Michael Courtney's Sketchbook

“Sketches don't have to be perfect. They just have to get the idea across.”


Michael Courtney

Michael Courtney Design


Where do you sketch?

I sketch in meetings, at my desk and on planes. For some reason, classical and chamber music concerts really get me thinking, so I always take a few blank 3x5 cards and a pen so I can discreetly sketch if the mood strikes me.

Why is sketching important to you?

It’s a quick way to work out thoughts, details and ideas with the clients, teammates or partners at the table.

I love being able to create a “you mean like this?” thumbnail sketch in a meeting with clients because we get an immediate response yes/no/maybe. Being able to do sketches is very useful to keep the conversation going and get the idea on the table, discussed and resolved.

What do you sketch on?

I’m an equal opportunity sketcher. I’ll draw on anything that’s handy: sketchbook, grid paper, blank copier paper, post it notes, unlined 3 x 5 cards and even the back of an agenda in a meeting.

A couple of years ago, I thought I’d consolidate the sketches into one notebook, and bought some sketchbooks. I now take them with me to meetings. I wish I could say it was full of fabulous sketches, I really do. It’s not. There are thumbnail sketches, but also notes for proposals, budget quotes and even to-do lists. My oldest son, an industrial design student, has beautiful drawings in his notebooks Sigh. 

Do you have any sketching tips to share?

I just try to get out of the way and let the idea that’s in my head get onto the paper so we can all look at it.

One breakthrough for me was to give up the idea my sketches needed to be “perfect” or even “really good.” They just need to get the idea across.

A second breakthrough was to learn to leave good thumbnail sketches alone. You may think you need to redraw them, but usually I don’t. There‘s something about capturing the moment that gives them energy and character.

The third breakthrough was acknowledging the value of talking through the idea with the client, with the sketch in front of us.

Sketches don’t have to be perfect, they just have to get the idea across. In a meeting with our University of Washington EGD Master Plan client, I did a quick "How about like this?" sketch. We were discussing the need for an element that would serve as a landmark, be photogenic and align with UW’s new brand initiative. FYI, that rough little sketch helped them sell the idea and eventually find donors for the “W” that is a major landmark on the campus today.

I also like adding sketches to presentation documents. When we developed the environmental graphics for the headquarters of global health organization PATH, we proposed using a folk art technique I’d seen while traveling in South Africa—wrapping their logo with colorful wire or attaching everyday objects. Our presentation drawing showed their logo and photos of the folk art, and our marker sketch helped them see how their logo would appear.


Captions/more text


I’ll draw on anything that’s handy: sketchbook, grid paper, blank copier paper, tracing paper, post-it notes and even the back of an agenda at a meeting.


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