When one puts up a building one makes an elaborate scaffold to get everything into its proper place. But when one takes the scaffold down, the building must stand by itself with no trace of the means by which it was erected. That is how a musician should work. – Andres Segovia
Over the last couple of years I have drawn nearly 600 pictures, trying to find different ways to visualise and explore conceptual models.
There are some days when the models dominate – where the elements and relationships are the main things to get right and line and colour simply embellish the core message.
At other times it’s simply the visualisation of a metaphor – a literal depiction of what is going on.
Most of the time there isn’t much time to try and do detailed work – and that’s not really the point of the exercise anyway – As Dan Roam writes we’re aiming for communication, not art.
But every once in a while it’s refreshing to go back to the books and see how proper artists go about their work – and thing we need to remember is that nothing springs into existence perfect and fully formed but is instead built over time and in layers.
I thought I’d have a go at one of the exercises in Christopher Hart’s book Drawing on the funny side of the brain, which you can see in the animation above.
What also spurred me on was watching a few videos of artists using the software that I use to draw.
It’s called MyPaint and it’s only by watching someone else work, someone far more experienced than I am, that you pick up tips and tricks for making the most use of the tool.
It’s a similar situation with the software I use to create the articles I write – using groff to lay out the pages from marked up text.
The thing with these tools is that they’re becoming like favourite pencils and pens I once kept in a case (and still do).
The more I use them the better I get to know them – and they have their own quirks and peculiarities – but there is a sense of community and shared use that you don’t get with anything else.
For example, I use Microsoft reluctantly and with unease.
But, if you want to work with large companies – and they are the ones that benefit most from the kind of work I do – you need to be able to engage with their ecosystem.
Using those tools doesn’t give me the same sense of artistic freedom and shared history and community – I just feel resentful that it’s something I have to do.
That is perhaps the great illusion that underpins modern society – many people want to convince us that whatever they’re selling is perfect.
People who actually create things, however, know that the reality is much more complicated than that – they remember the twists and turns and wrong paths they took as they created something that was eventually useful.
The problem with thinking like a salesperson is that you think only of convincing someone to take what you’re offering.
Thinking like an artist involves starting with a blank page and creating something new – something that is created for one person – perhaps the artist themselves or for the person who will stand in front of the creation one day and take their own message from it.
The biggest mistake we make is when we try and jump to the end without going through the stages in between.
These are necessary – just as necessary as building up a drawing from simpler blocks.
Andrew Loomis in his book Fun with a pencil writes that “As you proceed to build all sorts of shapes out of simpler ones, it is amazing what you can do with them, and how accurate and “solid” the resulting drawings will appear. The surprising part is that, when the construction lines are erased, very few could guess how it had been done. Your drawing appears as complicated and difficult to the other fellow as mine might seem to you now.”
This principle could apply with very little modification to problems of operations, sales and technology development.
And it just needs one simple mental model to remember this principle – an approach that will help you work in a structured way, building from the basics to a finished product.
Start thinking using a pencil and, when you’ve got the outline you need, go over your final lines in pen.