Drawing and Graphic Design

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Drawing and Graphic Design

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Do I need to know how to draw to be a graphic designer?

Illustration clearly has its basis in drawing and it would be perhaps crazy to suggest that illustrators, using whatever medium, can ply their trade without basic drawing skills. Perhaps the ones who use sand, rock, wax and skeletons of dead birds like tutors who lectured on the illustration course I attended at the University of Central Lancashire can be excepted! However, is it necessary to be able to draw to be a graphic designer. This question is the subject of some debate on various blogs and internet pages that I have come across.

Advice from those in the know about drawing and graphic design

I recently came across a useful info-graphic with advice on how to be a good graphic designer. I’m sure it hasn’t escaped the attention of designers that info-graphics are a style of graphic design that have become very fashionable in the last few years, essentially conveying complex information using easily understood, visual metaphors, pictograms and sometimes big hero illustrations to bring the information to life. Piecharts and other more conventional means of representing data are also used.

Here is one genre of graphic design that could benefit from an ability to draw although producing graphic illustrations on the computer will be an essential skill to create designs like these.

Illustration and Graphic Design Info-graphic

The diagram in the info-graphic indicates a resounding “no” to the question, do I need to know how to draw, presumably from a survey of design professionals. Its not necessary but its a nice to have skill.

My ability to draw has really helped me in my career. Art direction as people in the industry know, often involves commissioning bespoke photography, models, and shooting video or illustration for the higher budget jobs. Clearly these services are not always cheap unless you can cadge them for a low budget project. The stakeholders involved will want to know roughly what the end image will look like and being able to draw the finished product will help considerably at these initial decision making stages. For example, you wouldn’t dream of spending lots of your budget on producing an expensive video without storyboarding what the main features of the video would look like, eg camera angles, lighting, clothing and all the other details that a drawing can convey instantly.

My first job was in an advertising agency. The art directors I worked with sometimes choose to turn to full time visualisers to help show off their ideas. Visualisers are people who draw, often under pressure, all day for a living and are useful when the time comes to present the best ideas to the people who commissioned the job.

If you have ever seen the television series, Mad Men about the world of advertising in the 1960s, you may recall that when they did presentations to the clients, they used drawings mounted onto boards. We were doing this type of thing in the late 1990’s and as a junior visualiser, my drawing and marker skills were sometimes used to help out with presentations and food packaging mockups.

How being able to draw as a designer has helped me and my clients

Manchester Fire Service

Greater Manchester Fire Service LogoIn my position as graphic designer at Greater Manchester Fire Service back in 2011, I was called upon to come up with concepts for a road safety campaign. Naturally when faced with a task like that, we fall back on our well practised skill sets and I exploited my “Mad Men” style, visualiser background.

Being able to draw allowed me to demonstrate how a layout might look with a bespoke photograph, by producing lots of quickly sketched ideas in pencil after brain storming discussions with my immediate colleagues. This common art direction technique called scamping, enabled me to convince them that the ideas we were generating had the potential to go to production. For example, the road safety campaign started out life as a series of crude sketches for showing around the office and gathering opinions on the ideas that were forming.

Using sketches to help kickstart ideas with colleagues

Here are some of the sketches that were used to begin a discussion with immediate colleagues after the fire service communications manager gave me an open brief. She mentioned that one of the officers had come up with quite a snappy headline (based on a 1980’s film of a similar name!) that could be used in the campaign. We discussed about creating beer mats and other items and eventually decided on a traditional, two sided leaflet and pull up banners to be used at public events.

Scamps for the Fatal Distraction leaflet

A picture tells a thousand words

After the initial sketches were done, they became the focus of a discussion because we had something that looked like what we could produce for real in front of us.

Upon reviewing the sketches, we decided that rather than indicating a specific distraction on the front side of the leaflet, we would combine many distractions in one image by littering the front passenger area of the car with plenty of objects. The variety and number of objects is a bit unlikely but it drives the point made by the headline home.

Its a good idea to make scamps legible. Crude ones can be a struggle to understand and silly scribbles can be common like this very funny website demonstrates. However, if the idea is demonstrated and everyone is happy, then the scamp, however crappy can be a useful tool and the design can be then be worked up on the computer. Most designers draw rough sketches for their own benefit and thats just fine.

Speed illustration and magic markers

speedy-stripes-diagonalAs we know, time is a scarce resource. We’ve all got homes to go to and other demands in our lives. An illustration that is just required to convey an idea does not need slaving over like a fifteenth century monk might have done when painting the first letter in a hand made bible. The keyword for ideas, drawings or visuals as they are sometimes referred to in the design industry is speed.

Visualisers are essentially speed illustrators and the best visualisers are very confident drawers. You can tell that by the slickness of their line-work. As a creative director told me a while back, it is better to have a confidently drawn line in a slightly wrong place than a laboured line in the right place. Clearly this speed illustration needs practice. Like many things in life, to get really exceptional at something you must practise regularly.

The best visualisers are able to draw on their experience and put little touches into the drawing that give it life and sparkle. As a student at art college, our tutor used to tell us about the importance of drawing and keeping a sketch book. I set aside time to draw when I can.

More about the drawings for the fire service, road safety campaign

When other members of staff who weren’t in the communication department were consulted on the idea, we decided it would be worth polishing the sketch up a little using markers. These specific type of markers formally know as magic markers are used by product designers, fashion designers, architectural visualisers and art directors to convey graphic ideas.

I took a bunch of magic markers to work with me and the drawing was turned around quickly, around an hour and a half from start to finish including finding a nice looking car interior on Google images.

Markers of the type made by companies such as Kurecolour are just the job for covering large areas of colour in double quick time and can be used like water colours to create darker areas by the running the same marker over again once they are dry. Blender markers sometimes used to create graduated tones. These markers are incredibly versatile and they can get the job done quickly.

The marker visual really helped sell the idea to the big cheeses at the Greater Manchester Fire Service. The final pieces made it into production (see portfolio).

Car Interior Visual

What If Innovation

This is a company that specialises in helping global brands to reinvent the way they conduct their business, focusing on innovative strategies to help those businesses succeed.

I worked with What If, a number of times as a visualiser within the workshops that they ran for large clients. These workshops, at the time I helped them, followed a similar procedure. An informal atmosphere was created whereby staff could work in small teams, uninhibited to create ideas very loosely based upon a central theme. The best of these ideas were illustrated by me during the work shop at a very rapid rate so that they could be assessed by everyone at the end of the day. The final ideas were often illustrated to a higher finish and then, the favourites were picked as innovations that could be implemented in the real world.

The specific projects that we worked together on involved helping the BBC ease the moving of their operations to the North of England. I also helped the team at What If, bring to life, the ideas that the senior management of the Manchester based company, the Co operative group were able to generate so they could tap into the food retail Christmas market.



A project centred around the move from Manchester to Salford.
BBC childrens roadshow

Co-operative Group

A project based around themes to help this company to tap into the Xmas market.
Co-op Christmas and cookery wine tasting masterclass
Christmas goods on display at Co-operative group
Co-op Trolleydash

Visualiser for hire

If you would like drawings like these or would find a designer who can draw to be helpful, get in touch. I would love to assist you.

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