How do you make the transition from real life to sketch?

Basically just that.

I am finding my drawings are too “realistic”, not so much “ID” stylized.


It sounds as though you might be approaching the art of sketching as figure drawing or still life drawing.

Instead, your sketches should be a visual interpretation of your ideas - the goal early in a development process isn’t to mimic real life, but to offer visual communication of scenarios, options, styles, features, etc in a loose & quick manner. For the designer, these early sketches offer an opportunity to explore forms, transitions, emotional qualities, etc.

There are a good number of VizComm and ID books to reference - and while some might seem outdated at first glance (‘gouache renderings for industry’, ‘rendering in mixed media’, ‘creative marker techniques’) they are all excellent for reference, as the goal of a sketch and its appearance is the same no matter the media you use (mostly digital these days).

Exaggerate your focus areas, leave certain parts and details to the imagination, accentuate your contrasts, etc…make them pop off the page, make them fun and lively. I’ve inserted a few old sketches below for reference.

Sketching comes before something is real, usually the question here is how to make the transition from sketch to real. :slight_smile:

Realism excludes imagining the possibilities. The difference between a sketch and a rendering, is that with a sketch, two observers will see two different things. The minds filling in the extra details. If your sketches are too realistic then they will close off potential avenues of exploration, both for personal concept evolution and for concept communication. The key to sketching as Scott notes, is leaving out too many details.

Try not to focus on industrial design “style” or slickness initially. Instead work on the aspects that are reflected in “good” industrial design sketches. The appearance of speed and the openness of broad concepts where details are hinted at but not defined. Let your own style develop, as whatever the most free pathways from your thought process to paper realization, are what matter most. When personally returning to my own rapid sketches, new forms/concepts will emerge in the subsequent viewings. This aspect is valuable.

Speed seems to be a factor in limiting how much detail or realism or tightness that you can put into a given sketch. Set a time limit as an exercise. Brevity is another factor, limit yourself to expressing a concept in four, five, or six lines. See what develops after you look at the results a few days later. In the end it may not be that sketches are executed in a certain number of seconds, but the feeling of looseness and a relaxed approach helps to open the discussion when viewing the results on paper.

Loosen up and speed up. Sketch only what you want to communicate or explore. If you already know that what are you are sketching is not going to work for some reason - move on to the next sketch and explore more. Don’t polish up all the sketches just for the sake of having done them. Think “will the one who pays my salary appreciate how I have spent my hours here? What is the ultimate objective I should work towards?”

Wow, thank you so much, very thorough answers. I appreciate it.


There is a continuum between drawing and sketching. Drawing has to do more with the literal interpretation of what is seen, while sketching has to do more with indicating just enough from your mind’s eye that you can have a conversation. A drawing is a one way communication, while a sketch is a two way communication. A sketch can be interpreted, debated, discussed, built apron. Focus on the ideal manifestation of the idea, not the literal translation of it… that and originate your lines from the arm not the wrist :wink:

Hey thanks Yo, yes, I get what you are saying, I will keep it in mind.

Here are some images I have been playing with.

All I have is Gimp right now to work with (Photoshop is on the other comp).

I was following some tutorials on Youtube (idcreatures), so that’s where I got the car images from. I’m not very interested in drawing cars, but they were fun to try something different. So I will keep that up.

I just am not sure what to draw a lot of the time. I draw whatever is in front of me: a coffee mug, a pencil sharpener, but it is not very chellenging…and then I think I should draw more complex images, however, I don’t have a Ferrari sitting out front of my door. I am not sure what to focus on? Maybe just keep doing all of it.

But this is where I also got stuck. I could draw from Youtube, but when I went to draw my phone, and a simple cube in 3 point perspective, plus try to get the idea of proper shading…it was a whole different ball game. (I uploaded a picture, it was definitely interesting to see how difficult it was for me).

I also have started figure drawing again (because it is my weak point), and that was fun (got a website off of this site). I did it for 20 min a day for a few weeks and I improved dramatically. I am a big fan of Nicolaides. I could combine the aspects of figure drawing into skecthes of objects for better results, I think. It really helps to direct your mind from what it looks like, to capturing the essence of the thing.

I will continue to keep sketching and drawing, but I am thinking to enter into some competitions to get extra creative and challenged. Is that jumping in too deep? I am no expert sketcher, but I have gone to school for art, so I am not a newbie.


Dish detergent bottle in 3 point perspective. Start at top right and go clockwise around.


Something my teacher told me my freshman year always stuck with me when it came to sketching,
“No matter how long it took you, it should look effortless. It should look like it took you no time at all”
I think you have the basics down but that might be a good thing to think about moving forward. These sketches look labored over, but the more you practice the quicker and more effortless your sketching can become.

You need to firmly grasp the basics. Those drawing aren’t that concise. They are far from looking realistic either.

Once you get a firm grasp of perspective and ellipses, your construction will be solid. Only then can you deconstruct the image to find out what lines are essential.

The construction of the bottle is off. Look at some ellipse tutorials and learn how they relate to the form in perspective.

Good Luck.

OK I know this thread is old, but what I see here is a problem most new sketchers have, but is rarely pointed out to them.
They have understood the theory of vanishing points, but move them too close - naturally to fit on paper. What happens is that perspective is technically correct, but it’s really forced and is not how humans see things! So here’s a rule of thumb:

The angle where the perspective lines meet should not be less than 90 degrees! Where it is AT LEAST 90 degrees should be the BOTTOM of your object.

Thanks for the tip! I bought two different recommended books on ID sketching when I started learning, and don’t remember that ever coming up… I’ll definitely be paying attention to that from now on

Yeah I remember how much that helped me as well, yet I never hear anyone mention it. I discovered it in a tiny little caption in the beginning of the Design Sketching book.