Why you don't want to skip sketching your designs


When it comes to illustration, sketching is necessary to formulate a plan and organize your idea into a well thought out design. Occasionally, it is okay to skip sketching if you are doing something abstract, simple brush strokes, or have a really gorgeous detail photo (that you snapped) of your subject to use as a reference for illustrating. As a creative person, I am always thinking of new ideas or projects. When I first started designing, I always wanted to get to the “fun” designing part, and would try to skip sketching. My thoughts would go like this,“I will just sketch later. I totally got this, and know exactly what I am doing.” Then, I would go bounce into my office and get to the “fun” part. What usually followed, when I did this, was having no idea how to get started on what I wanted to create in the first place. Even though I thought I could see the end result in my mind. 

Why you should sketch out all design illustrations

What we don't realize is, our minds are merging our ideas as we go, but without sketching, our mind can't sort all those ideas out into a finished, fully fluid realization of those ideas. Without proper planning, you are staring at a big blank white slate, and the possibilities of creation are endless. There is freedom in the limitlessness of creating something out of nothing, but it can have a stop you in your tracks effect, too. Kind of like going into a room looking for something, then having no idea what you went in there for (this happens to me mostly in the morning. Before coffee).

Sketching is an essential part of the planning process. It is the equivalent of doing research and gathering data for a report, but instead of a report, you are gathering ideas into an actionable creative guide for your illustrations. What you have to realize is, sketching is designing. It is part of the fun part! I never work on any project without sketching, even personal ones.

Design Inspiration

Before beginning sketches, you should have already found inspiration from the world around you. If you are illustrating florals, go to a plant nursery and take pictures of flowers. If at all possible, I recommend getting out and immersing yourself into the world of your subject matter. It will inspire you in new ways, and you may see something you could not have imagined if you did not see it in the natural environment. If you are illustrating something you can't see on a regular basis, like a close up of the sun or planets, you can look at real photographs of the subject. To keep yourself from copying any one photograph, assemble an idea board of multiple photographs of your subject. These simple illustration techniques will give you different ways of looking at what you want to illustrate and sketch out for your drawings.

Gather your sketching materials

Everyone has different ways of sketching with the varying materials they use. I have seen some artists even sketch their ideas directly on an iPad or Wacom tablet. The advantage to sketching right in an iPad is it is already digital and you don't have to bring the finished sketches into your computer to digitize them. But this just does not work for me. I like my pencil and printer paper. 

Some designers use sketch journals so everything is all in one place. I prefer using a scanner to bring in my sketches, and find working with a journal bulky. I have a really nice office file organizer I got from Ikea that keeps all the projects and sketches I am working on nice and neat. It is the Kvissle wall magazine rack and it works great for me. I created little labels for each file space to help keep me more organized, and use folders to divide projects.

My materials for sketching are: 

  • Plain printer paper
  • Regular pencil with extra eraser on the end
  • Any hardcover book to use as a board for my paper
  • Printed photographs or idea board of my subject
  • My Pen and Ink Reference Guide (available free to download at the end of this post here)

I like to be comfortable when I sketch and find my ideas flow so much easier when I am in my comfort zone. So, I am usually doing sketches in my favorite spot on our couch in my yoga pants. I have a swing arm lamp that swings into place over my corner of the couch to give me great lighting. Most of the time I work on sketches after the kids have gone to bed, or when they are at school and the house is quiet. I also like to sketch while watching a television show or movie with the family. You should find the best time and location that works for you to fuel your creativity. For you, it might be relaxing in a park, lounging by a pool with a soothing waterfall, or, on the couch in yoga pants.

Do the Work and Sketch Away

The number of sketches varies for each project. But, for my pattern sketches, I usually have 2-4 sheets sketched out so there is a nice diversity of elements to create the patterns. Not all sketches make the final cut either. I am currently working on releasing my first vector pack for creative entrepreneurs.  So far, for this large set, I have used 3 sheets for individual elements, 2 sheets for the different wreaths, 2 sheets for hand lettering, and 2 for floral bunches.

When I sketch florals, I make sure to create a nice mixture of curved and straight elements. The curved motifs are perfect for assembling wreaths, and also provide movement and flow to the finished artwork. I like to sketch all elements that I plan to create by hand in Adobe Illustrator on one sheet, and motifs I plan to use the Live Trace tool on another sheet. Most of the time the really detailed pieces with shading will be the ones I do by hand.



Once I am finished sketching, I then decide how I am going to bring the artwork into Illustrator. If I plan to create vectors from scratch, then I will just darken the pencil sketches in pencil and scan it in. But, if I want to use tracing in Adobe Illustrator, then each one is outlined in black ink with my micron pens. (Sketches shown above I actually left in pencil, but outlined in pen so you can see the sketches well). You can also outline every sketch in pen, that way you can still create vectors from scratch or use the Live Trace tool in Adobe Illustrator.  


 My favorite is Sakura Pigma Micron Pens No 05, but I use other sizes and colors too. Then, I erase all the pencil marks so I have a nice clean image. This way I am ready to use my sketches as a guide for my vector illustration artwork. 


A few of the finished designs made in Adobe Illustrator from my sketches. These design elements will be part of a graphics pack just for creative business owners who want to create product designs with floral elements.

I would love to hear from you!  What is your process for sketching? What is your favorite subject to illustrate?