The Key to Getting Better

You hear it all the time – PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE – and as someone learning to draw or sketch it can be frustrating when the returns of your efforts aren’t forthcoming. It took me some time to realize this, along with the help of one of my university professors. I came to him somewhat frustrated that i hadn’t been getting better in the short time I had started to sketch in my sketchbook. He then turned to the board, and drew this diagram. I’ve since expanded on it and share it whenever the occasion arises…

Believe it or not, I was full speed ahead on my way to becoming a math major when I discovered Industrial Design. I sometimes use graphs to explain things to this day. Take this one for example…

worker

As you sketch and practice, you see initial improvement, then hit a plateau where you find very little or no apparent improvement. Then, as you continue to push through and practice, you may find yourself hitting a boost in improvement which is encouraging, only to be met with another plateau. This continues on and on, however the returns are diminishing as time goes on. This could be due to a myriad of factors, but essentially, we have our limits and as we get closer to our limits, the returns diminish.

For the casual sketcher, the curve would look something like this.

slacker

While personal improvement can be seen over time, the returns are substantially less because sketching may be intermittent, irregular, and occasional. The longer the gap between practice sessions or instances, the more chance for a deterioration in your personal skill level.

So what’s the point of all this?  SKETCH SKETCH SKETCH SKETCH!!! It’s really the way to get significantly better, even if it’s a pain sometimes and you can’t immediately see the results.

Most of what you see in my sketchbook section on the site, was done while waiting on the bus or train, or even while on the train. Take every opportunity you have to practice. It will pay in dividends later in your career.

  • Martin

    Other than only sketch sketch sketch, I also think that you have to look at what can I do better in every single sketch? Should I use more time on each sketch or do quick sketches? I think I get the most out of overdoing sketches, and what I have found out, is details are the major thing of going to the next step!

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      I agree. Mindless sketching will get you nowhere! You have to think as you sketch and learn with each stroke. Really observe and compare what’s in your mind or what you’re seeing to what you are putting down on paper. Thanks!

  • Martin

    Other than only sketch sketch sketch, I also think that you have to look at what can I do better in every single sketch? Should I use more time on each sketch or do quick sketches? I think I get the most out of overdoing sketches, and what I have found out, is details are the major thing of going to the next step!

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      I agree. Mindless sketching will get you nowhere! You have to think as you sketch and learn with each stroke. Really observe and compare what’s in your mind or what you’re seeing to what you are putting down on paper. Thanks!

      • http://N/A Drew

        Um, no offense sir, but you used the wrong form of nowhere.

  • Claudio Luiz

    Sketch,sketch,sketch… When I was young my sketching was getting better, but for a long time I stopped to sketch…My skill went down.
    Now I am in a personal project – One sketch a day(at least). Every day I sketch something and post it on my blog. The coolest is the possibilite to take a look on my old sketches and see how much I am getting better.

    Sorry my bad english guys…

  • Claudio Luiz

    Sketch,sketch,sketch… When I was young my sketching was getting better, but for a long time I stopped to sketch…My skill went down.
    Now I am in a personal project – One sketch a day(at least). Every day I sketch something and post it on my blog. The coolest is the possibilite to take a look on my old sketches and see how much I am getting better.

    Sorry my bad english guys…

  • Louise Cochrane

    I’ve been told this time and time again…I guess I just need to suck it up and get on with some practicing!! Thanks for the kick up the ass :P

  • Louise Cochrane

    I’ve been told this time and time again…I guess I just need to suck it up and get on with some practicing!! Thanks for the kick up the ass :P

  • Claudio Luiz

    I forgot…

    When are we sketch,sketch..and sketch. We are always learning something with our mistakes. But do only a lot of sketchs will not help us. In my case, as biggner, getting some material helps a lot. At a forum a I got a PDF file called “Basic Sketing Techniques for the Industrial Designer” by Thomas Valcke and Everyday a take a look at the videos here in IDSketching.

    Guys, if you know about any sketch or rendering file, please me know.

