It’s a typical Thursday morning and I’m in my kitchen sitting down to eat breakfast. Nothing special, just a bagel. However, what is special about this breakfast, is that I have both time and silence—two things that are extremely delicious and fulfilling in their own ways. I find myself spending this quiet time thinking about an upcoming project. Accompanying my plate and bagel are a pen and sketchbook. I start sketching, thinking, and re-sketching, and I quickly start laying out what will be the foundation of a new project. Ideas are flowing, and bagels are disappearing.
There are two cool things happening here. One, a delicious breakfast is starting the day off right. Two, I am deep into a tasty sketch that by all rights will start this project off on the right foot.
It’s Not a Masterpiece, It’s Just a Sketch
There is no way around it: The most prevalent tool at a designers’ disposal is their the computer and its software. But by analogy, if the best way to start the day off is with a healthy breakfast, the creative process starts best with something wholesome, too. And what’s more wholesome than a good old-fashioned sketch?
For me, the best way to get ideas out is to quickly make sketches of thoughts, like mini-snapshots of ideas. The good news here is that you don’t need to be a professional artist to be a designer, but damn does it help to have some basic art skills. Believe me, by no means am I a great (or even good) artist, but knowing how to use some of the simple rules such as light, scale, and perspective can make a world of difference. I’m not talking about creating masterpieces, just quick and easy ways of jotting down visual ideas.
There is an interesting connection at play between brain, hand, pen, and paper. It’s almost a cyclical relationship that travels back and forth between the idea in the brain to what appears on paper. The more ideas put onto paper, the more the drawing inspires new thoughts: one idea inspires another.
In addition to idea generation, here are some other examples of how sketching can play a role in daily design life:
- Quick way to figure out what is and is not working.
- Visual notes to be referenced later.
- Helps communicate abstract ideas to others.
- Answers the question “how would that work?” while in a critique.
- Did I mention idea generation?
Over the years, I have been witness to thousands of creative lessons that have helped shaped my skill set and professional path. Sketching was one of my earliest lessons and is a particularly special one for me. I was sitting at the table clenching a pencil as hard as I could, jamming it into the paper of my first drawing pad and trying to make the darkest heaviest lines possible. My mother, an artist in her own right, noticed my attempt to permanently etch my picture into this poor pad of paper. She then proceeded to show me how a light touch and quick swift movements would let me draw faster and lighter, which would also allow me to erase. By way of example, she drew a feather. She sketched one, and then had me do one too for practice. I’m not sure how, but I still have that sketch with me today.
Little did I know, that lesson would someday influence one of the most important parts of my professional process. I could even argue that the lesson learned that day has helped shape every professional project I have ever worked on. Ironically, I was sitting at my mom’s kitchen table drawing away when she first taught me how to sketch, and now here I am—many years later—sketching at my own kitchen table, jotting down quick ideas and executing fast illustrations, starting a project off just right.