Archive for the ‘Practice’ Category

Drawing how the internet works.

08 Oct

What a small world.

I stumbled upon an article about ‘Drawing how the internet works,’ an assignment given by a former Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student I met in Troy, NY who is now teaching an online class, “Web 200: Anatomy of a Request.”

He asked the global, virtual students to ‘draw how the internet works.’ They created simple models of this complex series of relationships to help think through the ‘problem’ and share what they learned with others in the class. This is Drawing Down the Vision.

How the internet works may not be your forte or interest… but you can apply this technique in your day to day life and work. The intersection of text and visuals helps you think through a problem in new ways, what we call diversity of thought.

Checkout our practice articles for help getting started.

via @azaaza

Popularity: 15% [?]


What’s your sub-current?

08 Oct

In a recent article in the New York Times, artist Patrick Dougherty explains how he went from building a hand built cabin in the woods to becoming a world renowned sculptor:

My dream was to build a house. I didn’t realize my real dream, my sub-current, was to become a sculptor.

I really appreciate his use of the term sub-current to describe his underlying goals and vision for his personal purpose.  We as human beings are molded into our grown-up selves by countless influences throughout our lives.  Often, we forget to look inward and trust our own true path.  How do we get around these outside influences and find our own sub-current, our own chronic goals?

An interesting thing happens when we teach a group of people some rudimentary drawing skills to begin using their sketchbooks; students begin to immediately see their own individual voice from a visual perspective.  Working in a sketchbook with words and images, even more so than writing in a journal alone, is a crucial way to finding and staying in touch with your own chronic goals in life, our sub-current.

So what is your sub-current?  What are your chronic goals that lie just beneath the surface of your daily life?  Take a little time to explore them and they just might be sooner achieved.

Popularity: 9% [?]


The Ten-Minute Sabbatical

07 Oct

This fall I am fortunate to be the 2011 Artist in Residence at Mammoth Cave National Park.

Residency programs are the sabbaticals of the art world. They can range from a month to a year and are a chance for an artist to step away from the trappings of daily life and focus on work. I don’t mean necessary day-job work, but real vocation, which most artists will say their art work represents.

I arrived at Mammoth Cave just a couple of days ago and am already starting to settle in… thinking about things differently. I am using my time here to research and to write, read, sketch as much as I can. Although this is what I do at home, there is a different mind set to this time here. Sure, a month is not a year, but it’s a month. A powerful paradigm shift can occur in a month.

What would happen if I took some time every week, say an hour, to consciously change my mind set? To think and write about broader goals in life and work, to sketch in my sketchbook. What about even 10 minutes? What if everyone did this? I like to think of this as a ten minute sabbatical.

No matter what job you do, whether artist or salesperson, scientist, teacher, or IT specialist – a small sabbatical of sorts can be just the thing to keep your life and goals on track. You may not have a year like Stefan Sagmeister, or a month like me, but you might just have ten minutes.


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Templates to help tame your sketching.

25 Sep

Here are a few great templates to get your team, or yourself, excited about sketching out that new idea. Throw these out on the table and they turn the somewhat daunting task of ‘draw it out’ into a fun exercise, with the just the amount of structure to keep things rolling.

Click the images to download each of the sketching templates, or download the whole sketching templates package.

A blank sketching template with title, notes, author and project. The least restrictive… frightening for some.

A storyboard sketching template with 6 fields plus title, scene, people-power… You can use this to force everyone to think of multiple broad concepts quickly, early on in the project. Give them a sheet of one… and you won’t get many back. ideas. Encourage outlandish behavior.

For the engineer in us all… a task flow worksheet. This is great for thinking through a problem and all the steps needed to execute it. You can list the goals in the notes, or just write a little narrative about ‘Ernie the Earnest Engineer.’ Have fun. Give this to the novices.

Finally… dots. Dot concept paper can be an awesome way to think through a bunch of little ideas, little on paper that is. Use the dots to make interesting fun constellations and just spice up your sketches more than a blank sheet of paper. Wow your team. It’s the little things in life.

via Smashing Magazine

Popularity: 62% [?]


Personify your problems.

16 Aug

When I was a kid, I had composition notebooks filled with odd characters. They were inspired by day-to-day life… things I saw, things I did, things I wished I could do. Then, I grew older, got busier, and stopped sketching. It seemed pointless.

Today, all those characters lie dormant. But, I plan to revisit them once launches.

Grafighters will allow you to upload an image of hand-drawn character via email or mobile device. Grafighters will then turn your character into an animated fighter… not one you control like a traditional game, but one that battles the ranks of other characters through a specific algorithm that defines strength, speed, stamina…

I can see this as an awesome exercise for any team trying to think through some problems in a creative way. What if everyone had the opportunity to personify their team’s business problems in a character sketch… and then have fun watching them battle it out?! It would provoke some very interesting discussions, and be a way to light-heartedly think through what could otherwise be very stressful.

So, get out there and start sketching personifications of your problems. Think through your problem in a new way by turning it into a real character, a villain of sorts. You’ll be surprised by how openly and differently you will see the situation. This is the power of metaphorical sketching.

If you’re anxious to get started… you can send your characters to

Popularity: 28% [?]


The Bull, how Picasso practiced being concise…

14 Aug

At Drawing Down the Vision, we know the only way to get people on board with your wild dreams and aspirations is to make them digestible, to serve them up in byte-size chunks. If you start simple, and build from the core, you can slowly bring to life what previously seemed impossible.

