Sketching 101: What is a sketch

TL;DR — Sketching is exploration. It is a way to peek into the future and enable yourself to reflect, ask new questions, and evalute. It can be done through any suitable medium, be it pen and paper, audio, written words, or something else.

Photo by Jenna Day on Unsplash

You might think of a sketch as a drawing on paper. Often, this is also the case — but that’s not really what a sketch is. That’s not the core definition of a sketch. Pen and paper is merely one medium in which you can choose to sketch.

Various dictionary definitions of a sketch sound like this:

A rapid drawing or painting, often a study for subsequent elaboration

A brief usually descriptive and informal essay or other literary composition

Any brief outline

To make a rough drawing (of)

To make a brief description (of)

These definitions highlight speed, exploration, roughness, brevity. They also mention that a sketch can be both a drawing or a written text. I would like to add my own definition which is:

By creating sketches, we enable ourselves to answer questions such as:

  • What would this idea look like?
  • Would this idea work?
  • What is missing from my idea?
  • Do I like this future vision I’ve created? Do others like it?

A few notes on different media

I typically start by sketching out overall ideas using text — just to describe what the broad strokes are. After that, I’ll dive in and sketch on paper. Different media can help you explore different aspects and different levels of your ideas. So be aware of this and reflect what it is you need to explore at the current point in your creative process.

It’s beneficial to sketch in a medium where you feel at home and have a high degree of mastery. This is because a key goal of sketching is to be able to visualise and explore many ideas, as effortlessly as possible, so the medium doesn’t get in the way*… and this is also why pen and paper for many people is great, because everyone can use a pen.

Finally, different media can be more or less well suited. For example, a guitar and a recorder might be a good medium for exploring and sketching out song ideas. Just your voice and a recorder might be better! However — you might be a wiz at reading and writing musical notation, in which case this could be an even better medium for this purpose. So again, the choice of medium also depends on your own abilities.

*I’ll get into more detail on this point in a later sketching 101 article.

UX Designer, illustrator & terrible musician. If you like my writing, you can show your support here: