Life Drawing: Page from my sketchbook.
When I was a young lad back in the day of the horse and buggy, I remember getting feedback from my mentors trying to soak up every little bit of advice they would give. Most often it meant a redo of a design sketch to make it more accurate and always more simplified to make a faster read with greater emotional impact.
Truth be told, I would create an award-winning masterwork of design virtuosity only to have my crusty Disney mentor take a red pen to it and point out areas that needed to be reworked. I dare say there was nothing wrong my work mind you, because it was indeed an award-winning masterwork of design virtuosity, but it could have been a bit better and a little more innovative. My mentor encouraged me not to settle for good but to aim for great, always reaching higher and dreaming bigger.
Fast forward to today and you’ll get a cold hard stare from most young designers if you even try to explain how their images could be more impactful. The ones who humble themselves and listen to your sage advice continue to develop into strong professionals, while the others who already know everything tend to fade away. I'm sorry, did you say you want that burger with cheese? Oh yes, yes, we can super-size that!
Let me put it to you this way. My mentor owned a house overlooking a beautiful lake. I wanted to live in a house overlooking a beautiful lake, so I shut my mouth and learned everything he was willing to teach me. I now live in a house overlooking a beautiful lake. As I sit my fat behind down on my favorite recliner overlooking my beautiful lake, I thank all my competitors over the years who knew more than their mentors and now work in other occupations.
With that said, many young designers while reading this article will look up in wide eyed wonder asking how they too can make their ideation sketches and conceptual images better? Well, the one thing that I see over and over again in so many portfolios is the need for better drawing skills—yes, even in 3D imagery.
Life drawing is the best way to grow your overall conceptual skills and will help you in so many ways, such as: increasing your ability to create stronger character designs by helping you to actually draw characters, create design specs that are actually proportionally accurate, make your images more emotionally impactful and the most important of all—will help you get more dates. I digress.
Seriously, take a look at my humble drawing featured in this post. It’s a simple pencil sketch of a long-haired guy sporting a beard. Do you see how quickly that sketch communicates his features and gets you focused on a central focal point? That quick rough life drawing actually looks much more finished then it is. If you really look at it closely, there isn’t a lot of detailed areas, but it conveys all of the information about that man’s face and even hints to his personality.
Life drawing helps you understand how the human eye takes in information and eventually, with more practice, you’ll learn how to convey images with just the right amount of detail to sell your idea, avoiding the average portfolio look that is most often flat and boring.
Also, practicing life drawing helps your work become more polished—accurate and impactful. Over the years, I have always kept a bottle (no, no wait for it) of aspirins in my office drawer for when I have to approve/edit product design specs and 4/C art. Really. It’s amazing what people hand in sometimes. Don’t be that guy (sorry—girl) who keeps his (sorry—her) job because he (sorry—she) knows how to navigate the corporate system by being buddies with the guy (sorry—girl) in the corner office.
Be the one who solves problems, continually grows and reaches a little higher every day. Look for mentors who will teach you ways to improve your design skills. Yes, yes, I know your mother already says you are the best designer on the planet, but seriously, strive to be better—the very best you can be so you can truly reach your full potential.