Design In Process

Sketching: setting down initial ideas

Sketches of initial ideas by William Lethaby for Liverpool Cathedral

Sketches of initial ideas for Liverpool Cathedral, 1902 
Pen and red ink and pencil on paper
Artist: William Richard Lethaby
© Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum number E.3196-1991


The inspired 'back of the envelope' or 'dinner napkin' sketch embodies creative vision in its purest form. An architect working quickly to place a fleeting idea on paper is concerned with capturing a concept rather than attaining perfection.

This sketch shows a moment of fervent creation as William Lethaby works out his ideas for the Liverpool Cathedral competition. Fearful of losing his ideas, Lethaby grabbed a used envelope and covered it, front and back, with sketches. Plans, elevations, sections and even vaulting details and ornamental sculpture blanket the scrap paper.

These rough drawings may be tossed out or mulled over, later redrawn, discussed and embellished. The final design may look nothing like the initial 'napkin sketch', or the presentation drawings may incorporate the same feelings evoked by the initial sketch. Either way, these freehand drawings are an integral part of the design process in helping the architect to work out what will become the driving forces of a design.


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