Sketching: The Art of Memory

“If the mind thinks with images as mental impressions, then sketching and thinking simultaneously could help to understand that which is drawn…[a] view may have been impossible to explain verbally and required visual clues to recall the momentary experience…

Sketches can be fast flowing lines that might be racing to capture an escaping thought. As mneme they are ‘mindful or reminded’ in whatever form they take because the notion of time reveals memories and the interpretation which transforms them.” -Kendra Smith


Sketching: The Art of Memory

Kira Milligan

Remember, recall, retain. Architectural sketching is used in different ways by various people- for the architect, it carries a specific range of purposes: to document, to design, to think- for others: to relax, to practice, to perfect. An often-overlooked component of architectural sketching is its propensity to develop a memory of place.

One’s documentation of structure obviously helps recall the building/urban landscape itself- just by looking at the sketch, it can be seen/recalled that a particular building had a dome atop six columns. However, these drawings can also serve the function of remembering: the small winding paths one took to find the place, the taste of the fresh croissant that left a small grease stain, the fluffy dog who rounded the corner right when the mark in the lower left corner was placed. Time spent sketching is a conscious consideration of a place, facilitating remembering details and events that took place surrounding the sketch. The drawing functions like a pin point in a memory where one section is visible while the rest seems undefined. Moving in one direction to the next, illuminating and defining along the way.

The following images with corresponding captions are exercises in using personal sketches of Paris as pneumonic devices of sorts, to recall and retain memories from the five days of studying there. The full sketchbook can be found at:


Sacre-Coeur II, 2016, ink on paper, 8” x 6”

Being there, at Sacre-Coeur, at 5:30 am- having forgotten the gloves on the bedside table- with numb quivering fingers making distinct tremors- determined to document- but flipping the sketchbook closed prematurely- with a third of the page void of pen- shoving hands deep into cozy jacket pockets- opting instead to marvel at the magnificent basilica.


Chateau de Versailles (Left Page), 2016, ink on paper, 6” x 8”

There exists a process of taking in information- mentally stacking together sections of the building like legos- finding the best way to translate it to tell the hand to move, while dragging the pen with it- grandiose Chateau de Versailles- losing a touch of mysterious loveliness in exchange for laughter as a forklift carries a potted palm away from the scene.


Notre Dame I, 2016, ink on paper, 8” x 6”

Seeking solace for aching feet- a park bench facing a park bench- with a view to a small natural window through trees to snippets of Notre-Dame beyond- interrupted halfway through scribbling a tree- Bonjour and feeble attempts to respond in French- Enchantee and pleasant distractions.


In line for Saint Chappelle, 2016, ink on paper, 8” x 6”

Strong confident lines interrupted by beats of ink- from tapping the pen on the page to the tune of the specific upbeat song- probably played louder than recommended- while deeming some elements of the landscape worth recalling while the traffic and pedestrians will be remembered as too unmemorable to include.


Sainte Chappelle, 2016, ink on paper, 8” x 6”

Details- a way to address the fear of not being able to capture something that is far too breathtaking to put on paper- Sainte Chappelle- the verticality of the space is present in every line put down- a slow-motion nod- with eyes flicking up, viewing beyond eyebrows to a blue vaulted ceiling- then tracing back down along columns, rods, and coloured glass to land on a pathetically diminutive sheet of white paper with some black lines on it.


Gare de Lyon II, 2016, ink on paper, 6” x 8”

Crowded Gare de Lyon- with 2 hours remaining before the train departs- dropping a mound of luggage next to a surprisingly free seat- using a scarf to tie the backpack to the purse, looped around the chair- plugging headphones in, giving an alternative vehicle of transportation away from the bustle.


Notre Dame, Rose Window, 2016, ink on paper, 8” x 6”

Ambitiously eyeing the rose window at Notre-Dame- sketching a single circular shape- pen frozen on the page, mouth agape- Going to the top? Sure!- sketchbook happily clapped shut- wistfully completed later, 690 km away, in a warm library, yearning for another chance to draw/ascend/experience Notre-Dame.

These short narratives are glimpses into the solitary enjoyment of one’s surroundings: appreciation for what made the whole moment/experience/scene worth remembering. The sketchbook is a morsel of the adventure that occurred, its sweet and savory notes lingering on the palette, nostalgically awakening the daydreamer.



Smith, Kendra Schank. Architects’ Sketches: Dialogue and Design. Amsterdam: Architectural/Elsevier, 2008. Print.

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