Let Why You Draw Determine How You Draw

If I’m trying to make a drawing that looks good or one that is good to look at then the hour I spent making this is well spent but if drawing requires that much time I won’t draw often.

If I’m drawing to record ideas, this is a much more efficient way to draw and so I’ll draw more.

“Make things as simple as possible – but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein


In their wonderful book Art & Fear Ted Orland and David Bayles share a story.

A daughter asks her father, “What did you do today?”

“I taught my students how to draw,’ he responded matter of factly.

She gasped in amazement, “When did they forget?”

I find that when I ask people if they can draw the number of affirmative responses is directly related to age. The younger you are the more you know you can draw. So what happens when we grow up? We are taught a terribly limiting understanding of the many things drawings can be and do.

With a unidimensional vision of what drawing is, we are trapped by someone else’s limited vision of perfection that is further complicated by comparison to others.

We can all draw. Note that I didn’t say we can or should all draw like Michaelangelo. It takes more time to develop the skills necessary to draw in some ways than others. And you probably draw a little differently than your friends who also think they can’t draw. But if you can read this (possibly even if you can’t), then chances are you already know more than one way to draw.

Drawing is many different things to many different people – and it can do many things for you. For Thomas Edison drawing was a way to visualize what didn’t exist – yet. He handed his team a very simple sketch to help them invent the phonograph. (As a draftsman he was no Leonardo but his limited drawing skills helped him be an even better inventor.) Words weren’t enough and he needed a way to visualize what they had never seen before but soon would in part because he helped his team visualize it with a drawing.

So once we understand that even doodles are just one of many kinds of drawings, we might start to reframe what makes a drawing good based on the purpose we intend it to serve. If all you’re looking for is a way to find and capture ideas, then the time it takes to render them realistically is wasted. (And who wants to waste time?) Moreover, for some purposes, the extra detail added may be distracting or, worse, confusing. (If I ask you where the bathroom is, and you start spouting extended passages of flowery verse, one or both of us might get wet.)

The kind of drawing I want to encourage you to practice as part of your creative toolkit is not about making good-looking drawings; it’s about making useful drawings. Drawing can be useful in many, many ways.


1. Imagine The Possibilities

2. Capture The Idea In What’s Picture Imperfect

3. Identify Possible Variations

4. Structure Stories With Storyboards


Read 4 Reasons Photographers Should Draw More Often.

Learn more in my photography and creativity workshops.

Take Notes

Alignment XVI
There are so many reasons to write! You don’t have to write professionally to experience the many benefits writing can offer you. Remember, while few people write professionally, everyone writes, most often to help them do their work. While you may not consider yourself a writer, you already write. So write more!
Here are four reasons to write.
1          Retention
Writing will help you remember things. Most people can only hold seven things in their minds at once. When new information comes in, old information is lost – unless you write it down. You’re 73% more likely to remember and act on something if you write it down. (If you type your notes, this number drops to 39%, which is still much better.) Part of this stickiness comes from finding the words that work best for you, so use the language that you’re most comfortable with and that means the most to you. You probably have a to do list professionally, so why wouldn’t you use one to help you excel in your creative life too? And there are times when everyone needs a checklist. (Atul Gawande Checklist Manifesto shows how doctors used checklists to reduce hospital deaths and complications by more than 33%.)
2          Clarity
Writing helps you see more and see more clearly. Like any creative discipline, writing encourages closer observation. You note more things. You note more things about the things you note. Unlike photography, which encourages observation of things you can see, writing can also help you observe things you can’t see like your thoughts and emotions, interactions within relationships, and processes unfolding in time. When you find the right words to describe something you understand it better.
3          Productivity
Writing can help you find more ideas. When you unburden your memory those mental resources are freed to do more things. You’ll become mentally freer and more energized. It’s important to file your notes in an easily retrievable organized system that you trust, otherwise your mind will continue trying to remember everything, which no one can do, not even the gifted who have photographic memory. Once you see what you’ve written new ideas will come to you. You can accelerate this process by playing word games. Alex Osborne’s acronym SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put To Other Uses, Expand, Reverse) is a mnemonic device for a series of mental operations you can use, each of which is capable of leading to countless new ideas.
4          Organization
Organizing your writing helps you get organized. Often the process of taking notes isn’t linear, you simply let it all out. When you revisit and reorganize your notes you make even more sense out of your observations. Lists help you identify steps in a process, set priorities, and identify more important items. Remember, you can also use size, color or graphic symbols like underlines and stars to make some words stand out more than others.
Take Notes With Images
Images and words can create a wonderful synergy. Include an image with you written notes and you can dramatically increase the amount of information you record and how memorable it becomes. Some things are better noted visually rather than verbally. If you can see what you want to make a record of then a photograph can very efficiently make a note, often one full of detail that would take more time than necessary to record. If you need to make a visual note and you can’t photograph it, make a doodle instead. Diagrams can be particularly useful for recording processes (vectors, paths, timelines, etc) and relationships (maps, graphs, Venn diagrams, etc)

Audio ?

