So, you’re a graphic designer. Or a web designer. Or a UX designer. And you’re wondering if you should bother learning to draw.

The answer, as any other article will tell you, is that you just need to know enough to be able to sketch out a design concept: there’s no need to learn more than that. That’s technically true, but I personally disagree with it. Here are the reasons I think you should be drawing, and as much as possible:

Exercise your right brain!

William 2

By “William”

I’m currently reading Betty Edwards’s seminal “Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain.” The basic concept, as she explains (over and over again…), is that the left side of the brain is the stuck-up, conservative side: the side that reminds you to leave parties early because you have work in the morning. The right side is the creative free-thinking side, which generates ideas and inspires art… And is responsible for translating what we see into drawings.

Learning representational drawing turns on the right brain and temporarily turns off the left—the default mode of thinking for most adults. Yes, even us: design can be a surprisingly left-brain field, dealing with layouts, readability, and brand consistency more often than the creative side of art. It’s easy to fall into a rut. So even if you never get particularly good at drawing, just practicing it, which exercises your rarely-used right brain, will make you more creative.

She goes on to say that when you learn to draw, you’ll also see things differently. From then on, when you look out at the world, and at other art, you’ll intuit both how to draw it and how to draw inspiration from it. This, she says, will also make you appreciate other art more, as they’ll look at it with new eyes.

I can personally attest to this. I never understood how illustrators created such depth and texture using only lines until I brought my first dip pen, and digital painting seemed like magic to me until I brought my tablet. The more mediums you try, the more you’ll understand the art world as a whole, and the more you’ll be able to take influence from it to incorporate into your own work.

Learn new skills!

Jenny Cham

By Jenny Cham

I recommend you start practicing with one pencil: the simplest tool you can use to create a finished piece of art. It’ll force you to learn composition, value, accuracy, and how to express emotion using only shapes and strokes. And at the same time, it’s erasable, which will let you develop your eye and your patience by redoing it over and over until you get it right.

After you’ve practiced with that for some time—and while you continue to practice with that for the rest of your career—you can move to a more complex medium. I think you should experiment with as many media and genres as possible before settling on one you like, because each one you work with will teach you a different skill set.

Drawing comic panels taught me how to draw a reader’s eye across a page using only lines and angles. Making posters as a hobby taught me about resolutions and the cheapest ways to print. Most of what I know about Photoshop, I know from my personal projects. I once had a full-time job editing photos, which gave me the base of knowledge I built on, but it was a rote process that didn’t give me much chance to explore the software. It was only though experimenting with it and reading tutorials in my off time that I learned what it’s capable of.

And I haven’t gotten there yet, but if you move up to painting—traditional or digital—you’ll learn color theory, blending, how to create effects… Things I guarantee you’ll find ways to use in your design work.

Incorporate other media into your designs!


By JadsonDantas

…And it’s not just the skills that can make their way into your work: it’s the drawings themselves. Retro and hand-drawn design elements are all the rage these days, and if you can create custom ones, you can fetch a higher price and more demand for your skills than if you’d just downloaded a pack of someone else’s work.

I’ve even been asked by a client to draw a hero image for their website.

Get exposure! (Real exposure)

Kevin Dooley

San Diego Comic Con. By Kevin Dooley

…As opposed to the kind Craigslist ads promise.

I think every creative should have a side project. Mine, as I’ve written about, is a webcomic, but for those of you who’d like to preserve your dignity, you can do something more sensible, like paintings or illustrations.

Get good at it, and regularly show it to other people, and you’ll gain an audience: one you might not have captured had you stuck to the oversaturated and high-competition graphic design world. Get really good, and it’ll bring in new clients. Say you take up painting as a hobby. One day, you set up a tent at an art show. A local business owner passes through. He likes your work, and you talk with him a while. He mentions he needs a new logo, but since he’s been trying to design it himself, it’s not going so well. There’s your opening. Next thing you know, he’s a loyal long-term client.

Your side project might even gain you much more acclaim and attention than your primary graphic design work, should it become successful. Stefan Živadinovic recently spoke at a convention I attended: he’s an accomplished web designer, but the reason he was invited to speak—and what we all knew him for—was his revolutionary parallax-based comic, the Hobo Lobo of Hamelin.

Your opinions?

Do you draw? If so, has it made a difference in your work? Leave us a comment and let us know.