We are living in a world where freelance illustrators are just an email away, where stock photography and illustration cost only a few dollars, and where Photoshop allows us to turn any image into a piece of art. So, is it important, in this age of technology, for a designer to know how to draw?
I’d love to tell you that drawings skills are just a “plus” or that the age of pencils has passed. But, I can’t do it. I’m sure many of you could (and will) argue with me. Please do. Comments are open and welcome, and I’d love to hear what you think. I can imagine that some of you have stories of successful careers, even though you “can’t even draw a stick figure,” or perhaps you’ve worked for a talented creative director who could ONLY draw stick figures. I don’t think it’s impossible to be a designer with little or no drawing skills, but I do think that it is a huge advantage.
Here are the 4 reasons I believe that every designer should know how to draw:
1. Drawing will Make You a Better Communicator:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of trying to explain something to someone, when I finally stopped and said, “Here, let me draw you a picture.” It works every time. Can’t quite describe the shape you have in mind for the tradeshow booth? Draw a picture. Can’t quite bend in the position of the ballerina you want on the cover of the DVD case? Draw a picture. A simple drawing can put you and your client on the same page.
You have to remember, that as an artist, you are a visual person. You can imagine what something looks like as you hear a description. Most of your clients will not be visual people. They won’t understand what you are saying until they can see it. Instead of trying to explain what you are thinking, sketch your ideas while you discuss the project with the client. That way, the client can give you immediate feedback. After your meeting, your client will be happier knowing you are on the right track, and you will be able to start your digital comps confident the client will have a positive reaction to your initial designs.
Drawing skills are also a big advantage while working with professional photographers, animators, and illustrators. If your client is serious about using an illustration for a campaign, or if you’re working on an ad that calls for one-of-a-kind photography, you’ll be hiring a professional. It is going to be MUCH easier to communicate with your illustrators and photographers if you can give them a sketch of what you’re looking for.
2. Drawing Skills Allow You to Offer More to Your Clients
There will be plenty of times that, as a designer, you’ll be asked to edit a photo, and it won’t always be as easy as changing the color of someone’s hair. You may need to reconstruct a portion of a person that had been covered up, or make a building still in stages of construction appear complete. You may need to digitally furnish a room. Drawing skills will be critically important in these circumstances. Even in the most simple situation, you’ll find yourself digitally drawing in shadows, using your basic shading skills to remove wrinkles from clothing, and making effects look professional with hand-drawn details. If you don’t take the time to fine-tune your drawing skills, you could find yourself paying outside professionals for even the simplest photo manipulation projects.
Not every logo consists of a typeface and a default Illustrator shape. If you want to take on logo design work, you’re going to have to know how to draw. Logos are no place for clipart or stock art. Logo symbols must be original. You’ll find that most logo designers either sketch, scan and trace their ideas, or draw directly into Photoshop or Illustrator with a tablet. But, no matter how you look at it, drawing is an essential part of the process.
3. Drawing will Save You Money
So, what if you can’t draw? Can’t you just get someone else to do it? Sure, but it’s going to cost you. If you can’t create a sketch for a presentation, you’ll have to pay someone else to do it. If you can’t create your own symbol for a logo design job, you’ll have to pay someone else to do it. If you don’t have the drawing skills to work on advanced photo restoration or manipulation jobs, you’ll have to pay someone else to do it. And, if you don’t have the drawing capabilities to create idea sketches for a client, or show a photographer what you’re looking for in the photo shoot, you’ll end up paying the price in longer project times, more comps, and perhaps additional shoots. Just think of the money you would save if you could do all of these things yourself.
4. Drawing will Make You a Better Designer
Here are just some of the skills you will acquire in drawing classes that will be beneficial to your design work:
Eye for detail
Believe it or not, years studying the detail in life to translate into your drawings will help you to develop the detail-oriented skills you will need in the design world.
Balance on a page
Drawing will help train your eye to see the lightness and darkness of grey areas on a page, a skill that comes into play as you are balancing text, images and white space as a designer.
Awareness of light becomes natural to those who draw. It is a skill you’ll need again and again as you place separate elements together to form one image or layout.
Perspective is another fundamental skill gained through drawing classes. Understanding of perspective is critical for some effects and layouts.
So, there you have it. I do believe designers should know how to draw.
It’s going to make you a better communicator, give you a larger skill-set to pull from, save you money when you don’t need to hire out, and make you a better designer.
What if I Can’t Draw?
Don’t worry if you can’t draw. Don’t pack your bags and start looking for a new career. You have options, and here is what I would recommend:
Learn – everyone can learn
As a former Drawing & Composition instructor, I truly believe that anyone can learn to draw. I’ve had students who couldn’t even write their names legibly in the beginning of class, drawing portraits by the end of the semester. If you want to learn to draw, take a class. And practice and practice and practice. If you know someone who can draw, you might think, oh, they are so talented. But, in reality, they’ve probably been drawing non-stop for YEARS, practicing constantly and improving as they go. You can do the same. It’s no different from learning an instrument. Take the classes, learn the basics, and practice.
Stock up on photos for reference
In the meantime, while you are learning to draw, stock up on photos, clippings, website bookmarks, anything that will help you to communicate better with your clients and with the professionals you may need to hire. It’s going to be much more efficient to pull out a photo of the dog you want to use in the commercial than it will be for you to describe him. If you can’t draw your idea for the layout of a website, it will be helpful if you can pull up a sample online for your client. Communication is one of the biggest advantages to knowing how to draw, so you’ll have to make up for it in other ways. You might have to use collage, idea boards, or online inspiration galleries — anything that will help you to explain your ideas to another person.
Start a new address book full of talented people that you’ll be hiring. If you can’t draw, you’ll need a logo person, a photo effects/manipulation person, and an illustrator. You may need a few different types of illustrators, depending on your area of design — maybe one person for storyboards, and another for initial meeting sketches. You’ll probably have to go through quite a few people to find the best person for your needs, but be ready, because good professionals don’t come cheap.
So, what do you think? Have I convinced you to sign up for a drawing class, or are you confident that a professional designer can be just as successful without any drawing skills at all? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear them!