David Harvey's Sketchbook

Sketching is always my first impulse, writing a distant second.


David Harvey

American Museum of Natural History, New York

Sketching is always my first impulse, writing a distant second. Sketching is a means of thinking visually—on the page—and thoughts are generated as I watch a sketch unfold. The first mark is defining, raising many new opportunities for making the next mark, and new possibilities materialize while others fall by the wayside. The drawing process is a conversation between my imagination and the page, mediated by my hand, and that dialogue challenges me to respond.

Earlier in my experience, the act of thinking in both plan and elevation challenged me to visualize objects and spaces—exhibition furniture, moldings and gallery configurations—in three dimensions. Thinking through the processes of construction, mentally rotating the anatomy of a 3D object and simultaneously considering alternatives was exhilarating. Materials, fasteners, joinery and finishes all come into play; each offers options.

So for me, sketching can be exhilarating, defining, challenging or just pleasantly escapist. It illustrates the act of building something in the imagination, and it evolves visually thinking through one’s own physical act of expression. Ultimately sketching creates a material object: a freestanding, expressive work or a clear proof of concept.

My concept sketches, quick and gestural (such as the one shown here for AMNH’s Spitzer Hall of Human Origins), are done to communicate suggestively with others. They are usually throw-away scraps of trace. Concepts will change, but as early impressions they intuitively inform the final outcome.

Postcard series

America’s first postcards were issued around the same time that the American Museum of Natural history was founded. Within the constraints of a 4” x 6” postcard format, I reconcile the mysteries I often imagine—around corners and down passageways, in old halls, and behind dioramas—with the reality of what it means to influence, and in turn be influenced by, such a venerable museum. 

David Harvey portrait: D.Finnin/American Museum of Natural History 

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