Hi, I’m Ellen King, a senior UX designer and accessibility advocate at a large financial institution. I’m an avid reader (about a book every week or so), feminist (since way back when), and sketch artist (rusty, though). I love lighthouses, city murals, gardening, quilting, photography, hiking and skiing. Oh, and the beach, of course.
I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia with my husband and my active (read: annoying) yellow cat, Sonny. I am the mother of three grown children and three grandchildren.
You can say hi on Twitter @ellenking, get a peek at my life and sketches on Instagram as @ellenking, and catch my (very) occasional writings on my blog, http://ivelearnedlately.blogspot.com/.
Sketching, or making quick preliminary drawings, has long been the traditional way for an artist to prepare to make a greater work.
Now it’s considered an art form all it’s own.
Sketches are usually spontaneous and often quickly done on the spot. Groups of sketch artists meet all over the world to record what they see with pen and ink, and watercolor.
I first came to love the art of drawing while watching the early PBS shows that combined drawing with storytelling like Teletales with Paul Lally and artist Rae Owings, and Bookbird with John Robbins.
My father used to entertain me in church, as a child, with sketches of old jalopies drawn on the back of the program. (Shh, don’t tell anyone.)
Drawing and sketching are still a valued skill. Just recently I sat in a dark movie theatre long after everyone had left, so I could see all the drawings (the best part) shown during the end credits of the too-long-as-3-movies story of the Hobbit.
In the last ten years, sketching has been translated into pop business concepts like sketch notes, mind mapping, rich pictures, back-of-the-napkin visual thinking, whiteboard animations, and showing your work for self promotion.
But sketching does compete with instant smartphone pictures, digital camera technology, screen captures, and digital stock photography. And, drawing programs for your computer and iPad abound, so one rarely has to think of picking up a real pen or pencil at all.
Here are a few compelling reasons to get back to sketching by hand.
You’re strengthening the connections between left and right brain.
Sometimes your left brain just takes over your life. You’re constantly analyzing, problem solving, and talking, talking, talking. So maybe visual, perceptual thinking is the break you need. Tapping into the intuitive brain for a time can benefit all aspects of life and work.
“When your brain is weary of it’s verbal chatter, drawing is a way to quiet the chatter and to grasp a fleeting glimpse of transcendent reality.” Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, p. 248. (I highly recommend buying this book or downloading the pdf.)
Learning to make this deliberate cognitive shift between intuitive thinking and analytical thinking has implications for all the activities of life.
It’s also a way to improve eye-hand coordination, a skill used in many fields (and, no, not just video game playing).
You’re gaining a life skill.
Drawing is a global skill, like reading, driving, skiing, swimming, and walking, meaning once you’ve learned a few limited basic components, and have integrated them, you can draw. Just as you once learned to read, you know how to read for the rest of your life. Progress in these skills then takes the form of practice and refinement of technique.
For some reason that concept that we can all draw has become lost to many of us. “I’m not artistic, really,” you tell others, or yourself. Maybe it was drilled into you (or out of you?) by a well-meaning teacher or adult.
Everyone can be “artistic”. Don’t believe me? Check out this gallery of “artists” who learned to draw in five days.
It may be time to add or recapture this skill in your life.
You’re capturing that unique moment.
With sketching, I love that a moment is captured in a unique, never-to-be-repeated way. You make the impermanent permanent. You capture the moment even as it’s changing with the light or movement. It’s about being in that place, being in that moment, living in the moment. It’s a total state of focus and of togetherness of body and mind. It’s very zen.
But wait, you say, all the above can apply to photography too, that #iphoneonly Instagram shot. Photography is a global skill that can be learned, and it’s about letting right brain perception take precedence over the logical, and, and it’s about capturing magical moments. Right?
So why sketch, instead of picking up a camera?
I’ve already mentioned entertaining yourself and others, and storytelling in a unique way, and that perhaps the camaraderie of belonging to a group of sketchers is appealing.
If you already sketch regularly you’ll be nodding your head at all this, but if you hesitate (or laugh) at the thought of drawing, here are a few more reasons to pick up a pen instead of a camera.
A sketch is a safe way to fail and learn, or succeed easily.
