Origin Story

Days and weeks and months and years have passed since I assumed the moniker of Shanalines. It happened so long ago, I sometimes forget that others don’t know the story. In fact, I recently shared the story with my dad for the first time, and I’m pretty sure the original story took place over 20 years ago. (How can that be possible?!?!?)

By now you know that my background is architecture: I studied it in both undergrad and grad school, and I keep my license active, though I don’t use it daily in any regular sense. I will say the training and study helped shape me, and even though I shudder to think about the sleepless nights and thankless clients, it’s still the right path for me. But enough about that. This post is about how I became Shanalines.

Part of design education is the critique process. When a project is complete, the instructor sets up a critique where students present their work individually for review while the rest of the studio class watches. Sometimes the instructor invites in guest critics to review the work, and sometimes there is peer review, with some students assigned to be critics themselves.

This particular class was an analog drawing class. We were each assigned an abstract painting, and tasked to reimagine the piece as if it were composed of geometric forms. We were tasked to create orthographic projections (measured line drawings without perspective) of our analysis of the forms, interpreting foreground and background through lineweights. A general strategy for lineweights is that objects farther away are depicted in lighter lineweights, and those in the foreground are darker, with the darkest lines being the section cut. Think about the world around you: closer objects are in clearer focus, and therefore bolder to your eye. I remember creating my drawing and determining where I would show the section cut, and reeeeealllly using bold lines. I loaded my lead holder with a heavy lead– was it 4B?– and created overly exaggerated dark lines.

The day of the critique, our instructor had invited in a guest critic to review our work. We pinned up our drawings in the critique space, and each took turns sharing our work and getting feedback. When it was my turn to present, I introduced myself and shared my strategy. Honestly I don’t remember exactly what the critic said, but he did remark that my section cut line was rather bold. Other than that, the review went fine, and I felt relieved. Sometimes reviews can be harsh, ending in tears due to harsh feedback combined with utter lack of sleep.

A classmate who presented a few after me had exquisite work, but very light lines. At this time, I was sitting in the audience with my other classmates, happy to have survived my part. The critic had to get up from his seat and move in closely to the wall to examine her drawing in greater detail, as the delicate linework was lost from a distance. I remember what he said to her:

Your drawing is lovely, but rather light. You need….” (at this point he looked around the room, and his eyes landed on me) “What was your name again?

Startled that the critic was speaking to me after my turn, I looked around to make sure he meant me. “Me? My name is Shana.”

(Looking back at the student presenting) “You need some Shanalines.”

And there you have it, folks. Shanalines are the bold, assertive lines, the ones that are a little too loud, but aren’t mistaken for anything else. They’re almost comical, but simultaneously strong and expressive. Love them or hate them, they’ve got personality.

And now, just for fun, here’s the original Shanalines drawing.


I’m one of those people who holds on to scraps of paper and carries around full sketchbooks filled with photos, notes, and drawings. I have boxes full of completed books, many with bits of paper or post-it notes jammed in the sides, or dogeared tabs, or those tiny sticky highlighter flags marking something that at one point or another was super important. I’ll never get rid of them. What if I need to refer to this someday?

Honestly, though, I may never refer to many of these books again, but the act of making the marks sticks with me. For me, the act of making marks on a page and documenting my ideas and feelings is an intrinsic part of me. If I’m at a meeting of a group of people, I do a little sketch of where everyone is seated at the table, adding names and other identifying characteristics to my notes, such as what a person is wearing. I write single words of emotion on meeting agendas, I sketch in the margins ALL THE TIME.

Recently I had an opportunity to share some of my knitwear design in a Zoom call (ah, that Zoom life!), and I found myself immediately drawn to architectural models to talk about my design process. Models that seemingly have nothing to do with my knitwear designs, but act as physical symbols of my creative process.

Linear modular model (left) and planar modular model (right), circa 2003. Both are based an exploration into the structure of a cell under a microscope. I’m fairly certain it was a potato cell. Go figure.

