additional resource links:

maxresdefaultObservational Sketchbook

One of the most basic and direct means of interpreting our world and our relationship to it is through drawing. Like any discipline, we all have various levels of inherent ability. Practice on technique will always improve that natural skill level to a higher degree. Drawing may have a variety of purposes, whatever that purpose happens to be, observation is at it’s core. The following is a suggested list of subjects/objects which if approached with concentration, will help you to improve both your drawing skills, also your ability to see critically. With each of these make yourself draw only what you see, do not make up anything. You are a recording device. Give life to line through value changes dark to light. Imply the brightest light areas by barely touching your paper. Shade smoothly using a full range of value from black to white including all the thousands of gray values in between. Do not smudge or smear. Constantly compare parts to one another within the overall subject/object for accurate proportions.

Graphic Designers benefit from the disciplined practice of drawing in slightly different ways than do studio artists. For the designer, drawing is many times meant as the initial means of capturing an idea, quality of movement, style or genre and as such, not meant to be the final product. It is instead a most valuable step in the creative process progressing towards the final visual graphic design. For both the designer and the studio artist, drawing is an extremely important aspect of expression, concept development and translating the world into new forms, symbols and representations.

Some suggestions for subject matter to develop your drawing and observational skills:

  • Draw bones (capture the three-dimensional quality)
  • Draw only the negative shapes of a bicycle (concentrate on-line and shape)
  • Draw jewelry (capture the reflections and shapes of light)
  • Draw a room (pay attention to proportion and perspective)
  • Draw a building (pay attention to perspective)
  • Draw a glass of water (capture the shapes created by the water, glass and reflections)
  • Draw cars (notice how light behaves differently on the glass, tires, metal, plastic, etc.)
  • Draw a select part from a scene at some public setting such as a restaurant, theater, sporting event. etc.
  • Draw trees and plants (pay attention to how they grow)
  • Draw a landscape (pay attention to light)
  • Draw studies of hands in a variety of positions (pay attention to proportion)
  • Draw studies of individual facial features (ears, noses, eyes) (pay attention to shading/value)
  • Draw animals ((look closely at hair/fur patterns and how they move)
  • Draw the back of someone
  • Draw yourself
  • Draw a friend (capture their likeness)
  • Draw something moving at a fast pace, such as a person, animal (capture the essence of the movement)


Keeping a sketch book can serve many purposes, but some of the most common are these.

  • To sharpen your eye, be more specific with what you draw (and what you leave out) simply to get better.
  • Like a musician, writer, or athlete an artist needs to practice every day amid a sketchbook is an ideal place to work on your observational and drawing skills. In time you will learn to select and simplify so that you can encapsulate an attitude, a pose or a movement in a few lines. Sketching regularly also improves visual memory and manual dexterity, enabling you to make accurate and rapid records of the subjects that interest you. Most importantly, you need to practice good habits. The sketchbook is your main means of doing so.

A few good rules to follow to guarantee steady improvement and greater success are:

  • Simply draw only what you see and trust what you see. Don’t make anything up, don’t draw what you think it should be but instead what you actually see.
  • Take your time.
  • Your subject is always light, no matter what the topic.

Inevitably, your sketches reflect your interests and the places you has visit—as they do for any artist who sketches. Typical subjects covered:

    • People (life drawing, musicians, the workplace, the moving figure, sports players, dancers, figures travelling, drawing in a crowd, restaurants and bars, babies and children)
    • Animals and Birds (cats, dogs, sheep and goats, horses, zoo animals, wild birds and domestic fowl)
    • The Interior (flowers, interior spaces, domestic still life, ‘found’ still life)
    • Landscape (Light and Atmosphere, gardens, trees in winter, trees in summer, mixing green, sketching on holiday, sketching in winter, skies, seascapes)
    • Architecture (Industrial Architecture, farm buildings, follies and eccentric buildings, magnificent buildings, detailed architectural studies, lettering, bridges, the character of a place).
This drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci of a foetus ...

This drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci of a foetus in the womb is one of many detailed anatomical drawings by the artist which helped new doctors to understand the body (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. The most famous artist sketchbooks are those of Leonardo da Vinci. His sketchbooks are filled with drawings, diagrams and written notes of things he saw and ideas he came up with.
  2. Picasso produced 178 sketchbooks in his life time. He often used his sketchbooks to explore themes and make compositional studies until he found the right idea and subject for a larger painting on canvas.
  3. Henry Moore, a British sculptor, filled one of his sketchbooks with drawings of sheep that often wandered by the window outside his studio.

If you want to be an artist, it’s a good idea to start keeping a sketchbook around with you all the time. You can draw in your sketchbook, write in it, and stick photographs and other things you find in it. Later on, you can return to your sketch-book when you’re looking for ideas for making works of art.

Carry your sketchbook around with you wherever you go. Look for things to record in your sketchbook. Remember that as an artist you have to look closely at things. You may find it difficult at first to stand still and draw something outside, especially if there are people around. Don’t mind them or any comments they might make. And don’t worry if some of your drawings don’t turn out like you want them to. You can make mistakes in your sketchbook and you’ll get better with practice. Drawing requires courage!

Try to fill one page of your sketchbook everyday. Getting started is always difficult, especially when you have a new, empty book. If you don’t know where to start, try one of the following ideas. Once you’ve done your first sketchbook, the next ones will be easier and even more rewarding.

