Sketching for people who really can’t draw

Picture from Fluxx’s Workshop

Recently I ran a drawing workshop for my colleagues at Fluxx. A few days later one of them was able to draw this:

Tom made me promise not to say he drew this.

It’s quite impressive if you think that before the workshop, when my colleagues have to brief me on personas and journey maps, they didn’t dare to draw anything at all. It’s not a masterpiece, but it clearly identifies four different people. It does its job.

He’s just one of the colleagues that told me “I started the workshop without knowing how to draw, and now I can draw.”

It’s something I’m sure you will be able to say too by the end of this article.

Why you (think you) can’t draw.

The main difference between illustrators and you, is simply because they think they can. Being able to draw is not about technique and style, but about confidence.

The reason why you think you can’t draw, happened to everyone. I played around with the Dunning-Kruger diagram to show why:

Check my Tumblr “There is more than a way to draw a cat”

When you were a child, you probably thought you were the best at anything. You used to just start, explore, learn and have fun.

You thought you could draw. And probably you thought you were good at it. Until you faced the reality that other people are better than you. You realised that after all, you can’t draw.

It’s true, other illustrators do it better. Their drawings have a better technique and they probably look more realistic.

But the real difference between you and them, is that they didn’t get stuck when they realised they couldn’t draw.

They just started, explored, learned and had fun again.

That brought them to grow confidence again. They gained skills and techniques that made them able to make a good drawing. But the truth is that you don’t need to make a good drawing to communicate something. Whether you’re briefing your designer, visualising your thoughts in a meeting or playing Pictionary with your friends, the most important thing is that people understand what you are drawing.

A cat (left). A cat (middle). A cat (right, drawn with my left hand)

And the best thing about communicating ideas is that you need to keep it simple. As John Maeda says, it’s about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.

You can see how many details you can get rid of when drawing an iPhone. Even less if it’s a generic mobile.

And how adding a simple rotation of the same drawing, it communicates a tablet instead of a mobile.

Let’s draw!

Get a piece of paper and a pen, pencil or sharpie. Whatever you would use everyday to take a note.

Now you are ready to start with the hardest part of all. Start drawing this:

Yeah, just a dot and a line. It starts all from there.


Good! You can draw a point and a line!

Now add some lines next to that one.

Start getting more confidence with your hand trying to keep the lines parallel.

See what happens with a different thickness of a line, pressing more, tracing more times or changing drawing tool.

Now start exploring different kind of lines. Dotted, dashed, wavy.

Great! Now that you can draw dots and lines, lets put them together, with a square, a triangle and a circle.

Now you can draw everything you need to know to go forward!

Look how easy is to put them together and draw these…

…icons. Wow! You can draw icons!

Let’s draw (more) icons

Icons are like words: if you don’t have them in your head, they won’t come out when you want to communicate. That’s why it’s important to have in mind your own toolbox where you can pick your icons whenever you need them.

Keep drawing these icons for your toolbox!

Did you make a mistake? Don’t worry!

Does it still communicate the same idea? It’s not a problem!

Some of them might be more challenging. I’ll show you how to draw some of them.

As you can see in this example, I also showed what I see in my head while drawing. Those are lines that everyone has in mind when they look to a picture and it’s important to consider them when drawing. It’s a concept called “gestalt”.

When you look at the stars, your eyes perceive also the part of lines that you didn’t draw. The eyes expect to see aligned lines or equidistant vertices. That’s why they might look unusual or messy, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a “bad” thing, but just a different style choice.

The same goes if your icons look different from mine.

It’s not a problem. It’s my way of drawing icons, but don’t see yours as a mistake, but as your style. It works like your calligraphy.

But try to understand what characterises it, so that you can apply it everywhere. It’s good for us to have a constant style in our icons.

It’s what makes people understand that you drew them. 
And it’s what makes people think that we can draw.

And when I say “we”, I mean me and you.

Because now you can draw too! 😃

And with my next post you’ll learn how to draw people!

Stefano Bellucci Sessa is a Designer at Fluxx, a company that uses experiments to understand customers, helping clients to build better products. We work with organisations such as Lloyds Bank, Royal Society of Arts, the Parliamentary Digital Service and William Hill.

I helped people draw with this workshop also on events for AppsForGood and Contact me to find out more about mine and other Fluxx’s workshop.
In the meantime, check my
portfolio online and my sketches on Instagram.

If you want to find out more about it, I recommend the book “The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking” by Mike Rohde.