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05th of Apr. 2010

The Fear Of Sketching

By Yaron Schoen


Related links that inspired or helped me create this article.

Recently I have been seeing more and more sketching going on. Either it’s always been there or I am now simply paying attention to it, either way, I’m loving it. I would say that drawing is what got me started as a designer. As a kid I use to draw all the time, my favorite method was simple. Pencil and paper. I used to draw all sorts of things, mostly the skyline of our upper east Manhattan apartment. I had an obsession with buildings, I guess that was because it was the easiest thing to draw for a 5 years old. I wish I knew where those drawings are hidden, so I could share with you, but I don’t. Probably somewhere in my Mom’s place in her suitcase of memories.

The real evolution came when I was introduced to Marvel comics. I would say that was one of the biggest inspirations of my young life. The amount of detail that went into each and every drawing left me in awe. All I wanted to do was mimic what I saw on the page. I taught myself how to draw these amazing illustrations the only way I knew how, by copying them. I didn’t use tracing paper though, I guess I felt that would be cheating. After a few years, by the age of 12, I was already capable of drawing figures by my self, and even started creating my own characters. But then came puberty.

From the age of 14 or so, I completely abandoned drawing in favor of music, especially for that new and fresh style called Grunge. It was a shame really, cause I never went back to my sketch pad. I became rusty as time went by, and slowly but surly all the time and effort I put in as a child went to waist. I simply stopped drawing. I guess, as a perfectionist, to see myself creating drawings of poor quality felt like a stab in the heart and that’s why I never really tried again. But good news…

Lately my fear of getting back to the sketch pad has dissolved and I attribute this to 3 main factors.

I purchased my new Wacom a few months back. I started doodling small stuff for very specific projects (that are soon to be released) and it really made me overcome some of the barriers that held me back. I am still not close to where I was when I was 14 (which btw I am now 30) but I don’t think it really matters, since I am enjoying it.

Leaving Fi more than a year ago. Since then I have really tried to escape the Fi style, not because I don’t think it looks good, but because as a designer I really needed a change. Fi’s style is very sharp, perfectly organized, has distinctive coloring and Photoshop effects. That is all good, but I needed to design something that had more of a handcrafted feel to it. Less perfection in the sense of perfect straight lines ect. The natural way to escape this style was through illustrations, handmade lines and textures.

And finally, my web designer peeps. I draw inspiration from many things, usually from sources other than actual web design. That said, there are some designers that simply draw my attention. I would normally not do this in a blog post, but since I feel these guys really help me overcome my fear of drawing, I would like to pay respect to them and display some of the works that are refreshing to me.

I was fortunate to meet Kyle at the recent SXSW. He is a genuine guy and it was a real pleasure hanging out with him. Kyle’s style is very distinct and it seems he has the same approach of the handcrafted design which I think is a rare and amazing style. Check out his stuff.

I am assuming you all know who Elliot is, so no real introduction needed. I stumbled upon his latest work on Dribbble. The Money Pig illustration drew my eyes immediately. This was a perfect blend of hand drawn illustrations with a blend of Photoshop touch ups. I also noticed that he created some buttons that feel handcrafted. I had done something similar in a project which will be released soon, and was really excited to see that this idea works. You can see his stuff here.

Though I have been aware of Mike’s work for a while, it is only recently that I really started paying attention to it. His SXSW sketch notes are to die for. There is something so beautiful in them, which makes me want to create my websites with hand drawn fonts. The work he did for the Rework book by 37 Signals is also amazing. Check it out here.

Where Is The Grunge?

So I am happy to say that I am slowly getting back to drawing, even if my abilities are not the best. I am incorporating the handcrafted feel to recent projects (where appropriate) and enjoying it. I must say, Photoshop is an amazing tool, heck, even with all it’s flaws it is by far my favorite program. That said, I feel we kind of lost ourselves within its perfection. That can be said about anything computer made. I miss the grunge of an illustration or of the music we listen to or even the movies we see. Everything became so electronically perfected that it kind of loses it’s soul. In a way I miss the good old pencil and paper. Hope that this feeling will last, before I hop back to my good ol’ Logitech mouse and create that perfect drop-shadow…

Comments (30)

So what do you think? The world wants to know!

Design Informer
April 05, 2010

Great article Yaron. Also, I’m really trying to get back to the sketchpad myself. I personally think that by sketching, you also improve your skills in Photoshop, etc.  I want to take a drawing class so I can learn proper shading, lighting techniques which I think will be helpful when I draw, but also when I design on the computer.

I’ve also seen lots of articles on the topic lately. We just actually did one on Design Informer a few weeks back.

