An Insightful Interview with Lora Teagarden of ARESketches
Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.
Leonardo Da Vinci
Lora Teagarden is an architect and friend from L² Design, LLC. She has been blogging since 2009 about everything from design inspiration to social media, her house renovations, travel, and the Architect Registration Exam. Lora has just recently published her first book, "ARE Sketches: Volume I - A Visual Study Guide to the Architect Registration Exams."
I would like to thank Lora for taking the time to discuss her book and her experience helping others pass this difficult exam.
SO, LORA, WHAT EXACTLY ARE THE ARESKETCHES? WHO ARE THEY FOR?
The AREsketches™ are exactly what they sound like: sketches for the ARE (Architect Registration Exam). They are all of the written content that’s such a pain to read through...turned visual. Who doesn’t like that? ;)
WHAT MADE YOU THINK OF CREATING ARESKETCHES IN THE FIRST PLACE?
The AREsketches™ came about from a conversation I had with others still in the middle of the testing process. I had recently become licensed and was sharing studying tips and insights, trying to support them as they finished out their last test. I mentioned offhand that I found myself sketching out what I was reading to make sure I understood it visually and they said they wanted to see the sketches. I also mentioned this when sharing tips in an online forum and the others who responded had the same request.
So I decided to start professionalizing them and sharing them on Instagram. At first I was going through my notes, but then decided to start from the beginning with the actual written content in Ballast. I didn’t want what I might have already known (and therefore not written down in my notes) to sway what I drew - I didn’t want to miss any of the content because that wouldn’t be as helpful to others studying. I started sharing the sketches at a rate of 1/wk, then 3, then 5. Now it’s 6 + a weekly newsletter + the book.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT ACTUALLY MAKING THE ARESKETCHES? WHAT IS THE PROCESS FROM START TO FINISH FOR ONE ARESKETCH?
It has evolved, as many things do, but the main tools are still the same. I decided to chuck my notes and start fresh with Ballast, so I’m literally sketching verbatim from the content and making sure I don’t miss anything.
At first I would have the book next to me to refer to the written content as I sketched, and the sketches took much longer. Now the sketches take 3-8 minutes to do. I take pictures of the written material on my phone, 3-4 faces of a page at a time, broken out in 5-6 images per page face.
More often than not, each image becomes a single sketch, because anything more than that creates a sketch that’s too hard to digest quickly without a whole lot of verbiage - which is the whole point. Those images then live in a icloud folder on my phone that syncs to my ipad. I make the sketches in the Paper app with the Pencil, both by FiftyThree (I actually showed a process blog of it here). When the sketch is done, I export it and save it to an icloud folder labeled “To be Posted” and that’s where it lives until it goes to Instagram.
ARE THE TOPICS ORGANIZED BY LARGER SUBJECTS? DO THE ARESKETCHES BUILD OFF EACH OTHER IN ANY WAYS?
Since I’m going through the written material, it’s by section.
The first round of AREsketches™, and this first book, covers PPP (which has overlap to SPD and CDS). It’s serendipitous timing with the transition to ARE 5.0 because of the “take two in ARE 4.0, it counts as three in ARE 5.0” transition testing aspect.
One of the two tests you need to take and pass in 4.0 to get credit for 3 tests is PPP. I kept seeing online that there’s a number of people shooting for this method, so that was some extra incentive to get the book done faster and out into the universe to help them.
The other bonus, which I didn’t know when I started the sketches, is that the ARE 5.0 revisions remove the vignettes and make the multiple choice MUCH more visual in nature. Kinda makes visual study material pretty awesome, right?!
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE A BOOK AS THE FINAL FORMAT TO CATALOGUE ARESKETCHES?
Much like their original inception, the AREsketches™ Visual Study Guide grew from a handful of people saying they’d like to see the sketches in book form. The best things grow organically and I was raised that when you see a need, you find a way to fix it.
So when I had multiple requests for more content, and content in a printed form, I finally embraced what I knew would be a much more intense undertaking and started researching what the process of publishing the sketches would look like.
Just as architects are visual in nature, there’s also something about humanity that loves the tactile quality of a physical, built thing. They love touching a material, flipping the pages of a book. It made sense to design the book based on that understanding.
Each sketch takes 30sec-2min to process, but you can just as easily get a refresher by quickly flipping and reading the headlines. Your mind recalls much faster visually than with words, so it was a process of trying to keep the design as simple as possible.
