Learning Curves – Book Review

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Win yourself a copy of Learning Curves, click here to find out how.

As most product designers and industrial designers would be aware there is a real shortage of good, high quality books on the topic of design sketching.

For many years designers were relying on the classic Presentation Techniques by Dick Powell. Presentation Techniques was certainly a great book for it’s time (and still is), however most copies were out of date for many years until a re-release was done around 2000. Then after many years of waiting for something new on the design sketching book front, in 2005 Design Sketching by Klara Sjolén and Erik Olofsson was released, an inspirational product design sketching book featuring twenty-four talented students from the Umeå Institute of Design. Hot on the heels of that came Sketching – Drawing Techniques For Product Designers by Koos Eissen and Roselin Steur and Analog Dreams by Michael DiTullo. While all of the above books are superb and provide various tips, tricks and techniques for improving your product design sketching, there was always a nagging feeling in the back of my mind there was something missing from them – what it is, I cannot specifically say.

When I received Learning Curves – An Inspiring Guide to Improve Your Design Sketching Skills by Allan Macdonald and Klara Sjolén I was elated to discover that this book has that “IT” which the others mentioned above are missing in some way. After several reading sessions, many flick throughs admiring the stunning sketches and pondering the great tips, and in between thinking ‘my god I need to polish my sketching skills’, I have come to believe that Learning Curves is probably the best design sketching book released in 20 years.

Learning Curves covers all the standard tips, tricks and techniques you would expect to find in a book dedicated to showing you how to improve your sketching skills. But where it is significantly different from most sketching books is that it actually assumes you have some level of sketching ability or at least that you are currently trying to develop a base level. Instead of focusing on starting completely from scratch, which many other sketching books do and Instead of belting you over the head with the basics, the book covers them quickly and succinctly, then moves through to medium and advanced skill areas.

Every page in Learning Curves is filled with beautiful sketches which sit along side paragraphs full of tips and tricks that are highly useful, informative and in most cases clearly answer some of those sketching questions many designers have argued over forever. Although what really makes the book great is that is doesn’t just force one persons point of view onto the reader, in fact it often presents various designers views, opposing points or ways of doing so readers can choose what works for them or the project they might be working on.

To achieve such an broad and, at the same time, deep exploration of design sketching, over 40 designers and sketching professionals contributed to the book. This means that everyone, whether a raw beginner or a seasoned professional can pick up Learning Curves and gain something from it. What is also really fantastic about the book is that instead of directly competing with the other design sketching books available it actually compliments them.

Learning Curves is an extremely well written and informative design sketching book that will assist product designers or industrial designers of any level to build and develop their design sketching skills.

Learning Curves will make a great addition to any designers book shelf and truly compliments the other sketching books that are available, while also providing fresh insights. You can order your copy directly from the design sketching website.

Win yourself a copy of Learning Curves, click here to find out how.

50 Responses to Learning Curves – Book Review

  1. Michael Denham - September 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Best Sketching tip:
    Draw from your elbow for long consistent strokes.

  2. Mark - September 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    “Ideas are not precious, they are bountiful” -Bill Buxton. Before I start sketching for a new project I try and remember this quote and is seems to help free up my mind and helps prevent me from falling in love with one idea or form that I like. It keeps me sketching and exploring more new ideas.

  3. tjlefebvre - September 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    The tip that turned my sketches around was including form lines to show the surfacing (breaking them with a dot to show it’s just a visual cue).

    • Tom - September 7, 2011 at 6:16 pm

      Practice, practice and more practice. Not just by yourself but get together with some co-workers or students and use each other’s feedback to get better.

  4. NOIR - September 7, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    When I´m afraid in front of the white paper because I´m stuck or I don´t know how to draw, I take a used piece of paper and start to draw on the empty spaces. It takes all the preasure off for me and then I feel more confident to start sketching :D

  5. Joaquin - September 7, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Warm up first. Sketch straight lines, boxes and ellipses to get rid of all stiffness and get more precise and fluid strokes.

  6. Arthur - September 7, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Build your complex forms from simple shapes like cylinders and cubes. Afterwards trace the contours with a thicker marker so your sketch really pops out. The guidelines from the simple shapes make it all look more interesting.
    For starters; practice on straight lines and basic shapes from all angles.

  7. Genine - September 7, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Keep moving, I start with a blue pencil and make tons of sketches. When I feel like I am getting stuck on one deign I change it completely. Doing the opposite to see where it goes. I then come back with my black marker and see which really have potential. Solidifying those design with volume and detail.

  8. Genine - September 7, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Keep moving, I first start with blue pencil making lots of thumbnails. If I find I get stuck on one design, I change direction. trying the opposite to see where it goes. Later I come back with my black marker and see what has potential. Adding volume and detail to those.

