Archive for June, 2010

What I sketch with today.

29 Jun

A while back, I responded to a friend who asked, ‘What is your favorite small notebook + pen combo for sketching ideas?

Back then, I was using a Moleskine pocket journal and Sakura Micron pen. Last weekend in a small shop in Los Angeles I found my new favorite, the WritersBlok Bamboo Small Notebook.

I now prefer this to the Moleskin because of the dimensions. (Sorry Moleskine fans!) Its 1cm more narrow and short. It doesn’t jut out of my pocket when I sit down, like with a Moleskin. The smaller page size is great, it continues to train me to be more concise.

It also has 20% more pages than the Moleskin, without being bulky in your pocket. This allows a greater density of ideas per notepad, and helps make more connections when you take some time out to revisit your journals and pay attention to what you pay attention to.

They even have a great philosophy, despite the limited focus on using a journal solely for writing, and not sketching: “Writing is good exercise. It’s good for the mind in the same way that riding a bike is good for your legs.” Insert drawing as you see fit.

As for my pen, that’s changed too. I started relying on the Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen. It doesn’t dry out as quickly as the Sakura’s, and has a much sturdier feel. After all, they are made in Germany.

What are you working with these days?
Are you using a pocket journal, or keeping a larger sketchbook like Amy does? also

Popularity: 19% [?]


Learning to draw through other’s practice.

21 Jun

Some of you sketching newbies may be looking for help getting started, some examples…

As we take the old fashioned pen-to-paper approach to thinking and creating, we like to encourage people to get away from their computers as much as possible and spend time learning in the “real world”. But sometimes, the toys and trinkets that come about from our technified world offer an experience not readily available through our analog ways.

The folks at the design/ marketing firm Odopod have created an online playground for sketchers.

At their interactive site, Odosketch, participants can create ‘drawn’ images using various line weights and colors. They have featured sketches which demonstrate what you can do with this tool.

The best part is that you can observe how others go about creating these fantastic images. How they begin with an outline, start tracing and re-tracing the shapes, and gradually complete the shading.

So if you are the techie sort, and are looking for some silent tutoring, check out Odosketch.  Maybe then you’ll have the courage to try the pen and paper approach.  Both will prove to be a lot of fun and a great way to develop your one-of-a-kind creativity.

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A shift to empirical learning.

18 Jun

I was browsing Forbes 25 Ideas to Change the World… only two seemed to be diametrically opposed to the others. They are fully in line with the way we work here at Drawing Down the Vision.

The first challenge was by world-renowned Graphic Designer, Milton Glaser. His idea is to ‘Suspend Ideology.’

Milton Glaser, Graphic Designer, Suspend Ideology

“What people have to do is to stop believing and begin to observe.” – Milton Glaser

He commented that Art is an instrument to promote Attentiveness. He states, ‘Art is Whatever,’ as long as it challenges us to observe the situation and ask, ‘What is real?” Art is a tool for human survival, and asks us to question what we’re doing, and why. His idea is to help make the most of our lives, living creatively and seeing infinite options at any moment.

In a recent article in Print, Glaser discussed his role models. One of them happened to be a long-time client, a restaurateur, Joseph Baum, who was capable of looking at a common situation afresh. Even when setting a table, he asked, “OK, where on the table should we put the silverware?’” He was inquisitive to the extreme, basing his actions on an understanding of the current moment. He wasn’t a fan of blindly repeating the past. This constant re-basing allowed him to limit time spent living in the ‘Illusion of Explanatory Depth.”

This ever-creative view of the world reminds me of Melissa Pierce’s quote for her new film Life in Perpetual Beta, “Is the planned life worth living?”

The second reverberating idea was by top consultant, Babson educator, & Harvard Sociologist, Thomas Davenport.

Thomas Davenport, Consultant, Slow Down

“We live in a world in which the capability to deliberate is vanishing.” – Thomas Davenport

He spoke of the power of slowing down. He says we’ve lost the ‘gift of deliberation.’ With the ever increasing presence of information in our lives, we believe we are being more effective, but are instead stuck in a ‘productivity churn.’ We need to break away in order to practice true creative problem-solving, to develop a concise understanding of what we are doing, and why.

Entropy is a fundamental law of engineering. It is the measure of how disorganized a system is. The law states that disorganization will only increase in a complex system. We need to find a way to make our worldly system less complex. We control how complex it is through the focus of our efforts.

