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What Size Should I Sketch?
“What size should I sketch?” It’s a simple question, and one that is
asked often by beginners to product design sketching. As with many simple
questions however, the more you ask it, the more complicated or confusing the
answer can become. Ask ten different designers and it is more than likely that
you will receive ten different answers! So, how do designers decide what size to
First of all let’s get one thing out of the way. There is no right or
wrong size to draw! Some designers can go entire careers rarely creating a
drawing bigger than a pack of playing cards, whilst others will seldom work on
anything less than an A3 (or even A2) image. The vast majority however will find
themselves using a variety of sizes. The key element, as with much of sketching,
is to feel comfortable and confident. Of course, this does not mean that the
size of drawing you do is completely irrelevant. Just as different materials
lend themselves to different techniques and effects, the same can be said of
sketch sizes. The question you should therefor ask is not what size should I
sketch, but what do I want to achieve with the sketch?
For example, are you looking to show the design in all its glory, down to
the smallest detail, or are you simply trying to capture the essence, stance or
proportions of your design? Of course, it is relatively simple to understand
that the smaller your drawing is, the fewer details you will be able to display.
Draw very large however and you will have to put a lot more pen to paper, and
probably won’t find it as easy to quickly and simply capture the “feeling” of
your design. As mentioned at the beginning however, each designer is different,
and there is no right or wrong way (or size) to draw.
With my own daily work, whilst a lot of my tasks are based around creating whole
vehicle concepts, my sketches are generally rather small. Typically very few of
my sketches will be larger than 15x20cm, and in fact a fair amount are a lot
smaller. Some are truly thumbnail sketches both in name and dimensions. These
are pretty small, especially considering I design trucks for a living! Sketching
at this size allows me to work through different ideas pretty quickly, and far
more importantly allows me to ensure that the key graphics and proportions I am
designing are fundamentally good. This approach I feel is pretty important,
especially in truck design! With the surfaces being so large on these types of
vehicles, it can be very easy to “fill” them with “clever” details that don’t
really hang together or create a harmonious theme. For me, the best designs have
always been those that incorporate intricate detailing within a strong, clear
and simple base form and proportion. Only once I have these key elements set do
I slowly start to increase the sizes of my sketches (although rarely do they
become larger then 20x30cm).
A large part of the reason that I personally feel more comfortable with these
smaller sketches is due to the way I sketch. There are two natural pivot points
that a designer can use when drawing which can help achieve flowing curves. One
of these is created by resting your elbow on the table and using it as a pivot
point for curves, the other is created by resting your wrist on the table and
pivoting your curves around there instead. The pivot point in my wrist is the
one I naturally feel comfortable using, and since this only enables me to draw
smaller curves, my sketches are naturally smaller. It can be a good idea to pay
attention to this when you are sketching yourself, and find out which way feels
most natural to you. Of course, if both techniques feel good, then feel free to
As well as this, the convenience of being able to draw creatively at a small
size is a bonus. I can easily carry a small sketch pad that can be used whenever
I need to.
The advance of digital technology has also had an effect on the size I draw.
When sketching on paper, the size you sketch is pretty obvious. When sketching
digitally however, for example in Photoshop, the size of the drawing is a little
more ambiguous. Even with a small canvas, it is a simple operation to zoom-in to
whatever detail level you like (at least if the resolution is big enough).
Because of this it can be a little tempting to go too far when sketching
digitally, spending too long on one drawing and generally overworking your
images. Knowing when to stop and move on to the next sketch is important! One
method that I have developed to try to overcome this tendency is to always
sketch on the same size canvas, using the same sized brushes. The size of canvas
I have chosen for this (A4 at approximately 72DPI) requires that I draw with a
brush of approximately 5 pixels. This does not leave a lot of room to zoom-in
and add too many details as I simply don’t have many brush sizes to move down
to. Of course, if I really need to add more details, perhaps to create a
presentation drawing from one of my sketches I can always increase the
resolution of the image and add details. In effect this has meant that even when
having to create high definition images with plenty of details, I am still in
effect able to draw small. Simply put, this simple technique has allowed me to
recreate digitally the natural comfort level and confidence I have when
sketching A4 or smaller by hand.
In conclusion, although I have explained that generally I draw small, I hope
that I have shown that really the choice is fully up to you. There are plus and
minus points for every drawing technique, and your goal should be to learn about
them all, try them all out, and simply run with what makes you comfortable, and
achieves the results you want!
This article is a reprint of an article originally written by Allan
Macdonald for the website fuelyourproductdesign.com
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