Is Drawing Ability Important?

One of my favorite quotes is from Milton Glaser, he says:

And people spend their entire life trying to learn how to draw. And then, after years and years of effort, they discover that they can successfully replicate what’s in front of them. It’s a kind of drawing that appears in all the art classes and all the studios as people learn how to do it in the world. And then finally you learn that you can represent what is in front of you accurately [and] at the same time you learn that it’s not the point, that that is only the beginning of the real point, which is how to engage what is real.

Read the full interview here.

I often find myself referencing this quote when people ask me how important is it to be able to draw. I feel like it’s definitely not required to have a career in design or branding. People often ask me why I choose to trace over a photo in my illustration instead of draw it freehand. Honestly, I used to care a lot more about being able to draw freehand. I used to hate it when people “traced” something, like it was some sort of cheat code. But as I dive deeper into branding and graphic design, I realized some of the work that moved me the most wasn’t drawn freehand. It was iconic, it was photorealistic, it was stylized. It was also not the focus. If it wasn’t about the idea it was trying to communicate, it was about the style. The brand. Nobody seemed to care that I was able to draw something out of my imagination anymore. That’s what Moms are for, right?

My pride for drawing reached its peak right around the time the “5 year old kid” drawing style became a trend. Remember Napoleon Dynamite? Millions of products were sold with nothing more than a doodle on them. It didn’t take an immense drawing ability to make something people liked. Video game designers and comic book artists are some of the most talented drawers I know. I’m continually impressed with their ability, but that’s not what I’m interested in anymore. I’m more interested in communicating ideas, making cool things people like and can use, business and leadership, psychology and consumer behavior, etc. Those things get me riled up more than being able to draw a unicorn perfectly out of my imagination.

So I relate to Milton Glaser’s quote about once you realize you can draw an apple and have it look exactly like an apple, you’re really proud of it. Yeah! But then you’re like, ok now what? There’s got to be something more to it than this, right?

I like to say that art/design is like learning a language, it’s not how fluent you speak, it’s about what you have to say.

However, I must say that being able to draw is a skill that I would encourage all creative people to develop. As a graphic designer, we can get to detached from our imagination and our hands. Drawing can bring us back to that blissful creative world we used to live in when there was nothing to be sold, nothing to be said, and nothing to brand. A pretty picture was a pretty picture. I should take my own advice and draw freehand more often, but I’m just too excited about other things right now. It doesn’t bother me one bit, but I might revisit it when it feels natural.

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4 Responses to “Is Drawing Ability Important?”

  1. George Coghill January 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Nice post Jeff. I like this line: “My pride for drawing reached its peak right around the time the “5 year old kid” drawing style became a trend.”

    Seems lately that drawing skills can even work against you for those clients looking for trendy styles.

    I would add that the one thing drawing skills do provide is an enhanced ability to “see” and pay closer attention to detail, and that skill will help you whether you are working digitally on purely design, or rendering an analog illustration.

    • Jeff Finley January 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

      I agree George, sometimes I take for granted all the years I spent learning to become a better drawer. I mean, my entire childhood and teenage years that’s what I thought being an artist was. And through my college education, drawing was even more important as an animation major. So I think I have a fortunate position of having spent most of my life developing secondary side affects to being able to draw. Like what you said, attention to detail, and also 3d space, shading and lighting, etc. I think learning to draw really well hones a certain craftsmanship that’s evident in your work.

  2. Will January 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Jeff, great video and article. I think learning how to draw and to do so fairly well is pretty important. Even if one’s work is primarily in the digital space it is great to have the ability to quickly sketch out ideas to comunicate points to another person or team.

    George also made a great point about the enhanced ability to “see”. To really get the details, thanks for the post.

  3. Liz Hunt January 20, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    Thanks for this post, Jeff! So inspiring. It’s my goal to draw more this year, and this is just the kick in the butt I need.

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