How to Sharpen Your Design Skills with Watercolour Sketching

About 10 years ago, my preschool-aged daughter showed a keen interest in art. It was around that time when I discovered the simple joy of watercolor sketching in a small notebook. I thought it would be a fun Mommy-and-me activity, and it was.

Little did I know how much it would help my design skills later in life.

Why sketch?

Like most designers, I spend a lot of time in front of a computer. It’s hard to unplug. Watercolor sketching, on the other hand, demands in-the-moment focus. It forces me to back away from the electronics, slow down and take a close look at what’s happening right now.

In the workplace, whiteboard and/or pencil sketching facilitates “thinking on paper”. Visually communicating your ideas allows you to clarify them quickly and create a shared vision with your teammates. Watercolor sketching can help you develop these skills faster.

Getting started: it's easier than you think

A simple setup is all you need to get started. You can get a pocket-sized watercolor set for about USD $15. The best way to start is to just start. Even if it’s only pen and paper. Start drawing what’s in front of you for a few minutes every day. My sketch kit is always in my bag just in case I have a few minutes to spare. For example, I’ll open it up any time I’m waiting at school pickup, doctor appointments or in restaurants.

You’ll get better as your hand-eye coordination improves with practice. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes - that’s how you learn! The more you sketch, the more you’ll see. And the more you see the better you’ll get. It’s a virtuous cycle.

Over time you’ll build a robust visual vocabulary based on simple shapes - circles, rectangles, triangles, lines and dots - the building blocks of design. For inspiration, check out This global community of sketchers shares their daily adventures as they literally see the world one drawing at a time.

Give watercolor sketching a try in 2018. Besides improving your overall design skills, it’s a wonderful way to relax and appreciate your surroundings.

One of my sketches: “Christmas Slippers”. Merry UXmas and happy sketching!

Mary Shaw

Mary Shaw

Mary Shaw is a UX design consultant and mentor with over 20 years' experience in digital design. She’s worked on hundreds of web projects for a variety of Fortune 500 companies and startups. Mary helps big and small companies get the most from their online investments by designing with intent and focusing on results. She also helps aspiring UXers level up their careers through her online UX career coaching program.

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