Taking a (Le Corbusier) break

October 6, 2016 | 12 Comments

With last night’s upload of the final lesson for my SketchingNow Buildings course, I can finally (for the first time in nearly 2 months) take a few hours off to rest and catch up on things.

So this morning I sat in the garden in my reclining chair and looked through a new book all about the travel sketches of Le Corbusier. I also flicked through a book on loan of his Italian sketches and a very special book on the same subject that I bought in 2005 (The Creative Search by Geoffery H. Baker). Le Corb is my original sketching architecture inspiration.

Hmm, might be time for that quote again…

When one travels and works with visual things – architecture, painting or sculpture – one uses one’s eyes and draws, so as to fix deep down in one’s experience what is seen. Once the impression has been recorded by the pencil, it stays for good, entered, registered, inscribed.
The camera is a tool for idlers*, who use a machine to do their seeing for them. To draw oneself, to trace the lines, handle the volumes, organise the surface…  all this means first to look, and then to observe and finally perhaps to discover… and it is then that inspiration may come.

– Le Corbursier


Sorry for missing a few posts this week – it was a huge deal for me to decide not to stick to my schedule.

I’m happy that I have been able to maintain my usual pace of 5 articles a week over the last two months, but the last two weeks have been really tough. Back to normal next week.



*Disclaimer: Le Corbusier was a very prominent architect of the 20th century and made very many provocative statements. I don’t exactly know what he meant by the phase about using a camera, but I am certainly not using this quote to make any general comparison between sketching and photography.I have an enormous respect for photographers and think that in many ways it is harder to take a good photo than it is to do a good sketch.

The main context for this quote is recording scenes to help with the design process. When you sketch and record them in a tactile way, you understand their 3-D form in a special way. Taking a ‘quick photo for future reference’ will not be encoded in the brain the same way as tracing the volumes with a pen will be. This ‘quick snap’ is the type of photography I believe Le Corb is referring to.


  • monika says:

    Dear Liz,
    you’re doing an enormous amount of work here. Please, enjoy rest. And thank you for Sketching Buildings Course. I may be lurking, but I’m learning in my free time.

  • Kristy Brenner says:

    Congrats on wrapping up the work for your course. Don’t worry about us — we’re still here. ????

  • Anne-Laure says:

    Oh, I am sorry but I can’t stand anymore reading this in all the sketching books and all the Urban Sketchers blogs I visit. Please stop detracting photography to enhance sketching! It’s just nonsense… Sketching is amazing enough in itself!! 😀 there is no need to depreciate anything to praise it! 😉
    I am a sketcher and a photographer and I have to tell you something. 🙂
    It’s not only for you, Liz, but for all the other sketchers as well who think and feel the same way.

    You, sketchers, think that photography is not interesting because it is not your thing so you don’t use photography in an interesting way. And that’s fine! But depreciating it like it’s often done is a bit like telling that cooking is not creative while defrosting a frozen dish in the microwave! 😉 Of course, cooking that way is not creative and that’s not even sure that you could call that cooking, lol!
    The same way, if the way you use photography doesn’t seem creative or interesting to you, that’s because you do it “the defrosting way”!
    I am sorry but the reason of this thinking probably is that you may not practice creative photography but just push the button to take pictures…
    And photography is so much richer than what you may imagine!! Yes, that’s a real way of seeing, just as sketching is (although in a slight different way)! Photography is fun but it’s hard work too, exactly like sketching. It’s a whole world of complex vantage points to choose, of framing and refined compositions to make, of settings and shooting effects to enhance reality!

    So, that’s just not possible anymore that so much people think that photography is the lazy art for those who can’t draw or don’t want to work hard to draw!!
    Did you ever shoot a really really good photo? A dreamy one, a pic that helped you to lay new eyes on the world, and to share your surrounding with your own precious way?
    If not or if you only achieved that a really few times, how can you say that this is easy? 😉 (NB : Once again, I dont just talk to you, Liz, but to all sketchers that have a rather bad opinion of photography…)
    I am a skilled photographer and I can’t even say I am capable of creating a really great photo a day or even a week. Because it’s so difficult, because photography needs a lot of inspiration and a lot of clever ways to handle and to model our surroundings!
    Of course, Le Corbusier is a great architect (among other things : painting, sculpture…), but he was not a photographer, obviously, and he didn’t understand how he could use it in a creative way. And that’s probably always an error to talk about things you don’t know or understand.

    So, please, the next time you want to express how much sketching is important for you and is an awesome way of creating, just talk about its incredible richness without comparing it with any other art or practice to depreciate! 🙂
    And next time you take your camera (or your phone, to take a pic), just stop and wonder : what if I actually missed another fascinating way of seeing and of expressing myself, thinking that photography is just the lazy way to capture something I saw?

    You can’t never have too much art in your life. 😉
    So, maybe real creative photography could be a great addition to your sketching practice? 🙂

    (NB : I have been wanting to write about that for a while so I am going to turn this comment into a article, on my “watercolorsketching”website, probably with some photos and sketches to illustrate it so feel free to visit it later in the day if you like.)

    Once again, Liz, there is nothing personal in this comment. I read this kind of remarks so many times…
    Enjoy your break! 🙂

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hey Anne laure. I do understand your comments. Perhaps I should put a disclaimer about that section and explain that Le Corbusier was very good at provocative comments! I have a very high regard for photography( in fact in many ways I think it’s harder!!) but in terms of recording places to reuse for design there is a special place for drawing as it is encoded in your brain Dur to its tactile nature. That is the point of the quote – not sketching vs photography in general – but specifically for recording scenes for future designs.