To Sketch or Not to Sketch? That is the Question - http://designinformer.com/sketch-question/

Kyle Brown-Watson
April 05, 2010

For years I would always write things out by hand on notepads before I would type it out. Whenever I worked on a keyboard I spent more time spelling the words in my head than I did writing.

I’ve noticed a lot of people have been gong back to things like sketching and film photography. You use a different part of your brain when you work outside the screen and it’s always healthy to reconnect with that.

Neil J
April 05, 2010

This was like reading my own story… I like you, seemed to hit that puberty age and friends (and more importantly girls) over took the desire to continue drawing… previous to this me and my cousin would spend hours copying characters and figures from Marvel comics right through to the Beano comics.

I’ve only recently started doing illustrations - And loving it! I’ve bought pencils, paper and a Wacom Tablet and feel like i’ve received a new lease of life!

Erik Ford
April 05, 2010

Those who know me well know exactly where I stand on this subject (those who don’t can check out my rambling thought process in my guest post for Design Informer already linked by Jad). I just love the feel of pencil and paper in hand. But, more than that, I love the moments of exploration that I can only seem to get to when I am working this way. The only fear I haven’t been able to overcome is the fear of the Wacom tablet. :)

Kyle Steed
April 05, 2010


Thanks so much for including some of my sketches in this post. I’m happy I was able to get your profile sketch done before you posted this. ;)

I hope you keep at it, sketching I mean. I can totally relate to the feeling of being rusty after you haven’t drawn in so long. But it’s like riding a bike (I think in some way) in that after you start doing it again it will all come rushing back to you.

It was great to meet you at SXSW and get a chance to talk. Maybe one day I’ll make it up to New York and we can hang out again.

Trent Walton
April 05, 2010

Great post… +1 for featuring Mr. Steed.

Phil Coffman
April 05, 2010

Great post Yaron. I too have been getting back into sketching with my projects. I bought my first Moleskine a few months ago and have enjoyed using it to flesh out mostly logo ideas. I struggled at first to commit pen/pencil to paper at first because I feared messing it up with bad drawings or horrible ideas which I would then feel compelled to scribble out. Since then I’ve started to care less about that but have also taken greater care with my sketches and allow myself to really think through what I’m drawing. I’m still refining the process, but it’s definitely become an invaluable piece of the process.

John Peele
April 05, 2010

Love love love that you took the time to focus on sketching. I was just thinking the other day, as I was watching the latest greatest CG-laden special effects movie, that all the pixel-perfect work that I have been producing lately really makes me miss my days of drawing as a kid.

So with children of my own now, I don’t demand perfection from them in their creative explorations. I let my daughter put a pink t-shirt with a polka dotted skirt and am trying even harder to embrace my son’s unique penmanship style.

As amazing an invention as the computer is, sometimes I feel as though it takes us farther away from our intentions as designers and artists rather than closer.  Great post!

Javier Mateos
April 05, 2010

Damn true, some people seem to avoid this and start “sketching” directly on the software. I’ve heard that many times and even in some cases I’m sure there’s more chances that your visual answer will be more validated and solid if you start sketching like the good old times!

I remember one important brand started from a napkin sketch.

Jesse Rand
April 05, 2010

Nice post!  I really wish more designers would bust out their sketchbooks from time to time.  I’ve had a Wacom Tablet for a couple of years now, and it has improved my designs ten-fold.  I’ve even customized it to the point where I duplicated the look of my hand drawings so I can just sketch directly into photoshop.  Despite what Javier said above me, it’s awesome for when you have a great idea in the middle of working.  When I recently redesigned my website I was customizing my Twitter button and decided on the spot that an angry little protest bird would be cool.  20 minutes later is was in full color and web-ready.

I recommend all designer that can draw, should draw on their designs.  It would be awesome to see an influx of organic hand drawn websites crop up in the future.

April 05, 2010

Totally.. I also got back into drawing more after getting a Wacom tablet.

A sketchpad is great for ideas and doodles on the go in a cafe or so. But I found that I had to start over and over. Resulting in 10-20 different versions. Photoshop and a tablet makes the editing of a drawing so much easier than a traditional eraser.

Jesse Rand
April 05, 2010

@simurai You are absolutely right!  Control Z is every artists best friend.  Even though I feel like I’m cheating sometimes.  So I still visit the sketchbook regulary, but the Wacom Photoshop combo is irreplacable.

Yaron Schoen
April 05, 2010

@Jesse I am not sure if this is related in anyway but I always loved this Picasso quote: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep”

David O.
April 05, 2010

The header illustration with the potion looks good and I really like Elliot’s pig illustration .

