How To Sketch Your Ideas Quickly Using Just 4 Simple Shapes

December 4, 2020

This article explores the 7 hermetic principles or also called the 7 laws of the universe. It is a brief introduction and overview of the hermetic teachings that are at the core of the book The Kybalion which originated in ancient Egypt and Greece.

sketch ideas quickly

A lot of us have many ideas but often times we struggle with the visualization part.

Not being able to sketch out ideas is the biggest reason that prevents people from turning their visions into reality.

For this reason, I created this quick guide to help you to sketch your ideas quickly. You don’t need to go through a month long sketch course to visualize your ideas. The goal is not to become the next Picasso but to communicate ideas effectively.

We are all living a busy life and sometimes we just need some shortcuts.

At the end of this mini guide, you will have the techniques to sketch your ideas quickly for the next coffee session with a friend.

Why People Don’t Sketch More Often?

When it comes to sketching, the biggest mental block is that people don’t believe in their creative abilities.

“I’m not an artist” or “I’m not creative” are the most common excuses that prevents people from unlocking their creative potential.

But we ALL used to sketch in our childhood. And most kids are certainly no artists either.

Another very popular excuse is the lack of time:  “I don’t have time to sit down and sketch. I’m too busy!”.

Yet, we all have the same amount of time during the day so how come some people are more creative than others?

The truth is, it is neither the lack of artistic abilities nor time why we don’t sketch more often. It is simply the  lack of practice and basic knowledge.

The more we grow up, the less we engage in a daily practice of sketching, doodling and day dreaming. At the end of the day, it’s more a problem of not having the right habits.

Also sitting down and sketching doesn’t mean you have to create the next Mona Lisa. It can be as simple as drawing a circle with 2 dots and a line 🙂.

Most people just set a very high bar that they can’t reach. They want to run before they can walk. And this is why they freeze and never get started.

Sketching Is A Natural Skill

We are visual creatures. Our visual sensory is just much more developed than our other senses.

Throughout human history, there are so many proofs that we communicate the best through visuals. Cave drawings and hieroglyphs we created to communicate stories and used even at times when there was no language.

cave drawings

Even today, the characters in some languages like Chinese and Japanese are based on images, just much more simplified.

chinese characters from symbols

Sketching is not just about visualizing ideas but can also help for intercultural communication. If you travel to another country and can’t read the menu, you can create a quick sketch to ask whether a dish contains, veggies, pork or chicken.

sketching ideas quickly veggie chicken or pork

As you can see, being able to communicate through visuals can even decide between life and death for vegans 😉

The Goal Of Sketching Your Ideas…

… is NOT to make it beautiful. But to tell a story and communicate a vision!

Most people don’t develop the confidence to sketch their ideas because they overthink. To communicate a simple idea, it is not necessary to create realistic sketches with correct lighting or proportions.

The focus is to think through problems visually and present core ideas in a way that everyone can understand.

For this reason, this mini guide is focused on giving you the tools to sketch an idea is seconds using just a few simple techniques.

Let’s get started.

Sketch Anything Using These 4 Basic Shapes

Ok, let’s jump right in. You will be surprised, but to sketch ideas quickly, you don’t need more than 4 simple shapes.

These are:

sketching ideas quickly 4 shapes

That’s really it. And the best thing is, it’s so simple that everyone can draw these shapes.

To demonstrate that you can visualize any kind of idea using a combination of these shapes, here are some examples:

Speed Exercise

So simple, right?

Of course, these are very simplified sketches, but again, the main purpose to sketch ideas is to tell the story and get the main message across.

To practice this quickly, I challenge you to take a sheet of paper (or napkin) and try to draw the following using the 4 shapes above:

  • A Coffee Mug
  • An iPad
  • A Watch
  • A Shoe

Don’t take longer than 60 seconds for one sketch. After you finished your sketches, you can expand the section below to see what I created.

How To Frame Your Ideas

Framing or also called composition is important to guide the viewers eye and create a more engaging image. For quick idea sketching we don’t necessary need a huge variations of compositions but can rely on a few simple tricks:

1. White Space is your friend

White space is the most used technique in graphic design. Giving your idea enough space to breathe can help to create focus, avoid visual clutter and organize information.

sketching ideas quickly composition white space

2. Capture the important details

Sketching your idea in the right size is very important. Sometimes I see people creating sketches with tiny details on a small post-it. To convey an idea, it is important that people can actually recognize what it is.

sketching ideas quickly composition zoom

3. Visualize the end result before you start sketching

Another common mistake I see is, that people tend to start sketching from the center of a canvas. They don’t visualize how they want to fill the paper in their mind first before they start. An unbalanced sketch is the result.

sketching ideas quickly composition positioning

4. Combine multiple sketches in a big picture

Sometimes it can be helpful to combine multiple sketches into one big sketch to strengthen an idea. Especially physical products or architectural ideas can benefit from multiple perspectives. In this case, playing around with different sketch sizes and overlapping sketches can make the layout much more interesting.

sketching ideas quickly composition multiple ideas

5. Go Beyond the edge

To take the idea above a step further, you can also experiment with going beyond the edges of a canvas. If you go back to my sketch of the smartphone above, you can see that the smartphone and the hand is not fitting on the canvas. It doesn’t matter in this case, because the focus is the screen. Depending on your idea, you can move the details into focus and the rest off the canvas to create a more dynamic sketch instead of cramping everything into the image.

sketching ideas quickly composition beyond the edge

Simple Visualization Techniques for Storytelling

The topic of storytelling can be quite complex. Entire courses with hours of hours of material can be filled about storytelling.