    • Interesting comment Anne. I think that there are lovely experiences of a place, or thing, or whatever, that one can only have by sketching, drawing, painting and they happen because of the way the process involved draws you deeply inside the subject matter. Taking a photo does not allow you to enter into the subject, into its beings, in the same meditative way

      But there is a very real magic, albeit a different magic involved in creating a photo, something about capturing the experience of being there, and working with surfaces and light..

      To me photography is about capturing the light, the atmosphere, the feeling of being in a place and of looking at it; finding a magic, and catching the entirety of it. Even when it is really one key element of what I photograph that really catches my attention, the whole of it is somehow retained. It is a divergent process, a wholeness, a completeness. My best photos are ones where I have managed to capture the quality of the light, the rhythm of the forms, and the sense of being there, so I am back beside the glowing stained glass lamp, or in the bay with ducks all lit by sunset. It is about being there.

      And for me also, sketching, drawing, and painting are about isolating the elements that make up that magic, reducing the content to the bare essence. A distillation. It is not about a perfect reproduction of reality, and to me cameras do that so perfectly it is a bit redundant to make that the goal of sketching, drawing and painting. Instead, for me the beauty and point of working with these media is about seeing so that I enter into the things I am looking at, and then I add something of myself with my wobbly lines, the artefacts of the materials I use etc.

      I think the point is that too many people pull out a camera and point it at an object and push the button as a way to capture an image, and do so in a totally boring mundane way, with no sense of the magic that a camera can provide. And they also fail to to catch the magic a drawing or sketch of that image could provide.

  • stacey says:

    well i hope she has that out of her system….sort of a backhanded way to try to get people to her site…if she felt so strongly then why not just write it out on her own site and leave yours alone. Whew….she must have been having a bad day…pease enjoy your time in the sun and forget the ravings above….love your stuff and photography is cool too.

  • Anne-Laure says:

    I wanted to write here because the post made me react. Comments are made for that, for sharing reactions, tips, opinions! 🙂
    I like Liz so I wanted to share my opinion with her. 🙂

    Plus, I like photography too and I didn’t want to let this post without a reaction saying : I am sorry but I don’t agree, photography is an art and a great way of seing things in a new way.
    This is done so I am happy with it. This is a relief for me. 🙂 But I don’t think there is a need to make the biggest polemic ever for all that. 😉

  • Youanna N. says:

    Hello all of you!
    I also use my photo camera to take pictures that I would like to sketch later. I know this is a very No No in the Urban Sketching community, but it really fits my lifestyle, and the environment I live in, where here in Canada summer and good weather is not so much an every day event. Plain air sketching is sooo much fun, I absolutely agree with Liz, but we all have fast pace lives, commuting every day, and we have many other commitments that have to be attended. So I have to bridge my desire for sketching, especially buildings and outdoor views in my own way. My camera is very handy to grab something that inspired me, and when i have the time to sketch it, it’s there for me. When I do have the opportunity, I still prefer to sketch from real life: my tea cups, my fruits, my lunch, but more complex outdoor scenes are hard to fit in, and I don’t feel like sketching out when a nasty -35 hits my town, or there is lots of snow on the ground.

    Anne-Laure, we hear clearly your upset, and you are very much right about the fact that we don’t need to lower the importance of photography to lift sketching on a higher stand. Our lives are so much better because of both. I love your blog and I am following you as well, but your comment might have been a little too “pationate” and more fitted to be a full post on your own blog. We all need to become more understanding of each other, protect our own values and beliefs, while allowing others to keeps theirs as well. I am a “second-language-er myself, and even after 10 years, I find it hard sometimes to try to express myself the best possible way. Lots of love to both of you, Liz and Anne-Laure.

  • Candie McKenna says:

    I agree with Anne-Laure. I think what she wrote is fine and I’m sure Liz will take it in the spirit in which it was intended. I am not a photographer but I appreciate the art and it does rub me the wrong way when photography is dismissed by urban sketchers. I appreciate that artists who draw might have a deeper connection with drawing but I agree with you that we can’t have enough art in our lives…all mediums are welcome. I say Bravo for expressing this opinion in such an articulate way. It’s about time someone did.

  • Barbra Joan says:

    I believe Anne-Laure is simply defending something that she is passionate about, photography. She is also a very accomplished sketcher. I don’t believe that Anne Laure was writing about the fact that sketchers photograph something to sketch later, she was defending photography as an art itself..

  • Liz Steel says:

    Thanks for all the comments everyone. I just added an update to the blog post with an explanation of what I believe the quote to be referring to and why I share it. I share the quote as a ‘sketching architect’ traveling the world for inspiration rather than an urban sketcher. Although Le Corb mentions painting and sculpture, it seems to be in the context of sketching to record and explore (the grand tour type of study trip). It’s certainly not meant to be a criticism on photography as an artform or on sketching from photos.

  • Interesting discussion here.. With regards to the Le Corb quote, here is what (I think) he was saying:
    Take any lay person drawing while traveling. You don’t need to be good. My example is my kids. Take that same person with a camera. Let them see the world through both media. Here’s what (generally) happens. In one instance, they go ‘snap, snap, snap’. Lots recorded. Not much felt and remembered. In the other, even if the final result isn’t great, just being forced ( because of the medium) to slow down, to really look, because your tools are so primitive, and to record at a much slower pace means you remember more.

    My travel sketches are better than my travel photographs because I have some skill with sketching and none with photography. My kids are at about the same basic level with both. I know from what they remember that just the act of sketching means they are imprinted more deeply with those memories.

    But as art forms with skill involved, you can never compare two, can you?

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