Dec. 30, 2020

Per Manus

“Per Manus”

The words ‘per manus’ are Latin for ‘by hand’. This describes the process I use in creating designs and the documents used for implementation of the design: I draw all my designs by hand. This doesn’t mean I’m a Luddite or a technophobe. Too the contrary, I use digital tools all day long. But the actual process of design is, for me, enhanced and furthered by the coordination between pen, eye, and brain. Hand drawn plans are more expressive, evocative, and have a sense of intimacy that are absent from the mechanical and impersonal computer aided design (CAD) drawings.

Among the many classes I delivered while an academic, I taught both CAD and hand graphics courses. The old adage that “to a carpenter whose only tool is a hammer, all problems look like a nail” was often evident in the academic studios. Too often students’ design and creative endeavors were ‘short-circuited’ when they worked solely on the computer. But students who started a project with hand graphics would often produce better designs that they then finished on the computer. I suppose the same ‘carpenter – hammer - nail’ argument could be made against drawing only by hand except, in my experience, better designs are produced per manus.

I find that the process of scaling everything in a hand drawing engages me more closely with the site and the design intervention I’m proposing. When I draw by hand I develop a sense of Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” that was never present when I drew in CAD.

I am reminded of Shelby Foote’s quote about writing his masterpiece history of the Civil War when he said:
"I don't want anything to do with anything mechanical between me and the paper, including a typewriter, and I don't even want a fountain pen between me and the paper. I use an old-fashioned dip pen like you used to see in post offices. It makes me take my time, and I feel comfortable doing it, whereas the clatter of a typewriter or to turn the drum backward to make a correction, all that's a kind of interruption I can't stand. And I'm a slow writer: five, six hundred words is a good day. That's the reason it took me 20 years to write those million and a half words of the Civil War."

While I make no claims of comparison between my work in garden design and Foote’s masterful prose, I can identify with his sense of not wanting anything –such as a computer - between me and the paper.  

“Per manus” also evokes for me the sense of creating something bespoke, hand-crafted with skill and care. Craftsmanship is altogether something too rare in our modern world. Drawing by hand is my gentle pushback against speed, haste, technology, and rush. That said, my one concession to CAD-like work is my use of a sketching software program on my IPad, but even there I use an Apple Pencil to interact with the screen!