Learning to Design With Drawing Practice

Daily drawing practice is the key to developing your gifts for design. December 2, 2013

What are some media that you use to help yourself with being creative in designing projects? I find myself doing a lot of things the same way and want to help myself become more creative. I am a woodworker not a designer, but would like to do a better job on the design end. Are there books, magazines, etc. out there that you use in your shops to aid you?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From Contributor E:
I am an architect and a cabinetmaker and I consider myself to be a poor designer. I design hands-on better. I have piles of great kitchen and cabinetry magazines and this is what keeps me going. I guess the more you see the more creative that you can get. I read a lot and have subscriptions to industrial woodwork periodicals. If you canít afford to buy books and magazines the internet has piles of pictures and ideas.

From contributor M:
Contributor E is right on. I do not consider myself to be a cutting edge designer. Some people are just really gifted that way, but I do get a lot of compliments on my ideas. I receive the full color magazine Kitchen and Bath Design News through the NKBA. That magazine and others help me when I am looking for something new or looking for ideas. Also, just going to NKBA meetings and being around full time designers is helpful. I do seem to get rusty quickly though when I am in the shop for a while.

From contributor R:
My favorite inspiration source is Google Images search. Type in a style, or design name, etc. and choose images. Hundreds of pages can show up. Most don't help at all, but a few gems will show up and help.

From Contributor C:
I'm a furniture maker, trained at Kendall College in furniture design and worked for a German designer/maker during the early years of my career. He taught me a very simple process that when followed daily literally makes design second nature.

Here's what he taught me: Every day you must challenge yourself to find 10-12 pleasing shapes and record them in a journal. These might be a picture of a piece of studio furniture you find online or a photograph or a logo, any deliberate or natural design you run across is fair game. Then paste these in a sketchbook (spiral bound field sketch books are great).

Next, draw every day for at least 30 minutes. These don't have to be finished pieces and many of mine are doodles or my attempts to merge two or more of the design shapes I've collected together. No one but you will ever see any of these sketches or the images you've pasted in your sketchbook. The purpose for the exercise is to teach you to always be looking and seeing the designs around you and to teach you to better your eye hand coordination. I've been doing this for almost 35 years and I am still amazed at how I will see things and make a quick sketch or shoot a photo with my phone so I can print a copy and keep it in my current field book. The books make wonderful references for when you feel dried up and can't get ideas flowing. Just go back to an older book and leaf through and look at your images and notes and sketches.

A couple great places to see the current work of others would be the books the Furniture Society prints each year. I find a lot of great stuff in a British magazine called Furniture and Cabinet Maker. Some Barnes and Noble stores stock it. Architectural Digest is another fantastic source of incredible images of everything from the buildings themselves to the cabinetry, the furniture and even the furnishings.

So run out and buy a fresh sketchbook, a few glue sticks and pencils and start looking around you, there is so much inspiration everywhere that once you start actually seeing it you will be amazed! Before you know it you'll be overflowing with ideas because every new idea gives birth to at least two or three more!

From contributor Z:
Houzz and modenus .com are both great sites to get inspiration, but I am registered on both of them and have received referrals. You can also post before and after projects or special design problems and your solutions. Houzz also had an app that sends info to your iPhone or iPad and I save interesting ideas to my photos for future reference. There is an app called Fab which has really innovative products that it markets and you can get some amazing ideas there as well. Kudzu is also a free site that you can find inspiration on and register with them as we'll as a craftsman. Make sure your supplier reps show you the newest and latest products and get samples to show your clients. Designers have great respect for craftsman that are aware of the newest materials and the ones I work with look forward to visiting my shop for great espresso coffee and new products that they have never seen applied to cabinetry.

From Contributor S:
I am often accused of being a good designer, but I know that my original ideas are really built on the things that I have built previously and things that I have seen which caught my eye. I have met some truly talented designers. These people come up with original ideas seemingly from nowhere. They are creative and find inspiration seemingly from inside themselves. I worked with a local designer who would sit across the table and tell me what she had in mind with great detail. As she spoke she was drawing with a pencil and map pencils. After 30 minutes she handed over three drawings (plan, elevation, and birds-eye perspective) of a high end condo living room that were textured, shaded and detailed. The drawings were to scale and every material was clearly detailed. There were several elements that I had never seen before and when I commented on them she said "I just thought of those now". After that I learned to respect what a true designer is.

Like many carpenters, when I have freedom to design what I want I usually sketch out a few details then start cutting wood. Along the way the idea takes shape and with a little coercion looks original. Despite that I know that the inspiration is rooted in my experiences not really pulled from the ether.

From Contributor C:
Contributor M - that's why they say Art begets Art! Your designer friend is talented because she has refined her skills and makes the design process seem simple and her drawings prove that out. If you look in her studio my bet is that you will find many sketchbooks filled with hundreds and hundreds of drawings where she has tried many different ideas. Some more original than others but all and I do mean all, are the result of being able to see and to draw. Just like you or I can cut and assemble 20 inches of perfect dovetails on all four corners of a cabinet she can draw what her eye and mind see!

From contributor L:
Learning to draw is probably one of the first requirements of designing. Take a class at a university. Most have night art classes taught by grad students. Like Contributor M I think way too many designers are frustrated house wives that can only follow the latest trend. Of the ones we deal with maybe one in ten has real talent. I also sketch and often use my camera to record parts and pieces for interesting shapes or ideas.

Once a year we have an open house for the architects and designers. It includes a short presentation on materials and processes. Each machining area is setup to demonstrate potential. There is a printed handout detailing what's possible and showing some completed work. We do the same for high school wood classes and the local remodeler's association. I have offered this same thing to the University/College of architecture and design but it has never been taken. I have a degree in architecture and have traveled widely.

I think travel can also be valuable if you take the time and effort to look carefully and record with a sketch book or camera. I've lived in London and have traveled as far east as Jordan and as far west as Hong Kong. Design is probably a compilation of your experiences and the effort to develop presentation.