Both of these fantastic thinkers showcase a shift to learning empirically. They value observations and intuition over the blind trust for the illusory knowledge we have accumulated from a different time, for a different situation. We are educating ourselves to idiocy. We are looking at how we can trust and make sense of all this information with so many hidden assumptions.

So, as we always say, find some time to get away from your work. Try the Low Information Diet. Use your journal and sketchpad as a way to practice attentiveness, to deliberate on the myriad things you can do every day of your life. Commit to do those things which are fundamentally important to the well-being of you and your community.

Be breakthrough, not busy.

As always, please share any thoughts or tangential articles!

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Looking at the landscape.

17 Jun

Drawing is a complicated thing that many artists will struggle years to master… and even then it takes diligent daily practice.  But drawing skills and tools are on a spectrum which means that at the most basic level, they can be achieved by anyone willing to give it a shot.

Learning to draw is really about learning to see more clearly exactly what is in front of you and relaying that information to the page as clearly as you can to communicate it.  Let’s apply this to a quick lesson on how to make a sketch of a landscape.

Here is a gorgeous photograph of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. First, let’s take a closer look at the image:

Courtesy of Richard Weisser and

Notice how there is a distinct foreground, then a middle ground with a number of mountains and finally the most distant mountains further off in the background (and let’s not forget that pink sky!)  This is all easier to distinguish if you squint a bit at the photograph.  Now notice how each of these three distinct areas have a different value (or lightness vs. darkness) in the image.  For a simple sketch, which we’ll do here with pen and paper, taking note of these facts is all you need.

First, draw the simple shapes that delineate the front, middle and rear of the picture place:

Next use marks, sometimes called cross-hatching, to create darker and lighter areas.  If you have a small paintbrush, you can use water to run the line of your pen which creates a nice gray:

You can stop here or, add a little color for that sky…

This simple sketch only took a few minutes and I could probably work on it longer to add details such as some more of the middle ground mountains.

Looking at a mountain landscape and simplifying it to get a better understanding of how to approach a drawing of it is a wonderful metaphor for our work lives (if not beyond!)  Noticing that there are distinct differences in what lies just ahead, and a bit farther off, and then on into the distance is crucial to keeping your goals and priorities in order.

Making a simple drawing in your sketchbook of a favorite place of yours, or an imagined business landscape perhaps, is a great way to take a few minutes and assess the path ahead and decide how to proceed.

Send us what you come up with.  We’d love to see it… and share it if you don’t mind!

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We are all entrepreneurs.

16 Jun

Today’s complex world demands new skills to recognize trends and make sense of them. This demands a new type of thinker with a new series of tools for creating, testing, and learning.

A new thinker you say, what kind?

An ‘Expert Generalist’, someone who can transfer knowledge across domains, someone who can see similarities and analogies others cannot. This is a concept developed by Art Markman, UT Austin Cognitive Scientist.

ABrush-Shaped Being, a person who has a broad specialization and correspondingly broad set of interests. This is a concept developed by Roy Blumenthal, a Visual Facilitator.

Both of these seek to combine breath with depth, the exact opposite of what is asked in most corporations today. This is the natural skill set of an entrepreneur, one who struggles to create a new business, testing and learning along the way, until they successfully execute an idea. An entrepreneur can sit in any organizational structure.

Fahrenheit 212 is a company comprised of these individuals, and is succeeding with this new skillset. It is a new consultancy that develops and executes ideas, straddling the wide divide between a design and management firm. Most interestingly, it has a stake in the profits of these ventures it enters into, much more of a partner, with skin in the game, than a consultant.

‘”Having an idea without knowing how it makes money is as valueless as knowing where growth lies without the idea,” says Geoff Vuleta, head of Fahrenheit 212, critiquing the stereotypical design firm and the classic management consultant.’

This interesting critique on the current state of the design and management consulting industry by Vuleta shows that in order to succeed, we must be broader than we have before, both as individuals and as businesses. We must become ‘Expert Generalists’ and ‘Brushed Shaped Beings.’ We must also take risks. We must be entrepreneurs.

There are tremendous opportunities in the world to live fantastic vibrant lives, making in dent in the universe. The traditional management skills won’t take you there. Find ways to make that difference, and bring creative change to the world.

Related: How the creator of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, made his idea real.

