Michael Namkung: Can you share something about your experiences of learning to draw?
Laurencia Strauss: I haven’t thought about this in a long time. When I was a kid my mother met a woman who did these very photorealistic drawings with pencil. She asked her to give me drawing lessons. I got to be really good friends with this woman. It was an amazing experience for me to interact with her. I learned a lot. I loved that, it was a source of pride for me, but it was also not this sort of freeform, responsive thing. We did still lifes—we’d go around the house and pick stuff to draw, which was fun, but I think that I kept trying to break out of that a little bit. I remember picking up a shoe and drawing it, and that was a weird thing.
MN: Because it wasn’t a conventionally beautiful thing?
LS: It was more because drawing came to represent a sort of rigidity, though I totally value that time and appreciate my mother for doing it. That was the way I first had a really intimate relationship with drawing, and it became kind of meditative thing that I did appreciate. But I guess I wish there had been more ways than just this one way of working.
MN: When did that change for you?
LS: I don’t know that it ever did. I went to art school and I was always pretty uptight when it came to drawing. I tried to not be so uptight and get into the more meditative aspect of it, but I was never very good at it. When teachers went and compared the drawings, mine was never the one that was chosen. This whole idea of using drawing as a tool for something else—I think that became more clear in landscape architecture school.
MN: Because drawing has a specific purpose in landscape architecture?
LS: Well, it was more about paying attention to what I was paying attention to. It’s also true in photography: like, what are you photographing? I remember at one site there was a big shift in elevation and I kept drawing these walls, and thinking about these vertical surfaces that we were confronting. It’s hard to explain, but drawing is a way of editing what I’m paying attention to. For example, I’m thinking about these horizontal lines, but maybe that’s actually just the way I’m relating to a space, instead of it being all the information that’s available.
MN: You use drawing in the field as a way of focusing your attention.
LS: I feel like it’s the concept that I can pull out from a drawing. Drawing does not come naturally to me. I just do little sketches. It’s definitely not a finished form that I would be comfortable sharing necessarily. It’s just me generating an idea.
MN: It seems to play a crucial role.
LS: Yea, it’s part of the process. Also, there are different degrees. I could really sketch something out more fully and I have done that, but this type of thing is really more about sketching out an idea.
MN: Why would you draw something out more fully?
LS: When there’s money involved, and I need to be precise with something that I can’t figure out otherwise. For instance, when I need to draw a plan of a playground, or when there are elevations involved and you need to understand the relations between them. I really like to work with models because I think you get everything simultaneously: you get a plan view, elevation, and you get those relationships and not just a slice. But the slices are helpful, because then you can think about the depth. There’s a transparency to the slice. The drawing is a communication device. When you’re working with a team of people it’s important to have things written down and agreed upon. If I’m at a site and I sketch some stuff or photograph and go back and look at the photographs and draw on top of them, it’s a way of extrapolating information for me, to see what I’m responding to and what are the interesting things, how is the site speaking to me.