What matter more than years of sketching.

TIP 173 What matter more than years of sketching - The design sketchbook - product and industrial design sketching tutorial blog


How long have you been sketching?

Luis Ramos - Sketch like the Pros testimonial - question - How long drawing.png

To give a short answer, I have 2 big periods of drawing.
The first one was when I was a kid till I grew up as a teen. I was sketching at home and school so we could share among friends. At Junior school, we was a group of asian friends who liked drawing manga. Then, I stopped for few years, I get back to drawing seriously when I enroll my design school.  

But all the years I sketched when I was young was kind of “wasted”.
I believe I am not the only in this case. Let me share with you a more complete answer below.

Design Sketching ≠ Copy drawing

girl balloon walking.jpg

Don’t skip your perspective fundamentals! 🙂

All these years of practice when I was a teen was “useless”.

I had a group of sketching friends. But none of us had any proper drawing technique. We basically copy what we saw.

Sometime, our sketches was super cool and enough similar to the original picture we copied to be proud of. But whenever we tried to draw from imagination (no reference picture), we was doomed.

In other words, we could draw but not create.
We had a weak 3D vision and our 2D vision was average. We could copy Songoku (from Dragon Ball Z) pretty well with reference picture, but we could not visulize it from different views or position.
We was stucked at drawing only with reference picture forever.

We believed we was good! But we was weak.

Our friends and family told us our sketches was so cool and saw us as artist!! Of course we believed them. Haha. Today, I am happy to laugh at my old sketches with nostalgia. At least we had a lot of fun, and we nurrished our love for drawing.
TIP: Sketch for reproduction as much as you love.
But as an incoming designer, keep your top priorities in mind so you will learn proper sketching techniques that will serve your creativity and visual communication skills.

Sketching = Communication tool ≠ Piece of art

Sketching as a designer is a precious tool to communicate your ideas. Not making sketches that looks like real or a perfect copy of your favourite manga. :P. That’s an other type of performance – more related to art itself.
Remember that an Industrial designer has a notion of productivity. 

Sketching is the fastest way to show your ideas.

Train your 3D vision

Geommetry and perpective allow me to see something and yet be able to draw it from different angle.

Once again, sketching to reproduce something and to create new things are different skills.
Air con remote sketch.png

Grab anything around you, and sketch it using your 3D vision.

It’s essential to be aware of it so you can work on both with no confusion and make them complimentary.

If I had to focus on one as a designer. No doubt the 3D vision is the must. A 2D reproduction won’t help you much in comparison. If you aim to be a designer, don’t spend years at drawing by reproducing things only – like how I did when I was a kid for so many years. Look for fundamentals. That’s what will give you freedom of expression in your sketches.
When people see a circle, I see a sphere, when people see a remote, I see a transparent box with many small boxes (buttons) on it.
If you want to reproduce something such as a product, a cartoon, people…  Draw using simple geommetry and transparency. After learning proper techniques, you will be able to turn the volume in your head and draw it on paper. Of course it’s not always easy, but that’s the right path toward exponantial progress.
TIP: To activate your 3D vision, visualise everything transparent, and simplify them with geommetric volumes such as cylinders, spheres, cubes…  Ignore the details at start.

Hand sketching is everything.

I started to study seriously how to draw at my Design school in Paris. I was 22. But the school did not really teach me how to draw all along. The school gave us the basics, then  mostly help us to develop creativity. 
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Sketching some Puma shoes when I was student – using Photoshop.

The first year was frustrating – not having yet the level to sketch. So many ideas was stuck in my mind. We can’t figure out how to drop them on paper – and words was not sufficient. So we had to be inventive and carry on drawing ugly doodles! It’s actually a great start for any project. So we learned how to express our ideas fast without looking for perfection. (We din’t have the skill anyway.)

It’s a tough feeling and unfortunately, a good number of students give up learning how to sketch. Some may compensate with 3D tools. But to me, there is no more precious skill as hand sketching for a designer. 
If a client share with you an idea, you might not take out your laptop and ask him to wait while you make a 3d model… No! Take your pen and sketch on the napkin! Your client (or your boss) will love it. 😀
Learning how to sketch is a journey. I do believe that having an accelerator at sketching at start gives more confidence. Earlier we get confident, earlier we get more productive. We  see our own ideas on paper and communicate them at school and professional life with more conviction and ease.