Sketching is what I think of when others say ‘to win (or succeed, or innovate or...), fail fast and fail often’.
Making a number of small sketches, and stopping and starting again, is a safe investment of time and energy, costing very little. You try one idea and set it aside quickly for another. You do a small shadow study or a quick shape study, leading to a better final sketch, thinking through all the basic elements first.
I believe a set of pen-on-paper sketches and a good outline of content are the best start to good wireframes and a solid web design.
A sketch is not meant to be an elaborate drawing or a polished painting. It’s a response to what is before you and often with a time constraint. It is a way to capture or emphasize an idea. It’s a little bit of something to be proud of or put aside. It leads to other ideas, sometimes bigger and better.
It’s often the mistakes that make a sketch charming.
Apps or filters for making a sketch from a photo are awesome (here’s one app that I like, Waterlogue), but they lack style, spontaneity and mistakes!
The happy accidents with the paint or pen spatters that create a mood or show you had to hurry, cannot be replicated digitally.
The unfinished parts that had to be left as-is, because your sketching time was up, or the weather interfered or the light was lost or the tour bus was leaving, add to the character and story of the drawing.
Sketches need to be only-just believable, not perfectly accurate. Don’t worry about getting it “right” or making “ugly” sketches.
They give you freedom to interpret a scene or situation. To respond to what you see and how you feel in the moment, unplanned.
They let you tell a story, your story, your way, not as others see it. Regardless of skill or mistakes.
Sketches help you work out an idea.
Have you ever worked for a long time (hours!) with design or drawing software, forgetting to save, only to have the software crash and you lose everything? Argh! Then, after letting off that steam and frustration, you sit back down and pull it together in 20 minutes. How is that possible? It’s because you’ve already done the thinking. You’ve thought through the hierarchy, and relationships, the proportions, the alignments, spacing, composition, rhythm and the values.
An inner voice is working through the solution as you make choices about line and color. With sketching, you imagine the composition, you decide the time you’ll spend and the best method or materials to suit both. You think about the relationships, the proportions and the values.
It can be a very satisfying process, (if the inner voice is not too critical). Often the process is more interesting than the finished image. You’re imagining, analyzing, feeling, thinking, and working it out...instead of point, click.
Sketching can be a process of self-discovery.
You can learn a lot about yourself during sketching, if you pay attention.
How do you respond to the world? What do you see first? Does your brain play tricks on you and what you see? Are you worried about getting it right? Do curious bystanders bother you? Can you work with someone looking over your shoulder? What do you find interesting or worth capturing? Can you see both logically and intuitively?
Listening to your own voice and thoughts for a few minutes can be revealing.
Sketching helps you discover your own style. You’re capturing the time, place, or event, as you see it rather than replicating it as a photo does. Perhaps that rock formation on the beach is what stands out for you, the special ornament on the Christmas tree, or the way the light falls on the building face. You choose what speaks to you.
Judgements and comparisons can be set aside, after all it’s just a sketch, right? You don’t have to please anyone but yourself.
Quieting your mind and the endless talking to yourself can reveal that what you need to see is right there before you.
Put down the camera down. Carry supplies instead, or too.
Pull out the pen and paper, and start. Materials as simple as a pencil, a pen, a small sketchbook and kid’s watercolor paints are enough to begin with. A water brush is nice to have when you’re away from a water source. Do something with what you have today. If you’ve got fancier supplies, all the better, but not necessary.
Look...see and feel the edges, the shapes, the light and shadow, the relationships and...go. Get the hand working together with the eye. Tap into intuition.
Overcome the need for perfection. “Embrace wonkiness,” as Liz Steel says fondly. Put away judgement.
Take courage, sit down in a busy public place, and capture what you see. Concentrate on the sketch. Pay no attention to the passers-by.
Or, start small with something you already love (flowers, dogs, tea cups). Record your daily life and doings. Just add notes and a date and, voila, you have a sketch journal. Don’t wait for a special moment or inspiration.
Do it EVERY day. Squeeze it in. The good thing about sketching is that you can do something in a very short amount of time, even while waiting.
“Through practice, your mind will shift ever more easily [into the “zone&arduous;]. By neglect, the pathways can become blocked again.” Betty Edwards