Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Q&A with drawing professor Frank Ching

During our monthly sketchcrawls in Seattle, Frank Ching is just another drawing enthusiast, passing his sketchbook around, giving feedback, asking questions and sharing the jovial atmosphere. But when you see his work, you realize that Frank is no accidental sketcher. Over 35 years, he has taught generations of architects how to draw and has written numerous best-selling books about architectural drawing and design that have been translated to over 16 languages.

Frank invited me for a cup of coffee in June of 2009 after seeing my Seattle Sketcher column in the Seattle Times. I was flattered by the invitation and really enjoyed the chat at Fremont CafĂ© — see the post and sketch I did.

I've had the opportunity to meet a few academics of different fields before, but I don't remember someone as approachable and friendly as professor Ching. After retiring from full-time teaching at the University of Washington, he has been a leading force of the Seattle Urban Sketchers and an inspiration for my own work.

Today I'm posting a quick Q&A interview we did last year prior to the Portland Urban Sketching Symposium, where he was one of the instructors.

Frank discusses one of his drawings with Orlando-based artist and urban sketcher Thomas Thorspecken, left, during the first Seattle Urban Sketchers meet up at Gas Works Park in August of 2009. Tom was in town and joined us for the sketchcrawl.

Frank Ching drawing at Gas Works Park in Seattle.

Fishermen's Terminal, Seattle
Frank sketched this view of Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal as I sat to draw a few feet behind him. My sketch is shown below.


How did your career teaching architectural drawing start? What attracted you to it?
Toward the end of my year's service in VISTA in 1972, I got a call from a former classmate who was teaching at Ohio University, asking me if I were interested in interviewing for a teaching job. Not having any plans or commitments, I agreed to drive down from Cleveland to Athens, Ohio, for the interview. I remember the chair of the department of architecture asking me if I thought I could teach drawing and being young and naive, I of course said yes. So it was a fortuitous set of circumstances that led me to become an "accidental" academic.

How do you get your students to improve their skills? What's your teaching methodology?
I have come to believe that iteration — constant and repetitive practice — is important to learning visual and drawing skills. We can learn more from doing many smaller sketches rather than one or two larger drawings. I also think that drawing from observation, on location, and developing visual acuity should provide the basis for drawing from the imagination in design. But above all, design students should understand that drawing is a language with which we communicate our ideas and observations.

What tools do you use to sketch?
My palette is very simple: a fountain pen and a sketchbook. While I admire others who handle other media so well — pencils, watercolors, pastels — I have come to really love the tactile feel of an ink nib on paper and the fluidity and incisiveness of the strokes. And the abstract quality of an ink-line drawing is actually very liberating for me.

On Facebook
Frank must be one of the most active academics of his generation on Facebook. Don't miss his fan page, where he does regular posts with interesting insights about drawing.

Some of Professor Ching's books:


  1. It's really cool that you could show both your sketch and yours, both capturing the same view - although I suspect the sketcher on the right in his - is YOU!

  2. Oh my - Preview is not my friend. First sentence should be "...your sketch and HIS...".

  3. Thanks for the comment Dave. I don't appear in any of these sketches. I did the drawing that shows two people standing and sketching. Frank is the person on the right, with his back to where I was.

  4. I hope one day attending to his lecture.

  5. i knew the books of Mr Ching more than 20 years ago when i was syudying architecture, very far away, in Canary Islands.
    Who could tell me, then, that one day i will finf USk and this post about Frank Ching?
    Fantastic, Gracias and greetibgs, Gabi !
    Ale from Usk-Spain

  6. Anonymous8:22 AM

    Dear author,
    I am a young architect who admired Frank Ching Professor. And I also love your website too, a website for Sketchers. I do sketch everyday. And I have a passion from all the sketches of Mr Frank Ching. So, do you have Mr Frank Ching's email? I really want to show my sketches about my daily life in Vietnam to him. thank you very much. If you like, you can see the sketches on my facebook :

    my email :
    Hope to receive your reply.
    Have a nice day.
    Van Khang Huynh.