The benefits of sketching in the design process

1. It lets you dig deeper
When you first start a project, there’s a tendency to automatically start coming up with different ideas. These ideas may seem great at first, but the truth is, there’s a big chance that your first ideas are pretty obvious.
For example, if you were creating a logo for an orange juice company, the first, obvious solution most people would think of would be an orange. While the logo will probably end up having something to do with an orange, what can you do to present this orange in a new and unusual way?
Use sketching to find out.
Sketching lets you get all the obvious ideas out-of-the-way, so you can start coming up with stronger, more innovative concepts. Plus, you never know what will inspire you – it could be one of those obvious sketches that spark a million dollar idea!

2. You can do it from anywhere
These days you can take a laptop almost anywhere, but taking a sketchbook and a pen is even more convenient. With a sketchbook you might end up finding yourself in more rural areas like rivers and parks, as well as museums and subways, and who knows where else! Another benefit is that you will be exposing yourself to different environments, which will inspire your designs and bring you new ideas.

3. Practice
There’s something about holding a pencil in your hand that gets your creative juices flowing in a much different way than holding a mouse. When you get used to sketching, the movements of your hand become much more fluid and it becomes really easy and natural.The more you practice, the better you will become at sketching.

4. Expand your abilities and develop a skill
As a designer, it pays off to have a varied skill-set. Developing a strong ability to sketch will allow you to present ideas quickly and easily on paper – for yourself, your art director, or for your clients.

5. Know why you’re designing
One of the most important benefits of sketching is that it gets you in touch with your design work on a whole new level. By spending so much time developing a solid concept, you have a stronger understanding of the elements that go into your design, and you’re able to explain it more eloquently to clients and defend it more successfully if disagreements arise.

Tips for getting started

Mind maps and word lists
These can come in very handy when you’re starting a new project, or completely stuck with one you’ve been working on for a while. With both minds maps and word lists you basically list every possible word that’s related to the subject of your project. When I use these for my projects, I first come up with all the words I can think of, then circle the best ones and create little sketches for them to get things going.
I’ve heard there are several online applications for these brainstorming methods, but nothing beats doing it on paper, where there’s full freedom to go with the flow of your associations, and add sketches too. Plus, if you’re hesitant about actual sketching, this is a great way to ease into it.

Draw something, draw anything
Often, especially when you haven’t sketched in a while, facing a blank page can be a bit intimidating. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start and what you’re supposed to sketch.

Start with a dot, a line, a circle, a square. It doesn’t matter. Just let your mind wander and your hand wander with it. Fill a whole page with doodles if you have to. It’s much less intimidating to face a page that has some character than a blank one. As long as you’re sketching something, you’re on the right track to coming up with your next great idea!

Mistakes are opportunities in disguise
Keep this in mind: your sketches don’t have to be the next Mona Lisa. Sometimes when I sketch, I find myself wanting to make things “perfect”. Don’t fall into this trap…every ‘mistake’ you make is really an opportunity to get better and learn. Welcome these ‘mistakes’ – take them on as challenges and you’ll grow as a designer.

In fact, experiment with making some of your sketches as ugly as possible – make them practically hideous! If you plan on drawing a circle, draw a jagged, oddly shaped ellipse. This will help you loosen up and express the ideas that come to you freely, without getting caught up in how well you can draw.
If all else fails, remember this: no one has to see your sketches – you can keep them as private as you’d like – so don’t be shy!

Sketch the worse possible solution
A while back I was working on some cover designs for a product for firefighters. I had a pretty massive creative block at the time – the kind that sinks its teeth into your brain and gets you irritated at every moving (and non-moving) thing around you. For the life of me I could not come up with the ‘perfect’ idea… I couldn’t sketch… Nothing.

I was talking about this to a friend of mine, and he asked me the following question: “What’s the worst possible design you can come up with for this?”
Now there was a question I could answer easy as pie. I could have a giant fire truck with two muscular firemen in suspenders (who are obviously not firemen) holding their axes, with giant flames in the background…oh, and don’t forget the water hose. I sketched this, got a good laugh, and before I knew it my creative block dissolved like two Alka-Seltzer in water.

Here’s my point: when you come up with the worst possible solutions for a design, and give them life by sketching them, it frees your mind from their weight, and leaves it open to new, innovative, and brilliant ideas.

Sketch everywhere
I like to buy notebooks and sketchbooks, it’s a bit of an obsession I have, since I just can’t resist them, no matter how hard I try. I also like to designate specific notebooks and sketchbooks for specific things. “This will be the sketchbook for my branding,” I say. “And that one will be for making to-do lists! And that other one will be great for client projects.”

Unfortunately (well, maybe it’s not unfortunate), it doesn’t always end up like that. The sketchbook I designated for my branding ended up serving as all of the above.

Which brings me to my next point: sketch anywhere and everywhere. Ideas have the tendency of visiting us at unpredictable times, and in unpredictable places. It’s often hard to keep track of which idea is supposed to go in which notebook, and which one you’re supposed to be carrying around. My solution to that is to use whatever’s available – even napkins.

Sketch everything
Including sketching as a significant chunk of your design process requires a bit of falling in love with it. It makes the process much more enjoyable and lets you to really dive into it without dreading it.

To start falling in love with it try sketching in your free time, too. Sketch things for fun – things that interest you – big things, little things, tall things, short things, trees, buildings, clocks, pens, robots, fluffy animals… whatever floats your boat. Personally, I really, really like sketching fruits and vegetables… interestingly enough it makes me quite happy.

Find what works best for you. Try using different tools like pens, pencils, watercolors, charcoal, and chalk – to name a few – as well as different surfaces. Use ones with which you feel you can express yourself in the best possible way and you enjoy most. The more fun you make this for yourself, the easier it will be to stick to it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s