Tom Williams / Founder
The University of Liverpool and
The CASS, London Metropolitan University
Rub those tired eyes,
Flex those aching wrists,
Neck that double espresso
...flick the switch.
I spent many hours hunched over the soft glow of the communal lightbox – a glowing table which allows a designer to see through layers of paper in order to trace images into their work. At the lightbox, I was populating my building designs with people, trees, cars and cats. I was surprised to learn of the lack of printed guidance, aide or templates surrounding the architectural lightbox, and was equally disappointed to see only a few fellow students asking me to move up so that they could also use this fantastic architectural tool.
Tom could you give our readers an explanation of what ‘The Lightbook” is?
The Lightbook is an architectural lightbox zine. The zine is intended as an aide to the traditional lightbox – an effective architect’s tool that is slowly disappearing from studios around the world. The Lightbook contains a variety of people, objects, plants and cats at standard architectural scales that can be easily traced into the reader’s own work. These are printed on high quality tracing paper to ensure ease of use and complete translucency for a lightbox.
Could you give us a brief introduction as to who you are, where have you studied and where you are based?
I’m Tom, and I’m a RIBA Part II architectural graduate from both The University of Liverpool and The CASS, London Metropolitan University. After studying and working in the field of architecture for just over 8 years, I decided to take a “late gap year” to see the world and work on this zine that I have been so excited to create. I’m currently based at my Mum’s kitchen table, in my hometown of Macclesfield, fairly close to Manchester.
What was your inspiration behind the creation of the zine?
The inspiration behind the zine came from my observations of the clear lack of interest in the communal lightbox at The CASS. I would often sit at it and sketch for hours, only occasionally moving up to let another intrigued student use the soft glow of it’s Perspex table top. I would often see other students hunched over their laptops, using a variety of programs to create exceptionally vivid and exciting work – but these were images that I feel lacked soul, romance and a “personal touch”.
I once saw a student place a piece of tracing paper on their laptop screen and trace the outline of a person onto their proposed section. It was then that I realised that the image they were tracing probably wasn’t to a particular scale, and they were simply guessing the “correct” proportions. It was clear that the process of scaling this person, printing them out, walking over to the lightbox and tracing the person by hand seemed an inefficient method of working for this particular student. Here I realised that there was no printed aide or guide for an architect’s lightbox – one that would make using it easy, exciting and efficient.
How would you suggest our readers us the zine in their projects?
My tutor in particular always encouraged populating our designs with realistic depictions of activities that might take place within the building, or outside the building. I would suggest that readers of The Lightbook use it as tool – rather than the clichéd and inevitable use of leaving it on a coffee table. I would hope, and greatly encourage, readers to tear out pages, scribble in it and fold it freely – it’s yours, why not! Simply place the pages on a lightbox and let the soft glow allow you to freely trace the drawings into your own work. Your beautifully stagnant design is now full of people and cats enjoying the space that you have created for them.
How did you produce the figures, objects and foliage within the zine, were they hand drawn or drawn using digital software?
All the drawings that appear in The Lightbook have been taken from personal photographs on various travels, and commercially free-to-use images sourced online. These images are then placed into Bentley Microstation, traced over using a mouse (this is an ironically lengthy process), scaled and printed.
Could you give our readers an insight into your process when producing your drawings?
I would be hesitant to give everything away and expand on what I’ve said above, but I would say efficiency in working, folder organisation and a constant supply of materials (and espresso) is key to embarking on a project such as this one. Things get messy very quickly – stay diligent. Most of these skills were learnt during my two-year Stage One Experience.
Where do you think that your passion for illustration arisen from, and is there anybody who has had an influence on your illustrative style?
It’s hard to say – it’s something that I feel I’ve always done to communicate intent and interest, even from a young age. I remember drawing an entire A3 plan of a theme park in primary school and at the time, it blew everyone’s minds. It was even sent off to be laminated, back when laminating was cool.
People often use their hands when they speak as a way of elaborating the emotion and reinforcing the meaning behind what they’re saying. It can often “bring to life” certain parts of a story being told. I believe drawing whilst speaking has a very similar, if not more pronounced effect. This became very apparent for me when teaching English in Japan. At every lesson I would fill multiple pages with drawings to convey immediate understanding, even if what I was actually speaking was getting lost in translation or misunderstood. My students would often take these sketches with them after the lesson finished which was always humbling.
To further explain the influence Japan has had on my illustrative technique, I would say Yoshi Sislay is a huge inspiration behind my personal work and my love for fine line drawings. I saw and met him in Barcelona back when I was in A-Level on a school art department trip.
Given the focus on digital drawing within contemporary design do you feel hand drawings are still pertinent within contemporary architecture?
It’s a dying skill and therefore one that is often overlooked in practice, but hugely rewarded at University. I feel hand drawings can reveal particular design decisions that may have been overlooked when working in a “cut and paste” method as is often done working digitally. Why draw a new door when a perfectly reasonable door exists from a previous project? Imaginative design dies at the click of a mouse.
Why do you feel there has been this switch in preference from hand drawing to digital drawing?
Time is money. There is no feasible way an architect could charge their current hourly rates to a client if they were to produce the number of drawings or details now required in modern building design, as to what was previously expected.
If you could offer one piece of advice to those architecture students reading this interview what would it be?
Be bold, brave and free with your hand drawings. This is the only way you’ll get better. A lightbox can really help to nurture your sketching abilities.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of The Lightbook?
I hope to one day approach a publisher with the minor success and plentiful material of The Lightbook already in place, hopefully persuading them that it would make a great book so they can make lots of money from it.
Where can people purchase and find our more about The Lightbook?
Here you can purchase the current issues of The Lightbook, find out more information, find out alternative ways of supporting the project, and also see where The Lightbook has been sold around the world.
Finally, if you could go back in time and offer one piece of advice to young Tom who was just starting out in his architectural studies, what would it be?
Play the game for good marks, ignore the game to become a good architect. I played the game hard, achieved the highest marks and won various awards for it. I don’t regret this, but my good friends whom were genuinely more passionate about architecture are now much better architects than I will ever be.The prettiest picture always wins, even if it’s not the best project on the wall.
Pursue a masters in architecture, don’t stop at undergrad, because it will blow your tiny creative mind way open. Listen to every word your tutor says. And finally, the most important point which I cannot stress enough – do ALL of your work in the studio. You’ll make friends and keep them, your work will get better and stay better. It’s generally a much more rewarding experience than working from your bedroom. Sketch, draw and scribble EVERYTHING you think about.