Technical Drawings, or Fine Art?

Here’s a question for you:  Can CAD drawings be seen and appreciated as fine art?

That question rolled around in my head as I was working on a tabletop sculpture, using 3-D AutoCAD as my drawing and visualization tool.

In the shop

I like to design and create useful and beautiful functional objects. Sometimes I offer them on Etsy. Whether they ever “go public” or not, I always enjoy taking an idea and making it physical.  In the current vernacular, you could say that I’m a “maker,” and it seems as if I always have been.

I like to build stuff. Especially never-before-built stuff.

Plan blue and green

Plan with blue and green

I have a small but fairly well-equipped workshop in my garage. This morning I moved the car outside to protect it from sawdust and to give me some space to spread out and work. Can you call it work, though, when you’re doing something that you love doing?

Working with wood and steel is one of my favorite things to do. I love the smell of freshly-sawn wood, and I also appreciate the smell of steel being shaped and heated by a grinder. I suspect that many people may not have experienced that smell, but if you had grown up like me, following my father, Jimmy Sadler, around in his workshop, you’d know exactly what I’m talking about.  Lately I’ve been working with redwood, which smells incredible.

By the way, did you know that steel has a grain, not unlike the grain in wood?

On the computer

I had built a crude physical prototype of my new tabletop sculpture, and I was using AutoCAD 3-D software to refine the shapes and take the design to the next level. On my computer screen, I rotated the virtual sculpture this way and that, using the View Cube and the Orbit tool. Testing different visual styles. Changing the display of materials, line colors and line weights.

An interesting insight came to me. After I’ve been working with a CAD drawing for an extended time doing the design studies, I’m seeing the images on my screen with totally different eyes than a person who walks up and looks at it for the first time.  I may be seeing wood and metal shapes, maybe a future sculptural object, while they might be seeing . . .


Looking upon the same thing, my eyes and your eyes see very different things. And that’s good!

Merriam-Webster defines art as:

the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects, as in the art of painting landscapes;   also :  works so produced, as in a gallery for modern art

Of course, great artists are keenly aware of this phenomenon of different eyes seeing differently. They play on it, study it, and sometimes beat us over the head with it. It’s the starting point of art, in a way.

Seeing CAD as Fine Art

Plan with brown moire

Plan with brown moiré

I began looking at the drawings on my computer screen as if I were someone who just walked up and had no idea what was happening.  The Zen masters called this “beginner’s mind.”  My drawings starting changing, and I wondered . . . Is this the emblem of some secret underground society that has existed for centuries? It is a device used to navigate the seas? A clock from a not-yet-discovered, distant occupied planet?

Or something else that you would see immediately, something that I wouldn’t see in a million years?

Fascinated, I started modifying the settings on the drawings. I thought you might enjoy seeing some of my design studies, presented in a way to emphasize the purely visual side of the Computer Aided Design (CAD) medium.

Moving Pictures

I then started looking at a few of the images in succession, and thought, wouldn’t it be cool to put them into a GIF file and let them morph slowly into each other?

So I did.  Please click on the image below to see the GIF. WARNING: Don’t watch this while driving a car or operating heavy machinery.  😉

CADmorph 1 -- click to play

CADmorph 1 — Click the image to play this GIF

Then, wanting to take the exploration farther, I made an extended audiovisual version of this idea, with original ambient music created by myself and my friend Paul Crumpler. It’s available here and also on my YouTube channel:[spacer height=”20px”]

Getting back to my original question about CAD as art — Can CAD drawings be seen and appreciated as fine art?

Definitely.  Without a doubt.  If and when they reach a level where they can move people emotionally, make them think and feel in new ways. And wouldn’t it be a shame if CAD designers and drafters never shared their work, which can sometimes rise to the level of fine art, with the art-loving public?

I think it would be a crying shame.

You can see a lot just by observing.  –Yogi Berra

[spacer height=”20px”]Your turn

So, to help me build my case, I’m inviting you to come up with some examples of CAD as Art, from your own work, or the work of others you know of.  I’d love to see what members of our CAD community have been creating.  I’m thinking of CAD images that are not just a means of constructing some other physical thing. I’m interested in images that have an impact on their own, on an immediate, purely visual level.

Please share them in the comments below, with links if possible.  Also please share your thoughts on this topic.  Until next time,

Keep on CADDing!  🙂