscapes which inspire them and represent their ethos as a designer or artists.
Through a process of guidance, the participants are given a space to freely express themselves and interpret the brief, whilst being encouraged to work intuitively. There is a big emphasis on ‘not thinking’ whilst drawing, and letting the process of drawing unfold. Rather than a ‘top down’ approach to a drawing methodology, where one has an idea and then looks to place it on paper, the workshop process sees participants creating drawings in an experimental and exploratory way, discovering concepts which emerge from the page as the drawing emerges. It often occurs that a participant is amazed at what ideas come out from the set of drawings, without having had a particular intention for this to occur.
Essentially, we look to extract the artistic sensibility of all the participants. It is my experience that the ‘inner artist’ (particularly of architects) has become rather hindered by the process of rational design in professional practice. The notion behind the workshop is to unleash dormant creativity through the process of exploratory drawing.
How does the workshop run?
In the project of LINEWORK, I work with my associate Azraa Gabru, a talented architect based in Johannesburg. Azraa engages with the overall design of the workshop both graphically and conceptually and is instrumental in maintaining the overall structure of the project. Her experience in architectural research brings great value to the workshop, especially when engaging with the work produced by the participants.
The workshop is conducted online on a visual communication platform. It starts with an introduction to the theme of the day and then moves on to an explanation of the general principles behind LINEWORK as a project. Thereafter a lecture is given wherein examples of artworks and pieces of architecture/design/art are shown, to illustrate the key themes which the workshop will explore on the day. Once this is complete, the brief is explained, and the principles and methods of each exercise are thoroughly communicated. Thereafter, it’s draw, draw, draw!
As the participants draw, Azraa and I engage with the participants by asking a bit about where they are from, and what kind of practice they are involved in. The facilitators also interact with the participants by asking about how they are interpreting the drawings, and what sort of inspirational printed material they might have brought to the workshop. At the end of each exercise, the participants take photographs of their drawings and models and post them onto a WhatsApp group. The drawings and artworks are then collated and filed, and shown on the screen as an exhibition. The exhibition inspires discussion around the work and participants share ideas and thoughts around the brief, the drawings/models, and the themes of the workshop. At the end of the workshop, a final round-up discussion is held, reflecting on the work produced.
What are the best elements of the workshop?
The best element I would say is that the workshop offers the opportunity for people to be inspired, to learn, create, and share. The workshop is a space for people to express their creativity and explore concepts and ideas related to their professional/academic discipline in a free and joyful way. The idea is for one to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon or weeknight making art and expanding one’s range of drawing ability and conceptual thought. After a tough week in the office, there is the chance to delve into an imaginary yet conceptually rigorous world of drawing and art production. At the end of the workshop, one might have made twenty drawings and a model. It is a very productive environment.
Another positive that stands out is the fact that, due to the online platform, creative practitioners from related fields come together from all over the world. From first-year students to experienced professional practitioners, to academics, there is an opportunity for people to share knowledge and inspire one another through the creation and exhibition of their artwork.
What are some examples of themes?
Some interesting themes to date have been:
- Architecture and Typography: an Exploration Through Drawing
- Architectural Still Life Drawing
- The Virtual Garden: Plants and Architectural Space
- Exploring Venice Through Drawing
- Textiles Through the Architectural Eye
- Architecture and Pattern: a Creative Exploration
Future themes include :
- Drawing Interior Perspectives Through the Artistic Eye
- Architecture, Interior Design and Colour Theory
- Urban Landscapes: a Drawing Exploration
- Architecture and the Natural Environment
- Exploring Paris Through Drawing
What materials did participants use?
The drawings are generally made on A2 paper and there is a material list published which is a guide for the participants. The idea is that participants work with materials that they generally already have, and invest if they see fit in other materials on the list which might inform their process. The workshop facilitators encourage participants to use drawing materials and implements that they are not accustomed to using, to open their process up to discoveries. Standard pencils, pens, paintbrushes, inks, charcoal, Conte crayons and other materials are used. Sheets of colourful paper, white paper, colourful paper and printed images are used in the creation of collages and folded sculptures and models. Sometimes unusual materials are used if the theme of the workshop requires it. For example, we have used textiles and plant materials in the creation of drawings before. In general, the participants are encouraged to work freely and loosely and to use these materials in such a way as to achieve this.
Do you have to be a professional to participate?
No. Besides students and professionals, the workshops are open to anyone with an interest in, or a wish to learn about, drawing, architecture, design, art and all things creative.
What happens to the works once a particular workshop is over?
The artworks are digitised and placed in our LINEWORK portfolio. For those who permit us, artworks are presented on our INSTAGRAM profile. We plan to have a digital exhibition, and eventually a physical exhibition of the work. The original physical drawings are kept by the participants and are added to their respective portfolios.
What are the plans for future events like this?
The online workshops are ongoing and occur twice a month. We have plans to conduct in-person workshops at museums, galleries and other design institutions. We are looking at doing customised workshops for design-based companies as well as corporate institutions. We continue to engage with universities and private design institutions in the facilitation of customised workshops suited to existing curricula.