  9. BART - September 7, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    I like to sketch in a two step process. First laying down the foundation with a light red pencil, then going back and bringing out the important details with a blue pencil. I’ve found that I worry less about getting it right the first time since the red pencil allows me to work out the proper shapes and lines.

  10. Adriano Almeida - September 7, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    Two tips.
    1) Stop while you’re ahead: The desire to constantly add to a sketch has spoiled more drawings than I can count. There is art in simplicity. Just start on another one.
    2) Less is not more: at least when it comes to skecthing. Draw, draw, draw, and then draw some more. With so many creative fields being dominated by computers, it is so important to learn that the pen allows the most natural exploration of ideas, while the machine merely constructs.

  11. Artur T. - September 8, 2011 at 12:52 am

    good sketches are made from good lines, line weights and perspectives.
    So practice those first with simple line/ ellipse drawing exercises. (straight lines from a vanishing points, then fill them up with ellipses in proper perspective., then plot 3 random points on paper and trace a nice fast curve through those points) train hand-eye coordination.
    also, keep your back straight and good posture, you’d want to be sketching for a long time to come, don’t kill your back.

  12. Scott Melanson - September 8, 2011 at 1:17 am

    The best sketching tip I can give is emulate first, then begin to give your own style to it. Everyone starts out not knowing what they’re doing, and they sketch like what they WANT to sketch like. Once you get the look and feel of your favorite artists down, along with the basic principles of perspective and lineweight, then you can develop your own style along the way. Once you do this though, keep your style, it’s what will differentiate you from the crowd.

  13. chris - September 8, 2011 at 2:43 am

    The best sketching tip? Just relax and don’t stress about what you are trying to convey.

  14. m pat - September 8, 2011 at 3:20 am

    I don’t have any tips that is why I need the book.

  15. nat o. - September 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

    errr the trick to great sketches? I’ll let you know once I have the book…

  16. Matt Buckley - September 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Copy every sketch that you like. Show every sketch that you do. Your own style will come through eventually!

  17. Jaime Sanchez - September 8, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    The photocopier is your friend, it lets you make mistakes. You can’t write a novel in one sitting- you write draft after draft after draft. Sketching is the same, don’t try to do it all in one take. Photocopy what works and draw over the top of that- draft after draft after draft.

  18. Theo Pelz - September 8, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    From reading countless tips to improve my thoroughly inadequate sketching ability, the best advice I have ever received was from a friend:

    Be confident in your ability to sketch.
    Your hand wants to draw. Let it.

  19. Sonya - September 9, 2011 at 11:38 am

    In perspective, there’s no such thing as up! This means that no matter the orientation of your page, if the proportions of the sketch are correct then it will look correct.
    So when you are sketching you should constantly be flipping the page or rotating the page as this is the best way to check the integrity of your lines and proportions.

  20. Johan - September 10, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Warm up. Always warm up! Don’t rest your hand on the table and use your elbow as a pivot instead of your wrist. Keep moving the paper around as most people find it easier to sketch in a certain direction. Layer over previous sketches if possible to make it easier to keep your lines clean. Lastly, practice. The best tip I have ever picked up from anyone is always practice. Waiting for dinner? take out that sketch pad and keep drawing lines, circles, eclipses & whatever comes to mind.

  21. stefanosky - September 13, 2011 at 6:20 am

    I start to draw from the colour, I chose one and start from a volume. now I started to think that before the line there is a volume. I use often oil stick, or choke. then i revue and restart to draw with a pencil in a new damned white sheet.

  22. Will Strieff - September 13, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    If you’re ever stuck try changing the color pencil you’re using.. sometimes simply changing to a new color can give you a fresh perspective and spark some inspiration.

  23. Ken - September 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Always sketch when you have an idea coming. So for that, you would need to carry your sketch book along every where.

    And idea, only comes when you are feeling good.

  24. james brett - September 14, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Before you put pencil, pen or wacom stylus to paper or tablet. Stop and sit for a few minutes in silence with your eyes closed and let your imagination show you something new. You will be surprised how a new design or object manifests itself from all the visual ammo you have given your brain over the years.

  25. Bogdan - September 14, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    it’s ok to make a small drawing when the idea rushes into your mind, but try to leave the drawing breathe as you go deeper into the concept.

  26. Emmanuel Carrillo - September 14, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Master one medium first. If you become the master of the felt pen, you will always be confident coming back to it.

  27. Jonathan - September 14, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the culture that speaks that language – likewise, immerse yourself in the design world, so that when you have to communicate, you do so visually. Real progress comes from victory over stressful situations. So if you want to learn how to draw better, join some clubs, use pictures on a napkin instead of words when you’re with your friends/family, search blogs and cultivate an interest in developing new things the world has never seen – that way you will be forced to draw what’s in your mind. Immerse yourself in the culture around you that most values visual communication and sketching.