Popularity: 14% [?]


The Power of Play

15 Jun

“The most successful people in here have rich hobbies out in the world.” – P&G CEO Bob McDonald

Some of the most successful and creative people I know are also the most playful.

An old friend from our days in the military is now an extremely successful professional. Years ago, Chris was ever the prankster, mixing fun and laughter in to the stresses of day-to-day Navy life.  Eventually his entrepreneurial success afforded him the opportunity to travel the world and develop his photography practice. It began as a simple hobby, but is now his professional work.  The secret to his success is his sense of wonder in the world.  Chris still maintains that playful spirit.

Another successful professional who knows the value of play time is designer Stefan Sagmeister.  He has an unusual approach to productivity. He takes an entire year off every seven years.  He explains that it’s as if he takes five years of his retirement and intersperses them into his working adulthood.  This period off is a lot of fun, tremendously re-invigorating and affords him the opportunity to pursue the ideas he didn’t have time for. Most of the projects he does in the next seven years come from that single year ‘away.’

Like most people, my family and I don’t yet have the freedom to just take a year off to nurture new ideas or to do as much traveling as these adventurers do.  That said, we do play – a lot!  We have music and our love of the outdoors, especially kayaking.  We travel as often as we can on simple road trips or further afield when we can find the time and funds.  We make play time a priority.

In these unsure economic times, it is not only vital to work as hard as we can but also to play hard.  Fostering a sense of play feeds you as a person which makes you better at your job, whether you are a business person or an artist.  What do you do for play?

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‘Daydream’ on Purpose

14 Jun

I recently stumbled upon The Energy Project. They’re a cool bunch helping to redefine what it is to be productive at ‘work’.

I was browsing through their practical energy tips and saw our missions overlap with, “Daydream on Purpose.” Here’s what they have to say:

“Schedule at least one hour a week to brainstorm or strategize around some issue at work. You can help access your right hemisphere by doodling, daydreaming, or going for a long walk—anything that lets your mind wander. That’s when breakthroughs and spontaneous connections are most likely to occur.”

So go ahead… try it out, and daydream on purpose. You can see plenty of our tips on doodling, drawing, thinking on paper, daydreaming (whatever you’d like to call it…) in our blog under Practice.

Popularity: 10% [?]


Ideas every lap

11 Jun

Creativity is a tough thing to pin down.  Ideas can come out of nowhere, swinging at your head, in the shower, the car, or especially while exercising.  Why is this the case?  You need to create the right environment for it.

We at Drawing Down the Vision are not brain surgeons, but through the course of our research, we have learned about how the brain can get into the mode of thinking that causes creative thought to occur.  Some call it right-brain thinking, others might refer to it as the zone or flow.  Whatever you call it, it’s very different from the linear day to day thinking that most people are familiar with.

Back in Ancient Greece, philosopher Aristotle developed the Peripatetic school where thinkers gathered to ponder questions of the day.  While lecturing, Aristotle would walk around, always on the move. His students would follow.  It has been theorized that the very act of walking contributed to Aristotle’s generation of new ideas and today we refer to this phenomenon as peripatetic thinking.  Thinking while on the go.

There is a wonderful series of books on the creative process called The Artist’s Way, written by Julia Cameron.  Her books have given many beginning artists a place to start and have provided seasoned artist’s some guidance to keep at it, even when ideas seem to run out.  One key tenet in the process she suggests is the idea of taking a long walk everyday, very much like Aristotle and his followers did.  Personally, I take this a step further and go for a run.

The effects of peripatetics, combined with a healthy dose of exercise-induced-endorphins sets me up to become an idea factory for an hour or so.  It’s intense. I love it.  3 or 4 times a week I put on my running shoes, grab a portable pen and paper and hit the road (or when it’s stormy, the indoor track).  During these times I am often flooded with little snippets of ideas that I capture on the pen and paper to sift through more thoroughly later in my sketchbook.  A good friend of mine calls these little ideas butterflies.  A small notebook is your butterfly catcher.

If a run or a walk is not in the stars for you today, the peripatetic phenomenon is still yours to embrace.  Through the simple act of putting a pen to paper to record some thoughts or better yet, making a drawing is a direct and physical way to tap that right-brained approach to thinking and get ideas flowing.

So get out there, and start racing your body and mind with running shoes or pen and paper. Don’t get frustrated over a problem, get away from it, change your perspective, and come back refreshed. Then take the single best idea, and make it real.

