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Drawing Invisible Cities: A Close-Reading and Drawing Workshop

As designers and creatives, reading and writing can provide us with a great source of inspiration: we can use words and sentences to describe our thoughts, experiences and ideas and share them with others. The form of these words can differ, from articles and chapters of continuous prose to short form poetry and lists of keywords. 

When we’re presented with a new text, close-reading helps us to process the words in front of us and look for the definitions and understanding that we need. We should look at the different words being used, their definitions, and consider the context that we find them in, analysing the narrative before us. Teasing out this information not only helps us to understand what we are reading, but it also helps us to critically consider our own ideas and contextualise the work that we are producing. We can use this new information as part of our own practice.

Thin Cities 5 (2022). Frodel-Shuttleworth, Agnieszka
Thin Cities 5 (2022). Macintosh, Megan

Using selected extracts from Italo Calvino’s book ‘Invisible Cities’, on Wednesday 23 March I held a drawing and close-reading workshop to explore his writing and create a series of speculative drawings that imagine the cities he describes. The workshop looked at finding descriptive keywords and phrases used within the text to help us identify the spatial qualities that he was describing.

The book has many chapters about different fictional cities, so after a group discussion about some of the texts, we worked to produce a set of drawings that visualised what we were reading, looking at the cities from different perspectives, for example, from above like a masterplan, or zoomed in at the street-level. The challenge of course, was completing a number of drawings in a short amount of time, some taking 15 minutes, some only 2. Ultimately, these drawings communicate an impression of the text, allowing us to visualise an idea and our own understanding. They represent something that is yet to exist, all different, but all based upon the same words. 

On the Invisible Cities padlet page you’ll find lots of other drawings produced during the workshop, so please take a look through, but more importantly, please give it a go yourself! Take a look through the same texts, and draw your own impressions of those cities and upload them to the collection. 

Thin Cities 5 (2022). Walker, Tracy
Trading Cities 4 (2021) Underdown, Leaona
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Posted by author: Daniel Tollady
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