  28. kma - September 15, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Never stop practicing.

  29. Henry - September 16, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Put some thought into your choice of perspective. Draw your designs as you would naturally see them in reality.

  30. Djordje Radojcic - September 17, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Don’t use eraser! Throw it in a trash can! If you “miss” your line, just draw another next to it (or over it). It’ll help you build confidence, your stroke will greatly improve, your lines will be “faster”, cleaner and more precise.

  31. Mason Watson - September 18, 2011 at 4:37 am

    Best sketching tip I learned- Be observant to everything around you, that is where the inspiration will come to sketch, look at the forms and the way light hits different surfaces. Then always practice these when your sketching.

  32. dimitar - September 18, 2011 at 6:06 am

    If you are sketching for the first time, forget about the object you are sketching, just focus on his line proportion.

  33. Christina - September 21, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    So many good ones here already! Totally agree to warm up, I do a few super fast little sketches first. Also, avoid coffee and other caffeine sources. It can make your hand less steady and your lines will not be smooth.

  34. HAROLD - September 23, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Sketching is extremely powerful, just like music, it transcends language barriers. You all have your own unique way of sketching / communicating and should work at whatever strengths you have. Allow the medium of sketching be your strongest linguistic asset through practice and collaboration with others.

    My best tip; always have a writing / sketching instrument at your ready, you never know when that genius idea wants to be put on paper.

  35. steven wang - September 25, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    it’s about exploration rather than getting each line perfect for me. Some of my colleagues prefer to make their lines perfect each time, but I think beauty is in the imperfections. So don’t get caught up , be free. AD MARKER RULES!

  36. Hamish Tennent - September 26, 2011 at 1:02 am

    Stop caring about what other people thing of your sketches! If you sketch for the purpose of sketching and not to please others, your ability will come along much quicker!

  37. kallol - September 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    just dont think of any thing ….grab any pencil or pencil …. start expressing urself on the paper in front of you …. keep doing it daily …. u will see u are improving with a certain direction un knowingly

  38. Mehmet Yuzbasioglu - September 27, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    Always draw on cheap paper or use newsprint. Expensive piece of paper will make you feel stressed and put pressure on your drawing(which makes you feel more cautious, restricted and less expressive)

  39. Mehmet Yuzbasioglu - September 27, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Also when you feel stuck on perspective or going in loops of creating same form, just take your eyes off the drawing for couple of minutes. Your eyes need a brake. Do something else, watch a video or something.. You will be suprised how differently you will see your drawing when you get back to it.

  40. Alex - September 28, 2011 at 5:29 am

    Retrace your idea over and over again while sketching, rethink it, refresh it after every stroke you make to feel and to show the very maximum of your design.That’s how you do your best.

  41. Kirk - September 28, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Best Sketching tip:
    Buy yourself a bunch of photocopy paper & a ballpoint pen.(no need for fancy gear) Start copying your favourite artists’ work and you’ll begin understand what makes their work great.

  42. Federico - September 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Always remember that your brain commands your hand.
    Sketching for a Proyect: 1- Feed your brain with useful information. 2- Let it process. 3- Only then your brain will start to send answers via your hand.
    Sketching for Fun: 1- Don´t put any information in your head. 2- Your brain will use old/forgotten/corrupted/etc data and relations. 3- You and your hand are going to be amazed with the stuff stored inthere.

    Great site! Cheers from Argentina!

  43. James - September 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Do not think of a sketch as lines, not everything is made from lines and intersections. The forms of shadows and highlights can offer far more depth than just a structure, a whole new aesthetic and design solution can be achieved from this, while also enhancing the visual aestheic achieved from the sketch.

  44. alex - September 29, 2011 at 5:48 am

    as an architectural designer, the use of butter paper allowed the designs to flow to the top! today, the use of layers in digital drawing programs is wonderful.

  45. Catie - October 1, 2011 at 12:05 am

    My best sketching tip: just do it. Don’t be nervous. The more you sketch, the better you will get. :)

  46. kkiiirreee - October 2, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Practice, practice, practice. Don’t limit yourself to copying other artists’ work. Rather, learn to develop your own style, something uniquely you.

  47. Subash Banavati - October 3, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    sketch as much as you can with a vision in mind . No matter how long it takes , keep sketching until you perfect it

  48. sandy sudhir - October 26, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    so who won the book!!

  49. Joe Yamakawa - November 5, 2011 at 1:04 am

    Let your pen or pencil be an extension of your hand and let it flow freely. A good artist not only has the creative inspiration of an idea, but the hand-eye coordination to make it reality.

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