Tim McNeil's Sketchbook

For 20 minutes (my self-imposed timeframe), sketching focuses my attention.


Tim McNeil
University of California Davis Department of Design and UC Davis Design Museum

Spontaneous, rapid, gestural, impressionistic, fluid, preparatory, observational, documentary: these are just some of the words that describe why sketching for me is both a design tool and a form of personal expression.

I typically sketch when I’m travelling. It serves as a memory log of the places I’ve been. Sketching indirectly influences my design work, enhancing my visual acuity and growing my mental reference library. Sketching allows me to synthesize what I observe and do away with the clutter and superfluous elements. It allows me to be self-selective, alter reality, leave some parts unfinished and draw attention to specific details.

There is a distinction for me between sketches that further a design concept/idea and the ones I render in my sketchbooks. The sketchbook becomes an “object” and the double-page spread creates a tantalizing panoramic format where slices of reality become windows into the past. The sketches and side notes form a collection of short stories. Turning the pages, I can remember exactly where I was sitting and what I was feeling when I made the sketch.

For 20 minutes (my self-imposed timeframe), sketching focuses my attention. I’m oblivious to anything other than what I’m trying to capture. I find it therapeutic and incredibly rewarding—it’s an obsession. I read recently that an obsession is something we don’t necessarily do well but aspire to do better (Gopnik, 2014). That’s how I feel about my sketching.

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