Whatever Chuck draws, the result is neat, clear, and interesting. His techniques are equally so, as a close examination reveals. The drawings are usually executed first in pencil, and then finished in ink. I hesitate to say "traced," because the ink lines follow rather than exactly overlay the light pencil ones. Sometimes, after the ink has dried, he erases the pencil lines. These are techniques I learned in mechanical drawing courses in high school and in college as an engineering student, and seeing them used by a master brings back fond memories of those days at the drafting board.
A letter from Chuck is hard to miss in the mail, for the envelope is always addressed with either elaborate calligraphic flourishes or fancy and whimsical artwork. He does not consider himself an artist, and so when he draws cartoons of people or animals he often traces them from some source, such as a magazine. He also employs a lot of color on his envelopes, as he does on the drawings inside them. He typically uses either colored pencils or watercolors; something that was commonly done in nineteenth-century engineering drawings, making the best of them truly works of art.
I often wonder whether the postman sorting our mail stops for a moment to enjoy Chuck's entertaining envelopes. They may be but small packages among the plethora of slick and heavy mail-order catalogues that clog our mailboxes nowadays, but they always carry the distinct mark of being hand-addressed and hand-drawn -- hand-designed -- and that alone makes them something to admire among all the computer-generated and personalized impersonal material. I know that I stop to admire a Chuck Siple envelope before I open it, and I open it carefully so that I can preserve it along with its always interesting contents.
With the near-ubiquitous adoption of computer graphics, a meticulous draftsman like Chuck Siple may be a thing of the past, but to me his eye for detail keeps him as perceptive a critic of design as he ever was. Though he has the hands of a draftsman, he has the mind of an engineer. Computer-generated drawings may be the new standard, but I doubt that any graphics program will ever become an engineer's pen pal.
Nice article, Professor Petroski. I, too, was a paperboy. It was the early 1960s. I remember delivering the paper announcing Kennedy has been shot. I'd get to my pile of papers at about 4:30 a.m. and fold each one before filling my canvas sack. If you folded them tight enough, they stayed together when they landed on the front porches or sidewalks. I'll never forget the fold. It didn't work for the Sunday papers, though.
Reading this article, I have a clear picture in my mind of what these envelopes must look like. It makes me long for the days when I would go to the store and buy a new box of pretty, crisp stationary. I'm sure "pen pals" still exist, but not by snail mail. "sigh."
Drafting talents like Chuck's are hard to come by today. When I started out as an engineer, the company I worked for had a very talented, non-degreed engineer/draftsman named Franz who drew beautiful oblique views of bridges of all types. The drawings were so good that I've kept some for more than 30 years. His work was actually inspiring because he took what was a science (to the rest of us, at least) and turned it into an art.
This waxing sentimental brings back so many memories – Architectural Rendering in High School; 3-point perspective drawing; My first job as a Detailer in a Tool&Die shop in 1978;remembering to always slowly twist the pencil between your thumb & finger to avoid generating a flat (caused inconsistent line widths!) Descriptive Geometry & Spatial Relationships.Each of these things was a specific blend of talents in Art & Technology.Thanks for the memories; so much of this is a lost art that so few ever heard of, let alone could ever appreciate!
At present, I am not sure if board drafting is still being taught in schools which is actually kind of sad. However, I have shown my kids the finer points of drafting. I pulled an old drawing board from a dumpster of a closing company and set up my own drafting station in my work shop. I do full engineering style drawings of any wood project that I work on. I also do my best to introduce my kids to the 1/8" dashes seperated by 1/16" space to mark a hidden line. They look at me like I am crazy, but I still enjoy it.
Like everyone else, i have always admired Petroski for his design genius but his language skills in explaining the engineering thoughts are also commendable. As Wittgenstein said that the limits of one's language the limits of the world, it is important to have language skills to express and explain the engineering view. Every time i read Petroski i am motivated by his language skills. I know this comment may not be related to the topic , but still i felt like paying tributes to his writing skills.
In high school we had basic and advanced mechanical drawing, and even architectural drawing and rendering.In those days, one worked very hard just to qualify to enter the Illinois Institute of Technology drafting competition.To win any kind of an award would be an honor, indeed!
With the emphasis on using CAD to produce drawings, we are losing the hand-eye-brain interconnection; a way to get the "feel" of an object, and to have one's mind sense the object's shape, construction, and texture.In the same way, learning cursive writing refined that very same hand-eye-brain interconnection, aiding not only clear writing, but clear thinking.
I am not a Luddite who might say down with CAD, texting, or word processing.I understand the utility of, and use these systems, but I do see this as a further erosion of the "humanness" of communication.
I believe that learning to sketch and to write clearly, prepares one's mind to understand the observer's world before trying to improve it.I further believe that learning these skills should remain in the engineering curriculum.
I was never very good at drafting. I remember taking a class in high school and I always smudged my drawings. I actually don't remember if we had a mechanical drawing class in college. Don't think so since I was a EE major. On my first job, we had a whole area of about 20 draftsman. Like one of the commenters said below, these were all non-degreed guys who probably migrated to the field after WWII or Korea via trade schools. I admire the skill and I enjoyed Henry's column. I usually lament the passing of older technologies -- I'm still a big vacuum tube fan -- but in the case of drawing I don't see that much has been lost by the shift from pencil to CAD.
