Teaching advice: sketching course by student for students

Hey all,

This fall I am teaching a sketching course at CMU for designers. For those of you who don’t know, I myself am a student (senior this fall), and one of my passions is teaching and I want to ultimately end up teaching design. CMU provides a great opportunity for students to teach a course on anything they want through a Student College program, and I’ve managed to apply and be granted space and time once a week for 2.5 hours to teach other designers how to sketch better.

I’ve searched around the forums and found some nice advice on teaching (R’s thread for his studio), and have revised my syllabus a few times. However, my class is composed of a huge variety of students (13 + TA): from sophomores to seniors, who have various interests (from ID to fashion to concept art) and are at various skill levels, and I’m super nervous for this course. All the students have been through the 1-year freshman sketching course (basically the only sketching course CMU offers). The main intent of the course is to teach marker rendering, since that’s a subject that’s glossed over in freshman year, but I also want to cover digital sketching, as well as methods of ideation, composition, rules and tips/tricks…

My intent is to teach general sketching principles through lecture, demo, examples, and constant practice. Then, for students’ homework, they can apply these principles (rendering, perspective, etc) to subjects of their own interest. For example, one week I would teach about silhouettes and the importance of visual proportion, and a for that week’s homework, a student may be doing 10 pages of silhouettes of cars, or of some fashion designs.

I’ll have live demos every week, but I find it hard to set a syllabus concretely until the course gets started, since I don’t want to go too fast or too slow. But on the flip side, I fear being unprepared, and I know prep time for every hour should be about 3-4 hours.

I have a lot of ideas for in class drills, homework, and demos from the classes I’ve taken before at ACAN and CDA, but I was wondering if anyone had any advice, especially about teaching sketching.

Thanks a lot! I’ll be feeding back throughout the semester on the progress of the course, and the class will have a base on Blogger (or another service if I find something better) for students to post homework, etc .

I think this will be a difficult task for a student to pull off, but likely a nice learning experience for you if not entirely for the students. Sorry to harsh out on the idea… I’m not saying it won’t work, just to manage your expectations, don’t try to get them to be super starts, just try to engage them in the art of thinking visually on the page. Your barometer for success should be that they are enjoying sketching and improving, not that they leave fantastic sketchers.

I’ve taught a mixed class on sketching with ID, Apparel, and game design students. I left the topics totally open and focussed instead on improving quality.

I set the projects something like this:

  1. 1 week project, 10 sketches on anything you want (this was more for me to see their skill level)
  2. 2 week project, 30 sketches, each a variation on a single idea, B+W sketches
  3. 4 week project in 4 phases, week 1 20-30 sketches around solutions to a problem, week 2, 3 solutions selected, 5 sketches on each exploring further, week 3, 5 renderings of refined solutions, week 4, final presentation boards showing the path of selected ideas.

Each week I was pushing the tenants of a good sketch that I outline in my book. I would do demos every other week, and I tried to have 50% of the demos by other designers I knew in the local area (this might be really good for you to do, bringing some more pressure to the class), I also tried to get other professionals in on crit days. Grades were based on improvement, in other words, the best kid in the class had to improve as much as the worst kid in the class to get an A.

Well being in the class next semester… :stuck_out_tongue:

I think you’ll be fine with the curriculum you’ve set out. My only wish is that this class doesn’t devolve into a show-and-tell “look at how cool my sketches are” ordeal where we all just fallback to our comfort levels of what’s familiar to us. Just give us challenges and I think we’ll all grow from it.

And please, only a small portion size of sports cars.

I like to make sure people aren’t just sketching objects as well, ie, if it is a bag, it should be on a figure… if it is a chair, it should be in a room or at least with a figure. Push appropriate of scale, proportion, detail, and showing as many things visually as possible. To talk is to fail. It should be self evident.

Well, there’s no forced subject, so you can go the whole semester without drawing a single car. Unless someone asks me to demo a car, I probably won’t either.

Thanks for all the advice, Yo! I’ll try to keep it a fun and lighthearted class that still has a heavy amount of work and dedication involved. I agree about not just drawing objects: ID people are usually terrible at context. I might take the class out over the weekend to go draw people.

If someone asks you to draw a car, I would go for it. They are difficult to master and I think it is logical that if you master something difficult to communicate visually, many other things will be easy in comparison. As long as you are honestly constructing and sculpting the form in 3d space on the page and not just assembling a series of shorthand tricks.

So how did the first lesson(s?) turn out? What did you learn? I’m very curious!

I’ve had some basic sketch classes with the technical designer at our school, but it wasn’t mandatory so every lesson had different students, which was a bit frustrating. Most of them only sketched during my lessons, and then didn’t touch a pen until the next time.

I didn’t get a chance to post back, but I thought the first class was a huge success. There are about 20 students, mostly ID, but we have one HCI and one architect, and some CD people as well.

I started off a little late because the room was locked, but I had everyone warm up with cubes cylinders and cones, and walked around pointing out perspective issues, line quality, etc. Then I gave a little lecture with some inspirational sketches, mostly logistical stuff. I had them each bring 3 sketches: 1 ideation, 1 refinement, 1 presentation. We posted them all up on the wall and talked about a bunch of them, pointing out good and bad things.

I also did the thing where everyone had a piece of paper, and they wrote down their goal this semester and how many hours they would commit to achieving it. It’s a little trick I learned from Influence: The Psych of Persuasion. Hopefully they’ll put in the effort since they’ve committed to it on paper.

We did a sketching exercise at the end where we listed 3 things each, and passed it to the right for the person to draw. There were some funny things (like chicken legs with toe piercings), but it was a great icebreaking activity.


In terms of what I learned? It’s really important to keep the class fun. It is a night class (6:30-9:30), so most students are low on energy already (myself included), but the element of fun and humor really makes the class great.

I’m still learning how to balance the various interests in the classroom (the different disciplines, and even within ID the different specialties). I also found out it’s SUPER nerve-wracking to draw in front of a class on a projector. I could not stop shaking and put out terrible cylinders. (and I knew most of these students already).

It’s important to get down and dirty with them. You can’t just stand at the lectern stand and tell them to sketch. I really enjoyed walking around and sketching with them.

It’s also important to let them know where you’ve been (with regards to sketching). I showed my first sketch @ CMU ever, and what my level is at now 3 years later. It’s quite a big leap (see in the slides).

Preparing a lesson is also super time intensive. If you don’t budget your time well, things won’t turn out as nicely as you wanted it to.


These were the slides I used for the first lesson:

A bit of topic…but if you want to be a teacher in the future I would advice you:


And not graduate and start teaching right away. And even then, when your teaching, you should be active as a designer in the field to get some real life experience everyday so you can teach your students how to be able to fend for themselves once they are in the field.

If you don’t I’ll guarantee you’ll be a bad teacher. Everything changes so fast. I used to be in persuasive drawings…but now they seem like a waste of time.
Nowadays I’m into making it, so you can touch it…sketching is important to get your ideas on paper and not into oblivion. A nice sketch can buy you some extra time but in the end there’s a product to be made so you’ better make it (read: prototype it).