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The fine art of drawing by hand

Marjan Eggermont teaches engineers to get the lead out – the lead pencil, that is.


The current crop of University of Calgary engineering students may be more than ready to embrace the latest graphic-design technology, but Marjan Eggermont is there to remind them of the enduring power to be found in a humble pencil.

A well-established artist, Ms. Eggermont is known for her unusual etchings on steel surfaces, which have been showcased in galleries across Canada and abroad. Since 2006, however, she has also been a faculty member and artist-in-residence at the university’s Schulich School of Engineering. She teaches the drawing and visualization component of the first-year design and communication course, introducing students to techniques that have sustained artists for centuries. The work features exercises like gesture drawing and rapid-fire sketching of a succession of images, spending less than a minute on each one.

Ms. Eggermont counts as her most satisfying moments in the classroom those times when hundreds of students are simultaneously devoting all their attention to such a simple task. The resulting artwork is bound to be crude, but her goal is to have the students hone their ability to capture and express images instinctively, without resorting to sophisticated technology.

“I explain it as a skill that you need to have in meetings, when you’re discussing design ideas or problem solving,” she says. “Sometimes it’s faster to do a quick sketch than to explain it or write it down.”

Even in the case of more formal presentations, this approach can be invaluable, she argues. “It’s important to learn how to communicate something very quickly, with concise language and a good graphic.”

Having taught these principles to more than 5,000 students in recent years, she wonders what ultimate impact a traditional artistic sensibility might ultimately have on the practice of engineering. In the meantime, she has obtained tangible proof that the students appreciate her efforts. When the university recently commissioned her to install a piece of artwork in a new building on campus, the engineering students voted to pay for it.

“To me, that was more moving than getting the commission,” she says.

Want to know more about design components of the U of C engineering program? Watch a video about the communicating design components of the program.

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