Introduction: Lesson 2: Drawing Technique

As kids, many of us drew all the time. As adults, not so much. Drawing is like any other skill- it takes practice to get good at it. It's time to harness your inner kid again and get into the habit of sketching regularly - it’s the only way to get good at it!

Drawing can be uncomfortable in the beginning- it's very rare that a person can just sit down and do it without a lot of practice. The curve for you might look something like the diagram above. In the beginning your drawings probably won't look great, but with every new drawing you'll notice them coming out the way you want them to more and more often. After enough practice, the techniques you'll learn here will be second nature, and you won't even have to think about them. In the meantime, follow the rules taught in this lesson and you'll get better results earlier.

I can't stress enough how important this skill is to a designer. It will save your life. If you're able to sketch out an idea clearly, even with a minimal level of skill, you're going to save countless hours of work in the design and fabrication process later- not to mention having the ability to quickly explain an idea to someone else! If you develop that habit of sketching all the time as a way to solve problems and explore new possibilities, you'll be well on your way to being a good designer.

Whether you move on to 2D drafting, 3D modeling, or do everything by hand, this tool is always useful.

Drawing Lines

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Design sketching is different than what you probably learned in art class. Manmade objects require a different kind of line work to describe them than natural objects do. With design sketching, we don't use "sketchy" lines (as shown in the image above on the left). We use deliberate, clear, continuous lines (as in the image above on the right). This is because manufactured objects have smooth surfaces, crisp edges, and contours that almost never have organic texture. Using the right kind of line to describe the object in your head makes a big difference to your audience.

People always say "I can't draw a straight line". Like every other skill known to man, no one is born being able to do this. A successful drawing is made by applying a handful of rules and techniques that anyone can learn.

Use Proper Posture:The position your body's in when you draw makes all the difference in the world. Keep your back straight- don't crouch and get too close to the paper. Your arm should be able to move freely- don't rest your wrist on the table unless you're doing finely detailed work (small lines).

Find your Straight Line Motion: The way your arm moves determines the kind of line you draw. When I draw a vertical line on the paper from bottom-to-top, my lines aren't very straight. It's hard to keep them parallel to each other which means I don't really have control over the direction and consistency of the line. The same problem occurs when I draw them horizontally from left-to-right, but when I draw them at a 45º angle from bottom-to-top, they come out much better.

Try it yourself and see which direction works the best for you.

My vertical lines from down to up don't come out very straight.

My horizontal lines from left to right aren't great either.

My 45º lines from left to right are the straightest.

Move the Paper: Because my best straight lines come out when I draw a 45º line, I draw every straight line using this motion. I move the paper to get the line in the right place instead of moving my hand and changing the motion.

Once you've found your straight line motion, practice moving the paper and keeping your strokes in the same direction every time you draw a straight line.

Ghost Drawing

Before committing to drawing a line, practice the motion a couple of times. this will give you a preview of where your pen (or pencil) is going to go, and help prevent bad lines.

When making corners, let the ends of lines cross over a bit. “Punching” the corners makes them appear sharper.

Before you draw a line, draw what's called a "ghost line". By quickly simulating the motion of your pen a couple of times before committing to the line, you'll get a preview of where the line's going to go. Almost every time I do this, I have to adjust a little bit. Either my hand or my paper usually needs to be moved at least a little bit before I commit to the line I'm about to draw.

This is a very important habit to adopt because it will help you produce good drawings early on- this will build your confidence! It's easy to get frustrated by a stack of messed up drawings and flip the desk over, but if you take your time and adopt the ghost drawing on day one, this is much less likely to happen.

Pro Tip: Don't look at the tip of the pen while drawing a line, look where you want the pen to go. You'll get straighter lines!

    "id": "quiz-1",
    "question": "Should you draw lines with your wrist resting on the page?",
    "answers": [
            "title": "Yes, but only when drawing small details.",
            "correct": true
            "title": "Yes, but only when drawing circles.",
            "correct": false
            "title": "No, never.",
            "correct": false
    "correctNotice": "You got it!",
    "incorrectNotice": "Nope! Resting your wrist on the paper makes it easier to draw fine details."

Drawing (Almost) Perfect Circles

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Circles are notoriously hard to draw. Use the pivot trick demonstrated in this video to get a perfect circle every time!

This is a great trick if you're starting the drawing with a circle, but it can be hard to control the exact location and size of the circle. In the following lessons, I'll demonstrate another way to draw them by making a crosshair and drawing arcs around the center.

Line Weight

Line weight is an important aspect of any drawing to communicate shape and depth. You can do any drawing with a single line weight and get the point across, but applying different line weights makes a drawing more lifelike and can make it much easier to understand, especially if the geometry is complex.

  1. Extra Light (pencil or light weight pen): This weight is used for aspects that should either be secondary to the overall form of the object or almost disappear entirely. It's good for construction lines, surface features like textures or patterns, and seams between parts that don't have much depth (like the edge where a fender touches a hood on a car, for example).
  2. Light (+/- 0.3mm): This weight is most often used for contour lines (lines that follow a surface to express its 3D shape) and planar corners (edges between two planes in which you can see both planes in the view).
  3. Medium (+/- 0.5mm): This weight is generally used for spatial edges (the edges of surfaces where only one surface is seen in the view).
  4. Heavy (0.7mm+): Heavy lines are reserved for the perimeter edges of an object and for the cut edges of a cross-section drawing.

In general, you can think of line weight as a scale from light to heavy based on the depth of the edge you're drawing in relation to what's behind it. In the example above, you'll see that the extra light lines (the pattern on the side) are for an edge that has essentially zero depth to the surface behind it. The light lines have a greater difference between the depth between the edge and the surface behind it because the surfaces are angled away from or towards each other. The medium lines have a greater depth between the edges and the surface behind them because the only surface behind that we can see in the view are the ones on the indentation. The heavy lines are reserved for the edges with the most depth (there's nothing behind them).


Now that you've got the general idea of how to draw certain shapes and straight lines, it's time to practice. A lot. There's no need to draw anything specific, just grab some paper and your drawing tools, and start making shapes. The sheet in the picture above is just me practicing lines, construction lines, contour lines, shading, and making form. We'll get into all these techniques later in the class.

In the next lesson, we'll get into sketching 2D views of a design.

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