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  • Albert Topdjian

How to Blast Through the Fear of Sketching


Just like any skill that can be learned, often times we will hit a learning plateau. Something just stops us from progressing to the next level. Sketching is unfortunately a skill that many of us stop developing at an early age when we decide to put the crayons or markers away to pursue other interests. Unfortunately, this means that many people stop progressing their visual skills and lose out on a valuable tool for communication. But it's never too late to learn new things and you don't have to be a good artist to sketch effectively! Here are some tips and tricks to help improve your sketching and to communicate with professional designers:


Break Things Down

If we continue to break matter down further and further, all that will be left are atoms. These atoms and how they interact with each other help us understand what happens at all levels of physics and chemistry. When sketching, it is important to keep in mind the basic underlying structure of how things are visualized and formed. We do this by using shapes.


A water bottle is just a fancy cylinder. How about your dog? They're 4 long cylinders attached to a rectangular prism with a sphere on the top and another curvy cylinder at the end. Everywhere I go I'm constantly breaking down my surroundings into more basic forms. The more you practice thinking this way, the easier it'll become to apply other techniques like perspective to your sketches. When you're first tackling a sketch, it never hurts to do a few underlays with simplified geometries before you begin to add detailed structure and curves.


Ditch the Eraser

Do you sketch with a standard pencil? Not a problem, just cut off the eraser and throw any other gummy erasers you have in a box and lock it away. Unless you are at a point where you're using an eraser to achieve complex highlights and shadows, an eraser will only become a mental crutch. Mistakes are part of the sketching process, we often learn about the form or construction of an object by readjusting the sketch lines in the middle of a drawing. If your goal is to communicate a concept rather than create fine art it's OK to be loose and a little "sloppy". The more you draw the more precise and confident your linework will become!


The day I switched from pencil (with eraser) to pen, was the day that I became more thoughtful and direct with my sketch lines. I had to think a bit more about how my lines were going to be created. Over time this meant that I became more precise and faster with expressing my ideas on paper. I learned to control my pen pressure and create consistent arcs and lines. Now I look at it as one less thing to carry with my sketchbook. Just a pen and paper is plenty to draw any idea out no matter how complex.


Go Big

Don't be afraid to sketch on larger sheets of paper (8.5" x 11", 11" x 17"). Sketching in a larger format allows you the space to think and explore multiple views and ideas. An added advantage is that drawings almost always look better when reduced in size; so if you're planning to snap a pic of your sketch and shrink it in size for emailing, it will look sharper!


Be Confident

Now that you've ditched the eraser, you have no choice but to become more confident with your sketching. In order to progress and learn anything in life, you have to subject your brain and body to a level of discomfort. And in order to tackle those challenges well you must be confident and fearless (with a strong dose of humility). Being fearful of making the wrong marks on your paper will keep you stuck in light scratchy sketches for the rest of your life. Give it some oomph! Create dark and intense lines and shadows. Give your sketches the contrast they've been craving for!


Fake it till you make it. Before you know it, you'll be striking beautiful lines full of intent across your paper.


Don't be Hard on Yourself

In order to be more confident with your sketching you'll also have to learn to let go. Sketching is a tool in your communication toolbox (and for some a means of self expression) so don't be concerned if your sketches aren't "pretty". Does your sketch enable you to communicate your idea to others? Does the sketch allow you to work through a conceptual roadblock or explore alternative ideas quickly? Great! And if you're not thrilled with the quality of the sketch, keep practicing, you'll get better at it.


Don't be afraid to be silly! Sketch weird and wacky concepts knowing you'll be less worried if someone doesn't like it. Even the messiest of napkin sketches can inform much more than just hand waving and words.


In Summary

Sketching is a tool for communication and a little bit of practice goes a long way. Break the world down into basic forms, Don't be afraid to explore wacky ideas. Go easy on yourself, you can only get better!


Happy sketching!

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