Enjoy! And share your experience!

Popularity: 8% [?]


How changing your perspective changes your results.

10 Jun

Drawing is all about relationships, as is business. In order to succeed in either, we need to see the big picture while also seeing the details which comprise it. Unless we spend time working from multiple perspectives, we’ll always see the same picture, and jump to the same conclusions, and deliver the same results.

Practicing drawing allows us to permanently change the way we think in business scenarios. This is our brains’ neuroplasticity reacting to our intellectual needs. “[Drawing] requires that one confronts and deals with paradoxes. For example, we can know that a ceiling is flat and the corner is a right angle. But on the picture plane, the edges of the ceiling are not horizontal and the corner angles are not right angles at all.” – Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Through drawing, we are forced to practice whole brain thinking… comparing what we know and what we see to deliver a defined result. Let’s get started with an example.

Here is my original sketch. I was doing a mental sketch of a horse and elephant, pretty basic. Analyzing my sketch, you can see that I understand:

  • that a horse is smaller than an elephant,
  • both have four legs, and
  • elephants have a funny little tuft at the end, well suited for swatting flies in Disney movies.

Despite my practice drawing, my results continue to be the same when I don’t truly examine the object I’m drawing, and how all its components relate.

Luckily… I found a horse who was very eager to be my subject matter. (It may be more of a mule or colt, judging the size.)

Once I had a specimen which I could observe to evaluate the relationships of all the components (hooves, tail, mane, body)… my sketches became a bit better. You can see that I included additional details my original sketch didn’t, such as the defined muscles. However, I was still having a hard time breaking from the mental model in my head, an animal with a mane, tail, and four legs which was facing to the right. In order to change my results, I needed to change my perspective and challenge those paradoxes.

Luckily, I found an elephant. I couldn’t fit them both in my sketch easily, a happy accident, so I decided to change up the perspective, and sketch them straight on. A fearsome duo for sure.

Here you can see horses #4 and #5, before I changed my perspective. Notice however, the dramatic difference between the new horse and elephant (below the line) and the earlier sketches. From this new perspective, I had no Disney summary stuck in my head of what a true horse sketch should look like. I had no assumptions to fall back on. I had to really see my subject and analyze the relationships of all the components to create the final drawing.

I was astounded by the changes, so I figured I’d try it again. This time from the backside.

Again, I was very surprised with the turnout. Much better than when I first began sketching a horse 15 minutes earlier. It was my first horse sketching experience, and I’ll try again on a real horse sometime.

In business, we are forced to move fast and race onto the next project. Problem, Solution, Check, Done!

Einstein has a fantastic quote: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Spend that extra 20% of time on a project. Think it through, especially once you think you’ve got it figured out. Try to draw and redraw your conclusions. Visualize your business problem, and ask others what they think. You’ll learn that the relationships you initially define of people, places and things in your work may be a bit off, and you’ll be glad you learned sooner rather than later.

Also, try drawing an object from memory, and then from sight. Change the perspective.

Share your thoughts below!

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A drawing a day turns into a business.

10 Jun

Adam came across the Obsessive Consumption project recently on Twitter.  Kate Bingaman-Burt has been documenting her personal consumption habits for years by drawing everything she buys.  Over time, this self-processed obsession has become an entire line of graphic work that is now shown in galleries as fine art, published in books and even printed on pillows.  Her drawing work is sought after by companies such as IDEO, ReadyMade Magazing and the New York Times.   All this by drawing everyday.

Now mind you, she is a working artist, and many of you may not consider yourselves to be artists.  But the exercise of drawing daily can still be a valuable tool to tapping into your very own brand of creativity.   There is a wealth of research available out there about tapping into the right side of the brain which houses the more creative, holistic thinking processes.  Listening to music, going for a scenic drive or a long run, and of course, drawing, are all ways to tap the less used hemisphere of the brain.  Have a look at Bingaman-Burt’s work and be inspired to try documenting something in your own life.  You could doodle what you buy like she did, or the dogs you meet, like I often do.  Currently I am spending quite a bit of time in the garden trying to figure out if certain plants are flowers or weeds.  I was recently informed that the thistle-like flower I have been so keen on is actually a weed that will quickly push out all of my other plants.  So I pulled it up… but not before I did a quick sketch of it!

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