Yet, in our case we just want to convey quick stories to sell our ideas and not compete with a Christopher Nolan storyboard.

Because a story is just a sequence of ideas, we don’t need sophisticated story arcs and can use simple elements to guide the audience:

1. Use Numbers

Using numbers or steps are the best way to signify a sequence. Be careful to have a logical positioning of the numbers / steps to avoid confusion. It is also important to keep in mind how we absorb information. In western countries, we usually start from top left to bottom right. In some cultures people start to read from the right top corner to the left bottom corner. Be aware, when you sketch your ideas.

sketching ideas quickly story numbers

2. Connect with Lines and Arrows

In addition to numbers, arrows and lines can help to guide the eye. Especially in situations with choices or multiple outcomes (01), it is helpful to use arrows and lines in addition to numbers. Simple lines signify a connection , while arrows are better for directions (02). For vague connections and secondary connections (03), you can also fall back on dotted lines. One more thing: by using arrows and lines you can even deviate from the standard top left to bottom right movement (04).

sketching ideas quickly story arrows and lines

3. Add Text / Labels

Using short titles , sentences or labels to add meta information is helpful to remember details. Also certain things like attributes (e.g “fancy”, “gold”) can be harder to convey through a sketch and in order to avoid confusion, it is necessary to add this extra layer of information.

sketching ideas quickly story text

4. Use Sound Elements

Sound is one of the hardest things to communicate through an image, but there are still some techniques that can be helpful. In most cases, you can use labels like “zzzzz” and “brrrr” or simply sketch sound waves.

sketching ideas quickly story sound

5. Infuse Movement

Movement and sound are like brothers and sisters because in many cases, they come together. To visualize movement, using lines, arrows or waves will do the trick.

sketching ideas quickly story movement

Let’s Bring Everything Together

In the final step, I want to show you how to bring everything together.

I quickly brainstormed 2 ideas that I came up randomly. You will see that all sketches are kept super simple, using only the 4 basic shapes. In addition, I added text, lines and arrows to guide the eye for storytelling purposes.

These ideas are not finished, but should be seen as a conversation starter.

The first idea is about an online course that teaches people to learn handstand and connect with a community. The second idea is for coffee shops that want to introduce a new exciting coffee experience using a water dripping station that is “insta-worthy”.

Idea 1 – The Handstand Course

handstand course idea

Idea 2 – The Hot Water Dripper

coffee idea

How To Make Sketching A Habit?

You now have the tools to put your ideas on paper. But it doesn’t help if you don’t practice.

To build the creative habit of sketching, frequency and low friction is important. The more often you do it, the more it becomes natural. Also, the easier it is to get started, the more often you end up doing it.

Here are some tips to create the habit of sketching:

1. Hack your environment

The environment is one of the most powerful trigger for habits. You can do this in your home office or at work. Keep Post-It’s , a blank notebook or sheets of paper on your desk in reaching distance. Don’t hide them in the drawer. Make it obvious.

2. Make a pen your companion

A pen is easier to carry around than paper. It is also easier to find paper to draw on than a pen. At cafe’s or restaurants, waiters usually have paper to write down orders. Even in the digital age as a backup. And if not, you can always sketch on a napkin just for fun while waiting. I personally recommend plastic tip pens because you don’t need to apply much pressure when sketching. If you use a ballpoint pen or pencil on a thin napkin, you end up tearing it apart.

3. Get a notebook / sketchbook

Having a dedicated sketchbook or notebook for ideas can spark creativity as well. It makes it especially valuable when you go back and look at your old sketches after a year. I recommend blank or dotted paper . You also don’t need to buy the most fancy sketchbook. I found that high quality and thick premium paper can actually lead to the opposite effect. Often times, I would not fill my sketch book because I didn’t want to fill nice pages with ugly drawings.

Summary

With this article, I hope to inspire you to get your ideas on paper more often.

As you can see, you really don’t need much to communicate ideas effectively. If you just focus on sketching your ideas using the 4 simple shapes and some lines and arrows here and there for storytelling, you are already ahead of most people.

Over time, you will improve your sketching skills and gain more confidence, which will leads to more ideas.

Make it a daily practice to sketch and doodle using the tips mentioned above. Even if it’s just a simple thing like a coffee cup or salt dispenser. Frequency is king when it comes to building habits.

I’m curious to see what amazing ideas you come up with.  Feel free to shoot me an email and share your thoughts and progress.

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