Great concepts start with a sketch

“You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.” – John Singer Sargent

In graphic design, computer programmes and applications can help us produce wonderful, detailed creative visuals, yet it is important to acknowledge the experimentation that we go through to reach that point.

I want to talk a little bit about the role of sketching in idea generation; the process of getting our thoughts down onto paper first and expressing our initial ideas in a simplified way.

Idea generation

When I receive a brief, I use pen and paper to sketch my immediate response. Sketching enables me to engage my imagination in a relaxed way, with no barriers to freedom of expression, and without feeling the need to go into too much detail.

During this stage I’ll work fast, making thumbnail sketches to capture initial thoughts. Sometimes, I’ll play with basic shapes and composition. At other times, wordplay will deliver the thought.

It doesn’t matter if my illustrations are rough scribbles or little doodles, they’re just a visual interpretation of my thinking and it is the strength of these ideas that will determine whether they are progressed.


With my raw concept captured through sketching, the next step is to refine the idea. Further inspiration can be discovered in many different places. I’ll explore and evolve an idea’s potential through research and continue to scribble down thoughts on paper, utilising anything that can enhance it.

Once I’m happy with the general direction, I’ll progress the sketches that have most potential into concepts that clearly communicate the objective of the brief. These are then worked-up in a suitable application, evolving them into fully formed visuals ready for client presentation.

Keep sketching

The sketching process should be a simple, enjoyable way of capturing thoughts and shouldn’t have to start and finish with a project. I try to keep pen and paper within reach and draw as much as possible, using the world around me for inspiration. I use a sketchbook as a visual journal, capturing thoughts that may arise during briefing sessions, creative meetings or project research – or, in my case, on the train journey to and from work!