The Girl in High School Drafting Class

Why Do You Want to Take Drafting?

While I was in high school, circa the mid-1970s, I campaigned the principal to grant me permission to attend drafting class. Vocational classes were offered, but the girls were sequestered to home economics while the boys had woodworking, small engines, and drafting.

One of the pivotal events that prompted me to pursue drafting was a high school field trip to the General Motors Technical Center. This is where the designers and engineers work on new ideas and technologies for cars. Part of the field trip included the clay modeling department where we saw a full-scale clay model of a car. Growing up in the Motor City where family members and neighbors worked for one of the Big 3; the passion for cars was part of our DNA.

The support of my art teacher/mentor and my father, I was granted a trial period in the drafting class. I practiced at home with the help of my father, who showed by how to use the tools and run calculations on a slide rule. He wasn’t a draftsman, but his work required him to review technical drawings for cast automotive parts.

Recalling, I was really under the microscope and most of the boys didn’t really want me there. I showed up at every class,. Did my best work. Listened intently to instruction. Ultimately convincing the male teacher and teen boys that girls could do the drafting. (Limited slots for girls in vocational classes opened up shortly thereafter.) Fellow drafting students would occasionally ask me for help or borrow my supplies.

Breaking With Tradition

Drafting class was more than breaking the mold for a teenage girl; it was about acquiring a skill set that I believed would benefit my future. It did.

Before Apple introduced its computer and transformed our world, laying out an advertisement, newspaper, poster, postcard, brochure (anything printed) was done by HAND. Yes, by hand. High school drafting gave me the foundational skill set to translate specifications into layouts that passed the pre-print review (99%) every time. Using tools like dividers, triangles, sweeps, and templates became valuable when executing the art directors rough sketch into a finished design.

Drafting also helped me take the jump into designing on the computer, ie terminology, tools, iconography and more.

Now, that I’ve spent decades using PageMaker, Powerpoint, Quark, PhotoShop, Illustrator, InDesign plus numerous other software programs that have come/gone; I’m revisiting the value in using my hands to produce designs/artwork.

Long-tail Benefits

The mindset of working by hand is quite different. I’m able to concentrate on the initial stages more deeply, where experimentation takes place before transiting into execution. Typically working in pencil before shifting to pastel, paint and/or ink.

Another benefit of drafting skills was the discipline of clean and crisp lines. Keeping a sharp point on by graphite avoiding any smudges or dull lines. There were also little tips I picked up: tape pennies to the underside of your straight edges, curves, and triangles so it will be slightly elevated from the paper avoiding smudges; clean your tools and put them away after use; choosing a surface or paper and its dimensions suitable for the project; accuracy in measurements and calculations.


What is a Slide Rule?

I mentioned that I had also learned how to use a slide rule. I still have the two my father gave me. One is pocket size and still functional. Although I have long forgotten how to use it for calculations, I will never forget how it helped my advance through high school and college calculus classes. I did find a website dedicated to the Slide Rule if your interested in what it is and how to use it.