April 06, 2010

We’re in exactly the same boat!

I used to draw so much when I was young.. but I got a guitar and that stopped.

I was never great at sketching, but I was better than most. I packed it in because I never thought my drawings would be useful for anything. It’s only up until recently realised it doesn’t matter how technically brilliant the drawings are, as long as they have something to say and represent your own personal style then they should be well received by others.

I’m now looking forward to getting myself a tablet and getting a bit rough around the edges ;)

Enjoyable post.

April 06, 2010

I don’t do much illustration but even for wire framing or defining page structures of web sites and basic layouts, sitting at the kitchen table or in a coffee shop with a blank, unlined sketchbook is such a great way to have a fresh, clear start at something. No Twitter feeds or emails to interrupt, no pressure to achieve perfection with every placed element. Along the same lines, I’ve found drawing with a pen better than drawing with a pencil. You lose the option to erase, but it forces you to be more precise with every stroke and helps you get better that way.

April 07, 2010

One of the things that prevents me from picking up a pencil is the legacy of harsh crits that I had to endure in art school. The voice of nasty lecturers still lingers, years on.
However,  I am learning to just do it anyway- screw them..
Once you just pick up a pencil or paintbrush and don’t care about those critics anymore, something extra gets added to your design work. Anyone can operate photoshop and add drop shadows and effects but no one can draw or paint like you can. I am rediscovering the fun in doing just what I wanted to like when I was a kid, there are still days the art school demons come back but its a process.

Sneh Roy
April 07, 2010

Very insightful post Yaron! I have sketched, doodled and painted all my life. In a way, discovering the computer back in 1996 robbed me of my sketching and I only got back to it about a year ago. It was like falling off a bike and then getting back on again ... sketching is a designer’s, a thinker’s muse :)

April 07, 2010

Great article. The more i design the more I feel i have to renew the once forgotten and put aside sketching skills. This vision-skecth-vector process will always be better then vision-vector one…  besides the fact that sketching and doodling just adds to the creativity and visionary making it easier to shape the ideas

Web Design Maidstone
April 07, 2010

Great article, more than once an idle doodle of mine has evolved into a website… I must meaning to do a showcase of this!

April 07, 2010

@Jesse Rand

ctrl+z is evil… i don’t know how many times i tried, against my will, to press that on a paper…

Natasha H.
April 07, 2010

Loved the article. Don’t know why, but I guess a lot of people give up drawing in high school for something else. I know I certainly did. It’s great that you gotback into it. I myself am going to try to do that now while I’m still young.

Keep up the good work.

alfin kahar
April 07, 2010

great post..
i love arts even im not an artist..
it’s about 3 years ago i bought wacom and practice my drawing skill..
u can see some here ->http://cgku.wordpress.com

i’d drawed so much, but i think i’d reached my limit..
i’d realized that i’ve no talent to make some really beautifull art,
n the worse thing that i dont find my own style..
but i think i learn somethin,,
if we’re talking about art, it’s not only make a masterpiece which’s loved by alot of people
it’s about express our feeling,,
and about enjoying the process..
unless u’re a professional artist, worked by commission

Cheryl D Wise
April 07, 2010

I too have been trying to get back to sketching more and even painting occasionally. A few years ago I got a Wacom tablet but never could get the hang of drawing on a pad that I couldn’t see the result of without looking at the screen.

A few years ago I switched to a tablet PC and found that I could draw on it like paper. Programs like Art Rage and Sketchpad Pro are great for natural drawing but I found I missed the texture of drawing on paper. So I’ve taken to keeping a sketch pad & some pencils in my car and in my scooter. That way I’ve got the materials at hand even when I don’t have my tablet or power.

April 09, 2010

Great article. Thank you for the pictures, links and everything really. I love cartoons elements on the page.

Jason Kendall
April 09, 2010

Great post, wish I could find more client projects that allowed for hand-crafted grunge sketching.
It’s not always easy to come across as a web designer…except for making killer wire-frames.

Van Driessche Interieur
April 13, 2010

I think we don’t see too much grunge illustrations because it’s not “clean”. Most companies want a clean website, logo, etc.

Max W
April 18, 2010

Great post, leaving Fi and trying to move away from the Fi style must be real hard as they do produce pixel perfect work that is simply stunning each time. How have most of your recent projects gone since then?


May 07, 2010

Absolute fantastic work. So many awesome details. Found your Site at http://www.designtagebuch.de and linked it at my Blog. Thats impressiv. Thx

Spa Miami Beach
May 12, 2010

Fantastic work…..........................