However, we often have difficulty understanding what exactly is the core, and prioritizing which chunks to serve first. This is what makes successful people stand out… the ability to distill complex information to its essence, and communicate it effectively.

A few months back, we wrote an article about practicing to be concise. Today, we’ll revisit that theme with a series of Picasso’s sketches currently showcased at the MOMA, Museum of Modern Art in New York in the Paul J. Sachs Prints and Illustrated Books Gallery. This series showcases how Picasso started with a powerful vision, and dwindled it down to its core essence.

First off, here is a bull. Picasso started with an elaborate rendition of his vision, this bull. It manages to seem both emaciated and all-powerful at the same time. He spared no charcoal to develop all the textures and details fully.

Bull, State IV - December 18, 1945

A week later we see, another bull. This one certainly lacks the life-like textures and details of the previous, however Picasso maintains the jaunt-like skeletal structure and rough edges that personify this brick-like creature.

Bull, State VII - December 26, 1945

Later that day, Picasso varies on his morning sketch, and this time removes the noise surrounding the bull, focusing on just the powerful, woven frame.

Bull, State VII Variant - December 26, 1945

Two weeks after the original sketch, Picasso focused on less of the frame innards, and more on the outline. Slowly he decides to maintain the core body, but remove the lattice-like network that creates an inner girth.

Bull, State XI - January 2, 1946

One month and 18 sketches later, Picasso has come to a conclusion. The frame, four legs, two horns, a simple tail, and one more minor detail comprise the essence of a bull. Those elements could be drawn in another perspective to seem like a horse or an elephant, but the key is that Picasso understood the relationships and ratios of the lines between these core elements. Drawing is all about seeing relationships.

This sketch became so powerful to Picasso, it is the only one he felt comfortable gracing with title of ‘The Bull,’ rather than just ‘Bull.’

The Bull, State XIV - January 17, 1946

Those of you interested in the data visualization scene may equate this experiment of Picasso’s to the data-ink ratio of modern-day data shaman Edward Tufte (published in Tufte’s elegant masterpiece, The Visual Display of Qualitative Information).

Essentially, Tufte stated that a diagram should only include the non-erasable ink which communicates the content. If that ink were erased, the message would be lost. In Picasso’s example, the lack of horns, tail, legs, and the ink used to create the space between them would limit your understanding of this massive mammal, the bull.

So, in your future work… you may sketch out your thoughts and have far too many details to make them digestible for others, or even yourself. That’s ok, it’s a start. Give your thinking some time, and then revisit the sketches. Try to cut 10, 20, or 50 percent. Slowly you’ll learn what are the most important elements of your work, and you will be better able to communicate them to others. This will allow you to make what previously seemed impossible… a reality.

Go draw your bull.

Popularity: 100% [?]


Field Notes

10 Aug

It’s been a busy summer of traveling for the Drawing Down the Vision team. Some of it work, some of it play… we are always looking for new ideas and ways that basic sketching skills can be used to get the job done.

While my family and I (Amy) were on vacation in Montana, we had the great privilege to visit a team of paleontologists working at a dinosaur dig site. These scientists take copious field notes about where things are found at a site and how they are arranged throughout the extraction process so the fossilized dinosaur bones can be best preserved.

While on route to the dinosaur dig we drove through prime Lewis and Clark territory.

What would their journey have been with out all of their now famous journals depicting everything they encountered and the landscape through which they traveled? It is the quality of their drawings and sketches that really made the journals valuable for future explorers following in their path.

In today’s day and age, we are certainly not limited to the tools Lewis and Clark. We have photography to help us document our travels in the world. But drawing a place, or a found feather, stone or bone really places you there in the moment. Recording your view or your find in a way no one else can.

Try taking some “field notes” while on your summer travels. You may find it enhances your experience. And the drawings you bring home in your sketchbook will forever remind you of exactly where you were, what you were seeing and how that all felt.

There’s tremendous value in that.

Popularity: 13% [?]


How to avoid the devil in the details.

05 Aug

Here is a fantastic excerpt from ‘Getting Real,’ a simplicity-promoting book by 37Signals. They are one of the most successful software development companies around today… with 20 employees serving the needs of over 3,000,000 users!

I really got over the ‘get into details right away’ attitude after I took some drawing classes…If you begin to draw the details right away you can be sure that the drawing is going to suck. In fact, you are completely missing the point.

You should begin by getting your proportions right for the whole scene. Then you sketch the largest objects in your scene, up to the smallest one. The sketch must be very loose up to this point.

Then you can proceed with shading which consists of bringing volume to life. You begin with only three tones (light, medium, dark). This gives you a tonal sketch. Then for each portion of your drawing you reevaluate three tonal shades and apply them. Do it until the volumes are there (requires multiple iterations)…

Work for large to small. Always.

- Patrick Lafleur, Creation Object Inc. (from Signal v. Noise)

We’ll be posting soon about how to practice the tonal sketching Patrick described.

Popularity: 7% [?]


Books for you.

03 Aug

We just put something new together for you all, it’s called ‘Books for you.

We provide our Drawing Down the Vision Workshop participants with a list of further reading as part of our Atlas to help them keep practicing and stay inspired. We figured we’d share that with you as well.

We’d love to hear your feedback, and learn of any titles, or anything, which helped you practice Drawing Down the Vision! Enjoy!

Drawing Down the Vision Atlas Further Reading

Popularity: 4% [?]


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: 20% [?]


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