  • Claudio Luiz

    I forgot…

    When are we sketch,sketch..and sketch. We are always learning something with our mistakes. But do only a lot of sketchs will not help us. In my case, as biggner, getting some material helps a lot. At a forum a I got a PDF file called “Basic Sketing Techniques for the Industrial Designer” by Thomas Valcke and Everyday a take a look at the videos here in IDSketching.

    Guys, if you know about any sketch or rendering file, please me know.

  • Peter

    This is very true, I always seem to find a way to put off sketching. I have seen my skill drop so much since I last sketched and this happens every time I come around to sketching. Then I go to sketch and am disheartened by the poor quality. Like Louise said its time to give myself a kick up the ass and sketch. It can be fun and the ability to produce a great sketch can win over clients and others.
    The videos on this site are proving great and the sketchbook is very inspirational.

  • Peter

    This is very true, I always seem to find a way to put off sketching. I have seen my skill drop so much since I last sketched and this happens every time I come around to sketching. Then I go to sketch and am disheartened by the poor quality. Like Louise said its time to give myself a kick up the ass and sketch. It can be fun and the ability to produce a great sketch can win over clients and others.
    The videos on this site are proving great and the sketchbook is very inspirational.

  • Solomon

    First of all, I am just a student but I realize what had been going on in my study as well.

    That is very true. I think it is useful to go as long as it takes to do a sketch in your free time too (Do underlay with no shame). Once you reach a certain level of fineness in sketching then you can start omitting details for quick ideation. I saw many bad sketch in my school that somewhat driven most by laziness but some are misguided by professor that require a page finish in 30 minutes. I agree quantity will win at the end but quality is very important in communication.

    What I’m trying to say is defining the level of stuff you gonna present. Keep your ugly ideas in your sketchbook (Don’t waste your time on perspective if you have a hard time, it is your ugly idea which will not present), and get couple good ideas to further develop. Ideas are great until you visualize it correctly. Don’t waste your time keep sketching! Once you get a hand on it you will be sure finish something in a short time because you know what is needed in the page.

  • Solomon

    First of all, I am just a student but I realize what had been going on in my study as well.

    That is very true. I think it is useful to go as long as it takes to do a sketch in your free time too (Do underlay with no shame). Once you reach a certain level of fineness in sketching then you can start omitting details for quick ideation. I saw many bad sketch in my school that somewhat driven most by laziness but some are misguided by professor that require a page finish in 30 minutes. I agree quantity will win at the end but quality is very important in communication.

    What I’m trying to say is defining the level of stuff you gonna present. Keep your ugly ideas in your sketchbook (Don’t waste your time on perspective if you have a hard time, it is your ugly idea which will not present), and get couple good ideas to further develop. Ideas are great until you visualize it correctly. Don’t waste your time keep sketching! Once you get a hand on it you will be sure finish something in a short time because you know what is needed in the page.

  • Anh

    This is a very interesting way of explaining practice/learning curves.. I can totally relate to it. :D

  • Anh

    This is a very interesting way of explaining practice/learning curves.. I can totally relate to it. :D

  • Paul

    i definitely agree. Thanks so much for the encouragement. I also find ways to put off sketching, lol… but once i got sketching more i could definitely see improvement and I’ve really enjoyed the videos on the site too. What I’ve found is that i’ve learned more from drawing larger sketches than from the tiny thumbnails. good luck sketching everyone! ^_^

  • Paul

    i definitely agree. Thanks so much for the encouragement. I also find ways to put off sketching, lol… but once i got sketching more i could definitely see improvement and I’ve really enjoyed the videos on the site too. What I’ve found is that i’ve learned more from drawing larger sketches than from the tiny thumbnails. good luck sketching everyone! ^_^

  • David

    Quantity equals quality if you fail alot and learn from it. This site as become even more awesome than the last time I last checked. Love it!

  • David

    Quantity equals quality if you fail alot and learn from it. This site as become even more awesome than the last time I last checked. Love it!

  • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

    Well said. There’s alot to be said of accumulating mileage and how that relates to your skill level in a given task.

  • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

    Well said. There’s alot to be said of accumulating mileage and how that relates to your skill level in a given task.

  • Lee

    Although i agree with the comments made, i think it helps to have a direction, i feel sketching is a learning process two fold, firstly and foremost i think sketching is a tool in which to understand form, to evaluate and collate answers from, whether the sketch is good or bad, you must learn something from it that is progression, even if you freestlye sketching a car, a robot, a toothbrush you have to have an objective, a purpose to the sketch something that you can build on in terms of both the sketch and your ability, becoming satisfied with what you have sketched and in turn giving you the drive to push the exploration further providing inspiration to keep sketching.

    ps. i wish i had this site when i was at uni, its still an excellence source to have

    Your Killin’ em Spence!!! ha

  • Lee

    Although i agree with the comments made, i think it helps to have a direction, i feel sketching is a learning process two fold, firstly and foremost i think sketching is a tool in which to understand form, to evaluate and collate answers from, whether the sketch is good or bad, you must learn something from it that is progression, even if you freestlye sketching a car, a robot, a toothbrush you have to have an objective, a purpose to the sketch something that you can build on in terms of both the sketch and your ability, becoming satisfied with what you have sketched and in turn giving you the drive to push the exploration further providing inspiration to keep sketching.

    ps. i wish i had this site when i was at uni, its still an excellence source to have

    Your Killin’ em Spence!!! ha

  • Gordon

    There is an old saying…”You’re not a (car) designer ’til you’ve done 10,000 sketches.” Think about it. That’s probably how many sketches you probably did in school. It’s true, the more you do it, the better you get. How else can one explore form and communicate your ideas quickly. Burn through those Prismas people! In the long-run, paper and pencils are a cheap investment for the return you’ll get at the other end.

  • Gordon

    There is an old saying…”You’re not a (car) designer ’til you’ve done 10,000 sketches.” Think about it. That’s probably how many sketches you probably did in school. It’s true, the more you do it, the better you get. How else can one explore form and communicate your ideas quickly. Burn through those Prismas people! In the long-run, paper and pencils are a cheap investment for the return you’ll get at the other end.

  • Nikhil

    Right Gordon…….especially for product designers like me who need to burn pencils even faster ….to get into the car mold…..yet have unique style qoutient. Im trying thick ink tipped pens and the results sketches have a different language….however message is the same…..

  • Nikhil

    Right Gordon…….especially for product designers like me who need to burn pencils even faster ….to get into the car mold…..yet have unique style qoutient. Im trying thick ink tipped pens and the results sketches have a different language….however message is the same…..

  • theRIAA

    @Claudio Luiz

    http://www.vanhooreweder.net/basic_sketching.pdf

    I found it very useful too, thanks!

  • theRIAA

    @Claudio Luiz

    http://www.vanhooreweder.net/basic_sketching.pdf

    I found it very useful too, thanks!

  • Matesse (Halo77) Estis

    I have been coming to this site for about 6 months now, give or take, and i have been inspired and re-energized, by what i see and what i have read, keep up the great work everyone, and thanks!

    -Halo77

  • Matesse (Halo77) Estis

    I have been coming to this site for about 6 months now, give or take, and i have been inspired and re-energized, by what i see and what i have read, keep up the great work everyone, and thanks!

    -Halo77

  • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

    Thanks! Glad to hear it.

  • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

    Thanks! Glad to hear it.

  • James Davies

    That PDF file is brilliant for beginners, thank you so much. I love how it insists you learn to draw a straight line! That is very important

  • James Davies

    That PDF file is brilliant for beginners, thank you so much. I love how it insists you learn to draw a straight line! That is very important

  • http://www.waddydesign.com Paul

    Thanks for that PDF it has some useful stuff in. The straight line exercise seems different to what I’ve been told to practice previously. It doesn’t suggest to try and sketch over the same line several times. Now i’m confused to which works best :S

  • http://www.waddydesign.com Paul

    Thanks for that PDF it has some useful stuff in. The straight line exercise seems different to what I’ve been told to practice previously. It doesn’t suggest to try and sketch over the same line several times. Now i’m confused to which works best :S

