The value of sketching
and how a French girl became my role model
Sketching has many forms. For example, a product designer can visualize his idea through sketching. He slowly feels his way towards the project and can share and discuss the designs with others. The same is true for logo designers or illustrators when finding a suitable composition. So sketching is the first or preliminary stage of the process to realize something.
Then some sketches capture our thoughts, emotions, plans, and ideas. Often rough drawings, which hardly anyone can decipher, are mixed with handwritten notes. We can quickly record these in a sketchbook, for example. Usually, it’s very personal, just like a diary. There’s no right or wrong with this sketchbook, no rules, no restrictions. It’s all about us — and that’s the hard part. Starting with it takes courage and overcoming. Here we record things that we sometimes don’t even dare to say. We formulate our wishes and ideas for the future. At the same time, we confront ourselves with our fears and excuses. Once you start opening up in a sketchbook, you will quickly notice how uninhibitedly honest you become. A lie is hard to bear when it jumps right back in your face from the paper.
1. We feel good
We get over ourselves and get going. We feel productive, no matter if we like the result in the end. We did it. That’s what matters and encourages us for next time.
2. We are in the here and now
During the time of observing and drawing, we drift into a world that has little to do with our everyday world. We meditate. It is the same world that children are in when they play. We are wide awake and curious. Negative thoughts like worrying about the future or regretting the past have no place here. We are in the present, and if we are to believe psychologists, life coaches, mediators, and Buddhism, this is the only place where we can be happy. Finally, it is difficult to be angry and curious at the same time.
3. We allow ourselves to make mistakes
We learn from them and improve the next time. The beauty is that over time, the process becomes recorded and unmistakable. We have it in black and white: we learn and improve.
4. We train our ability to be alone
This is an essential requirement, especially in self-employment and creative professions. When I was about 13 or 14 years old, my parents, brother, and I stayed with the family in Gravina in Apulia, my father’s birthplace, as we did every summer. One evening my cousin and I were out in the piazza, as we often did. A young girl from France sat on the curb, drawing the ornate and ancient church tower. She was my age, and I was very impressed. She was there all alone, drawing. I thought it was so brave. She didn’t let the many people in the piazza, who occasionally approached her and watched, ever faze her. Never could I have done this, I thought — sitting here in a strange city, surrounded by people speaking a different language and ogling my drawings… After a short conversation, this girl, who unmistakably rebuffed my cousin and me, has been my role model.
5. We see like an artist
We see more with each drawing we produce than before by closely observing and capturing our surroundings. For example, if we draw a leaf, we try to understand the basic shape, know the pattern, take it in our hands, feel the tiny hairs, and see the small animals moving on it. We look more closely and see the special in the self-evident things. We see more than most people. It enriches our everyday life, and seeing more is precisely what creative work demands from us.
6. We learn to change our point of view
If an obstacle stands between us and what we want to draw, we are forced to shift our position. Even if we are sitting comfortably and have everything ready. For example, a car could suddenly park in front of the tree we are drawing. Either we draw it or pack up again and move a few meters further. I think it’s an excellent allegory on life. When faced with obstacles, we have the freedom to deal with them however we want. We have been conditioned for years to not leave our seats in the classroom. This habit must now be broken.
7. Our visual perception increases
Whether in a café, on a train, in a waiting room… Every place offers something interesting that is worth drawing. The search for it becomes part of our everyday life.
8. We program a new habit in ourselves
Like brushing our teeth, it slowly becomes part of our lives that we don’t have to repeatedly force. It happens automatically. Building this kind of habit is what separates the amateur from the professional.9. We learn to make decisions
9. We learn to make decisions
What kind of paper, pen, and colors do we use, how firmly, how softly do we press the tip on the paper… Hardly any activity shows us its effects and consequences immediately, like drawing. We see our decisions. Not only do we learn to live with them — we learn from them.
“If I haven’t sketched a place, I haven’t been there.” — unknown
Much like fishing rods are tools of the hungry, sketching is a tool of the curious. “If I haven’t sketched a place, I haven’t been there.” This quote (author unfortunately unknown) describes the opposite of the typical tourist bus that stops at the Grand Canyon for 15 minutes so visitors can take photos. Basically, these were never there — only their cameras were.