Learn how to draw with focus.

To make big improvement, the act of sketching is not enough. We need to sketch practicing good fundamentals with focus.
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Sketching ellipses with focus – from the course Sketch like the Pros.

There is time for learning, and there is time for application of techniques we already know. Of course more you draw, more you progress.
But it may be misleading as a lot of beginners keep drawing with no progress because they skip the fundamentals or they are just not focused enough.
There is also people with expert skills who stop learning for decades – even if they may still sketching a lot. They reach a comfort zone. This is why so companies like to hire young candidates as they still have this fire inside them that push them to learn new things. (Other point of view is: Allows the company to model the candidate to their needs. That’s an other debate. Some people see manipulation.)
TIP: Sometime we feel stressed.
Take a 10-second break. Inhale deeply with your nose, and exhale sloooowwwly with your mouth. Repeat it 3 times, and you will feel much better and relax. 🙂

Exponantial progress

I did a big improvement at my first year of school. As a beginner, this is where you can make a big difference (as we start from zero hehe). As soon as you get your basics, you observe from your own sketches on paper an exponantial progress so you surprise yourself! There was nothing magic – but the right content with high motivation.
You discover soon that with new techniques, you multiply your possibilities of drawingsubjects. I mean if you can draw a cup, you can draw a pen, a vase, a bottle, a jar, a mic, a base ball bat, a camera lens… and so on. It’s all about the same “technique of connected ellipses”. (I should make and publish a tutorial about it on the blog 🙂 )
Then later you learn how to combine simple elements together. Wow so cool, the combination are infinite! Now you feel that your limits will be more about your imagination, not your sketchings skills. A good design school will unlock your imagination toward design creativity.
TIP: Whenever you learn a technique, think of various application you can do with. That’s how you will also accelerate your learning process and feed your memory of forms.

Environment influence

I did an other big jump when I was working at Adidas. So cool to be surrounded with talented sketchers. A good environment help you progress. Absorb the good vibes like a sponge.
Adidas sketch blue lead 0.7.png

Draw the last (shape of a basic shoe/foot) first and add the details after. That will help you make tremendous progress! See more in this article about the last.

TIP: “Look for succesful people and model them.” – Tony Robbins
That’s a pretty much a long article today. I hope it helps you though.
Oh, if you have kids who love drawing, you may introduce them some proper techniques and explain to them all the good benefits they could have. No pressure though, as they are just kid. But when they become teenagers, it’s maybe the right time to unlock their skills!
The day I will have kids, I might encourage them to do not do the same mistakes as I did.
Feel free to tell me your impression below, we could discuss about it :). 
See you!


Here is an additional message that MJ has sent to me after reading the above article. He shares with us a similar experience where he started to learn how to sketch after being graduated from Animation.


“Hello Sir Chou-Tac how’re you?

Sorry I haven’t been replying or anything for a while and thanks so much for sharing this wonderful story.

I also went through the same thing with not learning fundamentals early and felt like I wasted time and just copied sailor moon or anime. Ahaha!

And even in the college where I took animation course they didn’t teach us any fundamentals either, some teachers don’t even attend our class sadly, it’s only when I graduated where I started self studying and I had nice friends who helped me along the way to improve my fundamentals.
Also I’m thankful for you sharing your tips and awesome blog because I improved perspective, until now I’m still practicing the ellipses, cubes and cylinders as warm up before I paint haha it has been such a big help thanks so much and sorry for the long reply.
Have a wonderful day!
– MJ

Thanks MJ for sharing your experience. We can all grow as soon as we are aware that fundamentals matter, and it’s a skill that anybody can learn.

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About The Author


If the sketching methods I’ve acquired aid me in my life and in my career, I believe that they can also help you to learn, and help you with your projects. Whether Design is a job or a hobby it doesn’t matter, so long as you do what is important to you.


  • Namratha

    Reply Reply May 2, 2016

    Superb Chou! You are seriously very good. It’s inspiring me to keep moving ahead.

    • Chou-Tac

      Reply Reply May 18, 2016

      My pleasure Namratha 🙂
      There is nothing more precious than passion !

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