Sketch Fear: Learning to Embrace the Sketchbook
By Jessica Morrow
Sketchbooks are an integral part of the NeigerDesign culture. Everyone in our office uses them for inspiring, ideating and iterating. We share them with each other during internal critiques and help build off of each others’ ideas to determine the best concepts for creation. They are a way for us to freely and quickly get our ideas on paper without pressure.
An article from Core77 describes why sketching is still important to design, even as our computer programs have made it easier than ever to jump right into a digital format. James Self and Eujin Pei write that sketching is used to “express, explore and communicate design intentions to other team members” and we completely agree. One designer’s approach to a design problem is most often different than another’s; this becomes apparent when you begin to compare sketches. They also write, “sketching is a critical way through which the designer expresses and explores ideas during concept design ideation.” Sometimes I will be halfway through one idea that will lead me to another, and I might end up with “unfinished” sketches. The important thing is that they lead me somewhere, whether they are finished or not. Unfinished sketches are cool because they show idea generation, which is always very interesting to me. If I find I don’t get anywhere from one session of sketching, sometimes I will go back to the ideas I’ve scrapped and take a different approach to them—it’s amazing how many concepts you can produce from one initial idea.
So what is it about sketching on paper that’s so much better than digitally sketching? For me, there tends to be something stifling about ideating on the computer. I’m not sure whether it’s the distraction of other tabs, emails or glare from the screen, but nothing compares to isolating yourself at your desk with a blank piece of paper to get started. You may surround yourself with inspiration from other sources and projects, but it’s much easier to focus on the task at hand—this is especially important when working with tight deadlines and budgets. I find I am much more efficient with concepting when I sketch on paper compared to jumping right onto my computer. That being said, I also happen to suffer from what I call “sketch fear.” The same blank sheet of paper that makes it possible for me to sketch at all is also the most intimidating part of my process. I’ll sometimes begin on one piece of paper to get (in my opinion) terrible, initial marks out on paper and then move into my sketchbook once I’ve gotten into a flow. This is a terrible habit, driven by my fear of producing bad sketches—which is crazy, right? That’s the whole point—to sketch uninhibited. So then why do I feel this pressure? Because while I sketch more than many, I still don’t sketch enough.
I used to sketch more often in my childhood. It’s something us designers here at NeigerDesign have been doing for a long time—before we had jobs or went to school, we were artists as kids. Before we had clients or class assignments, we sketched for fun or to become better or to learn the fundamentals of art and design. So, even while I sketch today, most often for a work-related purpose, I know I am strengthening my skills as an artist as well. I’m using my imagination and having fun. Isn’t that why we all became designers anyway? To have fun? I know it is here, which is why Studio//Shift is so important. Our company encourages our personal passions and in doing so makes us better, more creative designers.
While I may think of myself as a good designer, I know there’s always room for improvement. Therefore, to help myself get over my “sketch fear” and improve my ideation skills for design, I have decided to participate in The Sketchbook Project. The Sketchbook Project is an annual global, collaborative art project that results in a crowd-sourced library, featuring over 30,000 artists’ books. My hopes are that it will lessen my self-consciousness and make me a more confident sketcher, as well as designer. After all, there’s nothing like knowing your book is going to end up in a library of amazing artists to motivate you. Plus, it sounds like fun.