Learning to Sketch Like an Industrial Designer

If I wasn’t doing interface design, I think I’d probably be doing industrial design. I’d be like out there like Yves Béhar or Naoto Fukasawa thinking about beautiful products. I do obsess over physical products, you know. That’s part of the reason I started making notes about every product I purchased.

Why shouldn’t I be out there designing physical products?

This pandemic has given me more free time than I’ve had in a while—so I’m spending it learning to sketch like an industrial designer. That is primary thing separating me from actually being able to do industrial design.

I’m going to do something a little different. I’ll be logging my work here so you can he how I’m progressing and, perhaps, my learnings can be helpful to others wanting to learn industrial design. Hope you can follow along!

Recommended materials

You don’t need too much to get started. Any ballpoint pen and printer paper is really enough for early exercises. I do have a few 0.5mm pen recommendations though:

Staedtler Pigment Liner 0.5 mm is the recommended pen for the drawabox course. It’s a felt-tipped fineliner and is a little on the expensive side.

Pilot Precise V5 RT is probably my favorite all-around ballpoint pen. The it makes beautiful dark lines and are quite affordable. I like the retractable (RT) models as the grip is a little more comfortable.

Uni-ball Jetstream RT is another great ballpoint pen. It produces a less dark color than the Pilot Precise, but the ink dries faster.

What about the Pilot G2? Personally, I dislike the G2. It’s a gel pen, which means it smears and the ink gunks up the tip pretty quickly. I used it, because that’s all I had in my house when the pandemic started—the alarm clocks below were drawn with them. I’d say don’t buy the hype. There are much better pens out there.

Rhodia Dot Pads are generally my go to for sketching or taking notes. Printer paper is perfectly acceptable for these exercises—especially early on. But the Rhodia is a versatile notepad. It’s nice because the dots help you gauge distance between points, but aren’t as intrusive as graph paper.

Prior to starting sketching classes

I’m not a bad illustrator. I’m also not particularly good. If you want an idea of my skill level before starting, here are a couple illustrations I did.

A few different types of busses: Shuttle, MARTA bus and a school bus. The shapes are mostly formed by taking lots of little strokes—what I now understand to be chicken scratch. Apparently, that’s a bad habit.

This one is actually closer to the product design I’d like to do. My chicken scratch is more obvious here. Maybe I’ll take another stab at this illustration later.

Drawing a straight line

Notes

One of the most critical skills in sketching is drawing a straight line between two points. This is a foundational skill and it won’t be possible to advance any further without decent line work. What exactly does this mean?

The line must be straight. Draw from your shoulder to prevent arcing.
The line must be smooth. Draw fast enough where the line is a single strike.
The line must be continuous. Do not patch several lines together to form a single line.
The line must be accurate. Draw from point A to B with as little variation as possible.

It takes some practice, but drawing the lines from your shoulder instead of your elbow or wrist is the key to making good lines. It takes some practice, but it starts to feel more natural.

Exercises

Superimposed Lines

The Superimposed Lines exercise starts with a single line and then try and trace over that line eight times. Use various lengths and also try to do the same with some wavy lines. Focus on drawing from the shoulder. The lines should be accurate towards the beginning and start to fray towards the end. Note: the picture above is turned on its side.

Ghosted Lines

Ghosted Lines is about planning the line you are about to draw. Place to points at various spots on your paper. Try and draw the most accurate line you can by making the movement without having the pen touch the paper. One issue that’s apparent in my work above is the slight arc. Interestingly, I think that’s only an issue when I’m trying to connect to clear points accurately.

Ghosted Planes

Ghosted Planes builds on Ghosted Lines, but adds a bit of order. Start with dots placed for some sort of quadrilateral. Draw then connect those dots. Then draw lines connecting to corners. It should make an X. Then do the same thing again from the middle of the outer lines. I think my lines here are surprisingly good. I don’t think I did a good job judging where the midsections were though. Few of them intersect in a way I’d expect.