What about taking notes with audio? Audio is helpful if you need to make notes hands free. Otherwise, it takes time to review audio as it’s played back, so it’s not the most efficient way to take notes. However, if you are having a conversation with someone and you don’t want to interrupt the flow by taking notes audio is quite useful. Nothing records intonation and inflection like audio does. And on those rare occasions where you want to note the particular sound of something, once again there’s nothing quite like audio.
Avoid Perfection
Remember … Perfect takes time, so for this purpose it isn’t. It’s a distraction. Be more productive. Satisfice. Think of your notes as a place to record and explore your observations – not the way you’ll present them to others. With this realization you’ll be freer about what you record and how you record it. And that’s the point.
Make notes, lots of notes, and keep doing it. You’ll find the time you spend not rushing to finished results will make what you produce better in every way. Besides, it’s fun!
Read more in my Creativity Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.

Use Screenshots For Complex Notes In Photoshop

Adopt a non-destructive workflow. When you can’t, take notes.
Non-destructive Photoshop workflows do more than let you change edits to a file in perpetuity, they also create a record of what you’ve done to an image. For instance, when you reopen a Smart Object, you can simply check the interface to see any and all of the Adobe Camera Raw settings currently being applied. So, if you’re not sure whether the latest detail rendering and noise reduction algorithms are being used for a given file, all you have to do is open the Smart Object to verify this. Or, when you click on an adjustment layer you can see the those settings in the Adjustments panel. So, if you’re not sure whether an adjustment layer caused clipping, you can toggle it on and off to verify this; if it is you reset the values; if it’s not you find the real source for the clipping.
Despite Photoshop’s increasingly flexible interface, there are still many times when you need to work destructively. Not all edits can be applied as Smart Objects, Smart Filters, or adjustment layers. Many filters still can’t be applied as Smart Filters. HDR merge settings can’t be applied non-destructively. Adjustments from third-party plug-ins, such as noise reduction with Noiseware or Tonal Contrast from NIK’s Viveza can’t be applied non-destructively. But you can create records of the settings you use with destructive edits, making it easier to see what you did later and helping make future refinements faster and more precisely.
How? Take notes in Photoshop. There are many ways to take notes in Photoshop. There’s the Note tool. You can use a Text layer. You can record information in the title of a layer. For complex settings, all of these can more abstract and time consuming than necessary, reducing the likelihood that you’ll actually make them.
There is an easy way to make notes of complex interfaces. Use screenshots. A screenshot takes a picture of your screen, either entirely or partially. Store images of the destructive edit settings inside the file you used them on and you’ll have excellent notes for future reference. Doing this only takes a few seconds. Read More

Take Note of Your Process

It only takes something to write with to learn a lot about photography and yourself in a little time. It doesn’t matter whether you use pen and paper or PDA. It doesn’t matter whether you finish sentences, spell correctly, or write legibly. Just write. Don’t just talk, using audio recordings, unless you transcribe them later. You need to see relationships – in writing.
One of the assignments I often give my workshop participants on location is to note your process. “First I do this. Then I do this. Next I … etc.” Most don’t follow through. They quickly fall into old habits and return to photographing the way they usually do, without finishing the assignment, without learning. So, to finish the assignment, they have to fill in their lists after they photograph. Then they don’t piece things together in the same way. They miss some things. They forget other things. One of the benefits of noting your process is that things that you ordinarily take for granted or weren’t aware of suddenly become clearer to you.
I do the assignment with my students. (Yes, I do the exercises I assign too.) They’re always amazed at how full my pages of notes are and how many pages I create in a short time. This comes with practice. And it comes with sharing your notes with other people. When you hear each other’s lists, you’ll find other people notice things you don’t. Both the similarities and differences you share with others can be revealing.
I find I write the same things down time and time again. This has lead me to create a master process list, which I copy and modify (add to or subtract from) on location. There are always new things. Are there new things because I noticed more? Why? Are there new things because I’m in a new environment? Why? Are there new things because I decided to try something new? Why? These are important questions that can unlock a new ways of looking, thinking, and working, now and in the future. Keep asking them.
Because I write … I’m clearer about what works and what doesn’t. I’ve streamlined my systems. I have a better understanding of how and why I work. I have dozens of new ideas to try. This is a great thing to do when you first start making photographs after a break or in a new place.
There are many more benefits to noting your process. With practice you won’t need to take as many notes as you do when you first try this, you’ll simply keep a running dialog in your head and note only the most important things or the things that are different. Do make notes. Writing reveals. Writing brings more choices. Writing leads to clear thinking. Writing leads to clear seeing.
Find more online resources in my Creativity Lessons.
Learn more creative techniques in my Illuminating Creativity workshops.

Time the Light

During my White Sands, New Mexico workshop, we’ll be photographing in the same area for the next four days. On our first sunrise shoot, I timed the light and how it affected subjects.
5:45    Color on horizon
6:00    Color in sky
6:15    Color bright on horizon
6:30    Highlights on dunes
6:45    Strong texture    Large areas of shadow
7:00    Less            Less
7:30    Less            Less
8:00    Less            Less
8:30    Dark sides of dune affected by substantial fill light
12:00  No shadow
3:30    Long shadows
4:00    Substantial shadow
4:30    Fifty percent shadow
4:40    Highlights are accents only
4:50    Sun below horizon, definition falls, pink mountains to east
5:00    Color in sky blooms
5:30    Color in sky largely gone
5:45    Dim light in sky
Now I know what the light will do and when. I’ll use this information everyday for the next three days. So will everyone else. Making notes on site can really pay off. And this is just one kind of note you can make.
Find free Creativity ebooks here.
Find out about my 2010 White Sands Workshop here.