NOW THAT YOU'VE RELEASED YOUR BOOK, WHAT'S YOUR NEXT STEP? DO YOU HAVE PLANS FOR MORE ARESKETCHES OR ARE YOU MOVING ON TO SOMETHING ELSE?
Ha. A good friend commented after the first book launched, saying “Congrats! What are you going to do with all this newfound time?!” My response was “I don’t know what ‘newfound time’ you mean?! I’m already onto the next section!”
It’s crazy to think I’ve signed myself up for 5 more years of this. (The first book took a year to create all of the sketches) While I did take a day or two to relax - and recover from a cold (Funny how that works. My body operates better in constant motion and I get sick when I slow down.), I did in fact jump right into the next section, SPD. There’s a backlog of sketches to share digitally from pushing to get the book done faster, so PPP is what’s still being posted online, but it will transition to SPD here in the next week or two.
The other piece that I’ve started to look into is an app. It was actually an idea that was tossed around at the same time as the book, but I decided to do the book first. The book was something I better understood how to do and so I promised myself I’d get the book done first and then look into the app.
The hope is that the book profits will fund the app, so buy the book! I kid, but that’s honestly what I’m hoping for. I’ve met with a software person and am in the process of drawing up wireframes (along with still making new sketches to share each week) to get to a couple developers for pricing. It’s still in the VERY early stages, but I’ll hopefully know more soon.
IF I'M JUST STARTING OUT WITH THE A.R.E.'S, WILL ARESKETCHES HELP ME? OR DO I NEED TO BE MORE 'ADVANCED' IN MY STUDIES?
I think you could be in college and find them helpful. Or high school. One of the buyers said her toddler enjoys looking at them. He obviously doesn’t understand the minimal verbiage or theories behind each sketch, but it’s geometries and shapes and colors that catch his eye. How awesome would it be if a new round of architects are formed from initially seeing geometries in sketches from their parents’ study materials?!
In all seriousness, a number of Instagram followers or newsletter subscribers aren’t actually in the architecture realm and still respond frequently, saying how much the AREsketches™ teach them about the process of a project or our profession in general.
So no, I don’t think you need to be advanced. I think, like most things, you get out of it what you put into it. And so you may read through it now in the study process and learn one thing...and then read through it 10 years later and learn something completely different.
IF YOU HAD TO TAKE THE ARE ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU START WITH ARESKETCHES? OR WOULD YOU SUPPLEMENT THEM WITH OTHER MATERIALS FIRST?
I’m the type of person that used multiple material sources through the process of taking my tests, so I don’t see these as stand alones...but that’s me. The other piece to it, too, is that the point of the AREsketches™ are to teach you the ideas and principles behind the content, but that doesn’t necessarily teach you how the test is worded. In some ways it feels like a commentary, similar to how The IBC and ADA have visual commentary - you know? So you could have Ballast on one side and the AREsketches™ on the other and refer back and forth.
You read, you visualize, you remember. Heck, I even mention in the intro to the AREsketches™ book that people should feel free to scribble alongside my sketches if it helps them remember. I leave plenty of white space in the book for that exact purpose.
WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU HOPE ARESKETCHES WILL HELP YOU ACHIEVE OR HAS HELPED YOU TO ACHIEVE ALREADY?
Here’s the thing: the AREsketches™ aren’t about me. Sure, they’re by me, but they’re not about me. They’re about Joe Intern or Susie Graduate who have a passion burning to better the world through architecture and the next step is the process of licensure.
If I can help make the path to licensure even slightly easier by making the material more easily digestible - then I’ve succeeded.
Because the more hearts-on-fire, passionate young architects we can bring into this profession, the better off we - and society - are as a whole. If the sketches help do that? Then I’ve achieved what I set out to do.
LORA, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SIT DOWN TODAY AND HELP US UNDERSTAND A BIT MORE ABOUT THESE FANTASTIC ARESKETCHES!
I KNOW THAT THEY'VE ALREADY HELPED MANY A.R.E. CANDIDATES AND WILL NO DOUBT HELP MANY MORE!
As an active newsletter reader of Lora's myself, I highly recommend you check out her work online (and now in print!) at the locations below.
Newsletter // ARESketches Newsletter
Website // L² Design, LLC
Twitter // @L2DesignLLC
Instagram // l2designllc