Power of the Sketch

November 16th, 2009

wanken shelby white sketch

wanken shelby white sketch

wanken shelby white sketch

The sketches above are a few of many pulled from two recent projects of mine. Just over a year ago, sketching concepts was one of my least favorite things to do. It seemed less time consuming to go straight to the computer to try and bring my concept to life. The truth was though, that it took two or three times longer to come up with my concepts than it would have taken to sketch by hand.

The reason it’s faster to sketch is because we can think faster from our brain to pencil than from our brain to computer. In a sense we can compare it to talking. An example would be that we use our voice to communicate; it’s far more effective than communicating digitally and there is little room for misunderstanding. This is my point exactly. Talking is natural and sketching is close to natural (the cavemen did it). When trying to use the computer to hash out our ideas, there seems to be a physical communication barrier that, no matter how good you are with computers, stunts your creative drive.

Being able to provide two or three-minute sketches to clients or the design firm you work for is a valuable asset, but only if you understand the principles of proportion, spacing (type), and ingenuity. In the sketches above, you can tell which ones were the 2-3 minute, 10 second, and 45-minute sketches. The 2-3 minute sketches are the ones you should focus on. The 10 second sketches don’t have the direction they need and the longer, 45-minute sketches are too timely (unless you’re creating an art piece). The 2-3 minute sketches help myself or my client envision the evolution of the project in the design phase. If I were to immediately show my client refined sketch, it may give them the impression that this is the final product. It’s also a safeguard to make sure you don’t spend too much time on an idea that may not be the best solution.

It’s funny sometimes what areas of a project get sketched the most. For example, the HH Annual Report project had more sketches about binding the book, than the design itself. Some of my other projects–a project for the Bicycle Alliance of Washington–started with word lists instead of sketches and eventually moved on to sketches of the photo-driven concepts.

Sketching has helped me spend less time staring endlessly at my monitor so I can spend more time making progress on my personal projects. Since I feel pretty strongly about the power of sketching, I’m curious to know what your thoughts on it. What is the balance between pencil and pixel in your work? Share with us.

Posted by on 11/16/09 in Design, Process, Workflow

11 COMMENTS   »  Leave your Comment

  1. Brett says:

    My Sketch book is my best friend and is the key to everything in my life. Everything from phone numbers, to dates, to drawings, to notes, to ideas, to journal entries are all in there. Usually when I start a painting the first thing I do is sketch what dimensions I want my canvas to be then write all the materials I need. That is obviously just the beginning, but to answer your question, yes I always start out any project with a sketch.

  2. blackabee says:

    Good post. Great sketches. the top one is my fav. quality work.

  3. Michael says:

    This is so true, yet also for me, the most difficult. I Sometimes sit down at my computer and feel like I have nothing if I don’t have a sketch, but for some reason will force myself into the work. A lot of the projects that were the most successful and smoothest involved lots of sketching to begin with, even if the final product looked nothing at all like the sketches…

    I’m liking that bottom image – does it say something. Very Si Scott of you…

  4. Sharon says:

    Oh, when I mention sketches, let the whining and moaning commence! “But, we’re in a computer graphics class.” Then I go on to talk about doing full mockups with no client to artist consensus, wasting time and money, blah, blah, blah….THEY HATE IT.

    But it’s so important!!!

  5. Michael–

    I also have seen some of my best projects come to life from exploring different conceptual avenues that weren’t even used.

    The last sketch was just some experimentation using the word ‘folk’. I’ve been a fan Si Scott’s for a while and have done a few other pieces like the one above. http://www.wanken.com/src/content/img/personal/dnine/dnine_1.jpg

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Graham Smith, Adam Putinski. Adam Putinski said: RT @imjustcreative: WANKEN – Power of the Sketch http://ping.fm/901IE […]

  7. octavian says:


    I like yours better. Think it’s the strokes : )

  8. Michael says:

    You had talk to me about this for hours and I never believed it, but i do believe it is true. Great post and awesome idea to express on a personal blog with two great completed products and sketches for show. Hope all is well man.

  9. […] majority of my time this past week drafting up logo ideas for a project. After putting out about 50 sketches and sifting back through them, I realized that I needed to focus on current logo trends for this […]

  10. Brad says:

    I think initial sketches are vital. It is so much easier and quicker to get all your initial bad ideas out on paper than to go straight to the computer and I am always a lot more happy and satisfied with the out come of the project. Awesome sketches it is so awesome to see the thought process behind design work.

  11. Been thinking about writing a post like this for our upcoming blog. You’re so very right on sketching. Helps to quickly week out the bad ideas and keep the design/concept focused and on track. Thanks for sharing.

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