When you run a pencil along a piece of paper, it makes a soft and calming sound: “Shhhhh.” And, according to how much pressure you apply, it produces either a thick and firm line or a flimsy and evanescent one.
In both cases, you smell the pencil’s graphite as it crumbles into millions of microscopic pieces that create a line, the line you intended to draw. Or that someone drew for you.
When I was little boy, my father used to make drawings for me all the time. We would play some games in which I had to guess as quickly as possible what he was drawing and others in which I had to complete a drawing that he had just begun. Whatever the game or the subject of his drawing, I vividly remember that seeing a line spring out from the point of his pencil and follow his hand’s various turns and zigzags would make me laugh uncontrollably. There was no reason to laugh, except perhaps from the joy in realizing that there was magic in that simple action.
As I grew up and went on to study architecture, I started to see more and more lines around me. Reality and imagination are one in architectural drawings. Drawing can be used to design something that does not actually exist or to understand the world around us.
After moving to New York in 1995, I had to learn how to express myself in a new language by choosing words that I had to find first, for they didn’t just come. Thus I became even more aware of how words–and thoughts–often resemble lines: they can be precise and firm, or confusing and elusive.
Whenever I pick up a pencil, I instantly recall that sense of marvel I felt while watching my father’s hand guide his pencil around a piece of paper. And, in my own work, I still look for that joy and find it when a line says more than I thought it could, or when a word ends up smelling of graphite.