  • Parker

    I find this sentiment so often in sketching/drawing sites, but it remains true everytime. I found my biggest jump in sketching ability came when I learned how to not be precious about my sketches and learned to embrace criticism. It dawned on me, but kind of without me knowing, that the fastest way to improve to copy sketches in styles that you like and to learn how to love getting feedback. It’s just a sketch, they’re not attacking you, they’re just commenting on the drawing. I’ve drawn for some 16 years and it took 14 to really figure that out. After that, sketching comes down to two things that Scott Robertson once said in a book ” Perspective drawing can be boiled down to knowing where to put the points and the hand eye coordination needed to connect those points.” Confidence as you sketch is also key. I’ve seen painstakingly accurate drawings next to swift, confident, albeit somewhat off in perspective sketches that look spectacular. When people ask me for advice I tell them “bold, swift, and confident statements in sketching are the key.” A careful, deliberate confidence is present in all masterful drawing.

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Brilliant comment! Thanks for sharing! I totally agree. Thinking of sketches as precious things doesn’t help one bit. My wife always says too that one of the biggest killers of creativity is thinking of your work as precious and perfect – you have to let loose a little. Thanks again!

  • Parker

    I find this sentiment so often in sketching/drawing sites, but it remains true everytime. I found my biggest jump in sketching ability came when I learned how to not be precious about my sketches and learned to embrace criticism. It dawned on me, but kind of without me knowing, that the fastest way to improve to copy sketches in styles that you like and to learn how to love getting feedback. It’s just a sketch, they’re not attacking you, they’re just commenting on the drawing. I’ve drawn for some 16 years and it took 14 to really figure that out. After that, sketching comes down to two things that Scott Robertson once said in a book ” Perspective drawing can be boiled down to knowing where to put the points and the hand eye coordination needed to connect those points.” Confidence as you sketch is also key. I’ve seen painstakingly accurate drawings next to swift, confident, albeit somewhat off in perspective sketches that look spectacular. When people ask me for advice I tell them “bold, swift, and confident statements in sketching are the key.” A careful, deliberate confidence is present in all masterful drawing.

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Brilliant comment! Thanks for sharing! I totally agree. Thinking of sketches as precious things doesn’t help one bit. My wife always says too that one of the biggest killers of creativity is thinking of your work as precious and perfect – you have to let loose a little. Thanks again!

  • Jared

    Yup. Parker hit it pretty much right on.

    I always have to make sure that I don’t get tunnel vision when sketching. Just lay it down. Sometimes I like to go quite light at first, but fast, confident strokes are the key to compelling visuals. I think somtimes you have to get loose and tell yourself “Don’t worry about it, this line will be just fine, or at least close enough” And then you will begin to lay lines in the right spot.

  • Jared

    Yup. Parker hit it pretty much right on.

    I always have to make sure that I don’t get tunnel vision when sketching. Just lay it down. Sometimes I like to go quite light at first, but fast, confident strokes are the key to compelling visuals. I think somtimes you have to get loose and tell yourself “Don’t worry about it, this line will be just fine, or at least close enough” And then you will begin to lay lines in the right spot.

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  • http://patrickdeza.blogspot.com Patrick Deza

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts :-)

  • http://patrickdeza.blogspot.com Patrick Deza

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts :-)

  • http://N/A Drew

    when i was a kid i had learned that practice makes perfect… but i have found that is wrong. practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. you have to practice hard and give it your all at anything you do in order to recieve the full rewards.

  • Joe

    Practice makes perfect!
    it is a progress where qualitative change into quantitative

  • Joe

    Practice makes perfect!
    it is a progress where qualitative change into quantitative

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  • Abby Moreno07

    I guess the best thing to do is document every sketch you do, look at the 1st documented sketch then your latest one, you’ll find how much skill you improved.

  • http://twitter.com/CJinBrooklyn Christian J

    Great stuff. Where’s the PDF people are talking about?

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