CAD is a tool for a draughtsman. If you don't know how to properly use CAD, the result is garbage, not a drawing. One basic that is not understood is that a CAD drawing is drawn full size, but is scaled to fit the paper it will be printed on. The first job that I had using AutoCAD Release 9 (I learned on Release 10), had drawings done by a hacker - every mistake that we had been taught to not do, was in that drawing. I learned manual drafting, so I appreciate the accuracy and features of CAD. One of the finer points of manual drafting was knowing how to do a true size projection.
Excellent point, vimulkumarp, and I'm glad somebody said it. I've read "To Engineer Is Human" twice and have quoted it on this website more than once. Professor Petroski has a rare quality among university professors these days -- he's a master of communication who can speak equally well to experts and to the man on the street.
I started as a designer and then an engineer on the drafting board. I wasn't a good draftsman, so I embraced CAD with a passion. Even with a template I could rarely letter well. For me the thing I miss is the art, and it truly is an art, of a sophistacated cutaway drawing. Road & Track magazine had at least two illustrators of superb skill. I loved the details. I have always been a 3D guy, thinking and visuallizing my projects well. However I was always jealous of the skill of being able to draw those cutaways! Our CAD machines and programs will produce a perfect sectional drawing but it is not the same. The summit of the old school cutaways I have seen is the cutaway of the Rolls Royce Crecy piston engine. I don't believe the draftsman even signed it, but he should have it was a thing of beauty. It is appropriate that it was the best cutaway I know of as the Crecy was pretty much the pinnacle of piston engine design circa 1945. The jet engines replace those big aircraft piston engines, but are not as technically interesting, to me at least. The CAD era produces more technically correct drawings, but they will never be as interesting as the hand inked cutaways. Bill J
I'm the same, ChasChas. I could draw a plan view or elevation reasonably well, but was incapable of doing an oblique view of even the simplest objects. After awhile, my employers understood this and tended to put me in front of a computer, where I could do less damage.
Both my parents are Electro mechanical tech's with Vocational high school degrees. Both of them are capable of drawing better than the paid drafters in our company. They tried and tried to teach me how to draw. It never clicked. I can draw stick people, my circles look like ellipses, and lets just say that I prefer hyperbolic geometry since I cannot draw straight lines. I am grateful that drafting is not required any more. That would have been a road block for me. I enjoy looking at the work but it's a dying art. Soon enough the only place to hold any hand drafted plans will be museums.
I took drafting in college. I was never very good, but there are skills there that are necessary to have in your career, and I see it as a critical step to communicating. I'm an EE, but I've often been responsible for the "whole box". Being able to draw (even incompetently) allows you to better "see" things yourself, and communicate them across job boundaries.
Just as children must learn math BEFORE they start using calculators, Engineers should learn to draw and communicate effectively. After all, Engineering is both creation and communication; what's that if not ART?
Reminds me of a good Engineering book: A Canticle for Leibowitz
is all an engineer needs. Drawing and drafting in college is generally last grasp to resist change from older engineers that feel cheated that they had to go through the pains of learning how to draw and the younger generation does not. Same thing happened with calculators and now and it's happening again with the internet.
I guess you are also glad you never had to learn how to use a slide rule - that was my first 'calculator', and the batteries never died at a critical time. The operator had to know where to put the decimal point. And the first electronic calculators (red LED's) were 'slide-rule calculators', before the time of digital calculators.
CAD helps a draughtsman draw better. But if you don't know how to draw by hand, you can't draw in CAD. I had CAD-CAM operators complain that they couldn't create a certain profile in CAD. But they also couldn't explain what they were trying to do. After sketching from their description, usually by the 3rd revision I had deciphered what they wanted to do. Then I could explain the steps to re-create the profile in CAD.
But then I also feel sorry for the cashiers that have to rely on the cash register to calculate change. If they punch in too quickly and it says $0.18 change, they have no idea that the 7 cents I am offering is to make up to a quarter (25 cents). (I expect you just use your debit card.)
The most important tool for any Engineer, is a brain that works. That is what actually makes your tools, whichever are your favorites, useful.
Angry much? Fyi i know how to use a slide ruler, i am a collector of slide rulers too. I also know how to add even though i use a debit card. I have a degree in math as well. Also because i have a degree in math and my extensive knowledge in analysis and geometry i have a perfect understanding of 3D. I am also working on a masters in computer science. Now stop being cranky because the world can survive without your skills. And a friendly advice. When you get that hot shot young boss (you will at some point in your career) dont talk to him with this attitude.
Yes, I have had several hotshot young bosses - what upsets them most is when I show them up. It is okay to disagree with your boss, UNLESS it turns out your boss is wrong, and you are right. I have fixed machines that engineers and technicians with several years more education, several years more experience, and several years more seniority couldn't fix. But now I am being immodest.
Sure, the world could survive without my skills. Are you suggesting that the world could not survive without you ? One day, many years from now, you will look back on this and wonder why it seemed so important at the time.
I have found that getting angry and tense doesn't help, so now I just try to find the humor in watching young hotshots flail and founder. And if they do eventually ask for my help, I do try to help them.
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