I keep these elements of design to root myself in my own personal process of concept development and execution. Just like revisiting an old favorite book or vacation spot and indulging in memory, I hold these pieces (and others!) in my hands when I’m stumped on a project. While some of the details of creating these models are fuzzy, I remember the lightbulb moments and hope to create more.

I just realized a funny connection about my old sketches and models and this blog, in fact. I keep these sketches, journals, and analog memories because they are part of my history, whether I revisit them often or let them sit dormant. I’m writing this blog for me, and I have pretty low expectations for people following along and reading it– yet it’s still important for me to do. In a time when I feel extremely disconnected from people and the interactions I crave, I turn to this version of digitally journaling my very analog thoughts.

The Zone

Is anyone else having trouble focusing these days? I’m embarrassed to admit how many lists I’ve made in the past 6 months (longer, really) and the stacks of books, notes, and papers I keep moving from one area of my home to another. While this “organization strategy” isn’t new for me, it seems magnified in these unpredictable pandemic times. I cherish the times when I can access a space that I’ll refer to as “the zone”. I’m brought back to a semester in college when my studio instructor encouraged us to wholeheartedly embrace our work. I’m paraphrasing here, but I seem to remember it like this: Don’t think, just do. He encouraged us to become so immersed in our designs that we felt a compulsion to make and create without pausing to analyze. (Sidenote: I often think about whether or not that’s what he actually said, but I’ve managed to store the memory like this, so let’s roll with it. I’m sure I’ll talk about memories again soon. The amount of in progress / unpublished blog posts is also…. hefty, but unsurprising. Life of Shana.)

I think my classmates and I looked at each other when our instructor said this, and maybe even rolled our eyes. How is that even possible? we thought. Shouldn’t we be thinking and being intentional? What is he even talking about?

Months later, one of my many late nights in studio, I remember working on a study model or drawing (of what, I have no idea, but that’s not important to the story) and just creating version after version, trying to execute my concept to the best of my abilities, totally in it. Don’t think, just do. Yes, this is it! This is what he meant!! I looked around, wanting to share this euphoria, but realizing it was all inside me. It was my moment of connection, and to share it would feel inauthentic. (Remember, I like being authentic.) So I smiled, and probably turned up the volume on my music, and kept going, feeling proud and feeling like me.

I paused while writing to take a photo of one of the stacks sitting next to me right now. I know it’s easier to store digital notes, but at heart, I’m all analog, and I’ll continue to use pencil and paper FOREVER.

It’s hard to access this don’t think, just do feeling. It’s not about being self-centered, it’s not about ignoring others, but it’s being in the zone. For me, my hands move, whether it’s typing or drawing or knitting or creating something else, and I just feel compelled to make something that’s inside me. I wish I could access it on demand, but because I can’t, it’s even more special when it comes together. I’m not even sure I’ve explained it that well here, but I tried.

Don’t think, just do. Find your place. And if and when you do, smile your smile and know that you’ve got this, whatever the heck it is.

Mixing Media

In addition to my knitting and design swatches, sketches, and written notes, I have an architectural drafting table with paper, pencils, and some extra fiber. I am slowly developing mixed media techniques to express myself.

Drafting table with gray and white opaque paper, various pencils, trace paper, a utility knife, and gray wool fiber.
Shana S. Cohen, 2019-2020. All rights reserved.


A ‘knit drawing’, if you will. I created this ‘architectural drawing’ out of yarn / knitting rather than graphite or in. I knit the ‘paper’ and built on top of it. The ‘paper’ size is similar to a sheet of Arches, my favorite for actual drawings. It’s a basic section of a house, filled with architectural lines, including a ‘highlighter’ line, all covered with a ‘veil’ of something else… something both trying to suppress and allowing some to escape. The lineweights are thick and thicker– the essence of true shanalines– with 2 sneaky thin ones.

Eponymous, 2019. Shana S. Cohen, all rights reserved.

So it’s me, sort of, as the architect slash knitter. The technical slash free form creative expressionist.

Enjoy, or just scratch your head. It’s all good.