Take out a piece of paper and draw a sketch of what you can see. You will notice more than you ever would by taking a photograph.

Sketching could easily fall into two categories in my collection of analogue skills: Remembering Things and Spending Time Alone.

Creating memory

Sketching is the act of creating a memory. That time dedicated to looking back and forth between what you see and what you draw creates something far more indelible than snapping a picture.

The places I have sketched in the last five years I can remember far more vividly than the six thousand photos I’ve taken in the interim. A harbour in Crete, the view of Edale in the Peak District, a sunny spring afternoon in central Bristol picnicking with my daughter.

I believe an added layer of memory comes from having to understand how the scene works before you can sketch it. What is in the foreground and what is behind? How do those two layers intersect? How can I represent that pattern? What volumes is this shape made up of?

Whenever I have had to study for an exam, I have found recall much easier when I can fit information to a model – something around which to hang the different pieces of information. I think this understanding of layers, volumes, light and dark forms a model for our memory. A deeper level of understanding that helps it stick.

You don’t have to do any of this work to take a quick photograph.

Putting you into the memory

The sketch also puts a piece of you into the memory. As Proust describes, how you perceive the world is much more interesting than how it can objectively be described. What you decide to bring out or blot out, include or ignore, enlarge or diminish, is your version of reality.

At the same time the act of sketching forces us to leave the pre-occupations of ourselves and pay attention to what we can see. I find it very hard to spend time worrying about something when sketching. It takes us out of our heads and puts us into the world.

Spending time alone

This act of putting us into the world is part of that second category of analogue skill: spending time alone. Sitting at the bus stop, waiting for a train, it is easy to dive into our phones. In this act we retreat from the world. We are engaging a tiny fraction of our sensory array. Our attention is wrought by stimuli that have nothing to do with what’s around us. We are stranded in our mind. With a sketch book I can find grounding in the solid things around me.

Lifting from the analogue skills manifesto, to sketch what you can see is to:

  • remember the valuable,
  • concentrate, to resist life as content,
  • use your hands and your senses, and
  • use your physical experience as your grounding and your bearing.

What is the Analogue Skills project?

The Analogue Skills Project is my attempt to gather together and keep safe less digital ways of doing things in case we need them again. My aim is to discover/redicover ways of being, feeling and acting that might serve us better.

Read more about the project here and check out my latest posts: