Drawing Instruction

Independent study with Matt Zywica, 2018

Adrian Galvin
12 min readJan 23, 2018


In this course, I worked with CMU professor Matt Zywica to create, execute and assess lesson plans for drawing. Professor Zywica’s Methodology of Visualization class brings masters and undergrad students from design, HCI, III, and fine arts to learn to express ideas in a clear and designerly manner. I took this course in 2017S, TAed it in 2017F, and I am now teaching short segments of it. This article contains lesson plans, feedback and documentation of my experience. For privacy reasons I did not photograph the students at work, this was a 19 student class.

1•19•18 Wireframing Lesson Plan

I am creating a lesson plan for a 30 minute lesson which applies the concepts of proportional multiplication and division. The simplest example of this is taking a square and then using linear geometric subdivision to create a rectangle which is twice the size of the original square.

Geometric proportional multiplication

I am going to apply this principle to the practice of wireframing a simple series of app screens. In order to make sure that students can just focus on the act of drawing and principle application, I am going to provide students with an app and 5 features.

Muse, an app for writers

  • Silence toggles
  • Texts and Notes
  • Projects
  • Write
  • Inspire (Home Screen)
Example screen sketches for Muse using proportional multiplication

This will be a 35 minute lesson: 10 minutes of intro|demo, 20 minutes of drawing, and 5 minutes for reflection|discussion.

Intro | Demo

I will introduce the concept verbally and write the 5 feature requirements on the board. Then I will demo a simple version of the landing page, starting with the square multiplication lesson. The proportions of an iPhone X screen are just over 2:1, so we will make this an iPhone X app. After the landing page, I will do feature details and additional pages. This will be a demo on paper for the class to view. After this, I will demo on the whiteboard the landing page, allowing the class to follow along.

Draw Session

I will give the class 20 minutes to add onto their drawing any additional pages or features that they would like. I will filter around the room and engage with students as seems appropriate.


I will ask students for any insights, realizations or recommendations that they have after this experience. If they are reluctant to talk, I will ask a few questions such as: what effect did drawing by hand have on your design process as compared to working in Illustrator or Sketch?

1•19•18 Wireframing Lesson Plan FEEDBACK

Professor Zywica generally supported my lesson plan, and proposed some modifications|additions. Introduce typography and labelling: show multiple labelling strategies, as well as multiple levels of typographic detail.

Different labelling conventions
Degrees of typographic specificty

I am excited to convey the concept of using the geometric scaffolding to make creative decisions simpler and less fraught. I don’t have a specific visualization for it, but at some point during the lesson, I will stop and address it.

1 • 26 •18 Rehearsal and Feedback

Changed proportions of home screen

1.30.18 In class teaching!

I taught in Methodology of Visualization today, it seemed to go well, although the class was fairly quiet when I asked questions. I suppose that they may still be a little shy, as it is still the beginning of the semester.

I drew out all content and instructions on the board prior to class:

Screen Proportion Details

After explaining the objectives and constraints, I took questions from the class. In order to make sure that they absorbed the concepts, I drew the first page with them:

Follow along demo

I demonstrated the subdivisions gave a brief overview of labelling strategies. There were some questions and confusion, but most students grasped the idea and were able to execute on the rest of the project, ending up with three screens and two features as intended.

2.2.18 Feedback from Matt on Wireframing Lesson

In general, class went quite well, I thought that the students were a little quiet, but they did laugh at a couple jokes and respond sometimes.

All students grasped the concepts well enough to draw them. However, they did not really take ownership of them and experiment with them, expand them, or push the concepts in new directions.

Matt mentioned that several students felt confused as to why they were drawing in this way. To improve this, I could have contextualized the exercise a little more. This is one way of sketching wireframes, this is not necessarily the best or the only way.

It might have been helpful to show my sketchbook near the beginning of class in order to demonstrate my practice, give a reason for this approach, and break up the rhythm of class with something informal.

I need to have follow up questions, anecdotes, or be ready to re phrase the question when I get silence on a question. Maybe reveal part of the answer. If I have continuations and backups, then I won’t be caught flat footed by a non-responsive room.

2.6.18 Iterative Practive Warmup and Lesson

2.7.18 Feedback from Matt

It looks like birds, machines, or bird-machines, like Da Vinci. Perhaps, joints, anatomy and range of motion. It would be good to contextualize utility of this practice, perhaps by describing my own practice and showing my sketchbook to start off.

This begs the question : why? Why intake new information? As a designer, where do your ideas come from? Are you interested in knowing things? Does it matter that you have the freedom to execute good lines and curves in all directions?

Mathematically repeated lines can create movement in mechanical structures

2.16.18 Full Class Lesson Plan on Variational Repetition

Section 1 : intro and concept, master the expression of your body through systematic rehearsal

Section 2 : warm ups as a systematic approach to expressive freedom

Section 3 : movement and structure studies for direct application

Step 4 : what other uses does this have? imprinting ideas into your memory through physical repetition. Show sketchbook.

Why would we want to do this? [curiosity, memory, design inspiration, growth]

It might be useful to connect this with the impossible machines exercise. Impossible machines that move! Also, add line weight scale!

05:00 Concept Intro

10:00 Warm Up

05:00 Questions

15:00 Movement

10:00 Structure

2.27.18 Impossible Machine Sketches

Below are some first round sketches for my impossible machine demo. For the final machine, I would like to include movement and joint actions. The designs that I’ve come up with are meant to provide opportunity for swinging, rotating, pulling and articulation. Through a combination of arrows and repeated form, I want to show the action of these machines. However, I first needed to propose and rehearse their individual forms.

2.27.18 Impossible Machine FEEDBACK

Keep going, explore movement and articulation.

3.6.18 In Class Demo

In class we ended up giving a three way demo, Matt, Laura and I drew strange machines for the class. The intent is to demonstrate appropriate body movements, as well as strategies for completing a sketch of a complex form. The task is to use interlocking geometric primitives to construct a visually cohesive mechanical structure.s

The demo went pretty well, I am becoming more comfortable with drawing in front of people, as well as keeping geometric primitives in perspective (obviously I have a long way to go here, but improvement is happening).

Demo machine
Demo machine rehearsal

3.27.18 Drop Shadows

After taking the students on a museum visit to CMOA to look at the chairs exhibition, it’s time to do some drop shadows.

Assignment: 30 minutes, concept and lamp demo followed by cube, cylinder and steps draw along. Bring primitive form examples and blocks to experiment with.

3.29.18 Drop Shadow Teaching Module

The class went well, Matt and I traded off teaching moments and most people in the class seemed to grasp the basic concepts. Matt noted that it is a good practice to return to a basic concept after progressing through more complex ones. In this case, it would have been advantageous to return to the basic concept of a cube shadow and ask the class to describe what their approach would be so that they have to articulate what they have learned.

I performed a demo with a small ikea lamp and blocks to describe the relationship between light source position and drop shadow. This demo was accompanied by a sequence of questions and whiteboard drawings which challeneged the students to think through the geometry of this interaction.

stairs and displaced square metaphor

4•3•18 Feedback on Dropshadow

Can you feel or think differently through questions and problems if you are at the board vs. sitting in a chair? Try switching it up. How do you focus the class on the most important info in a drawing or concept.

Balance observation and imagination. Design visualization requires the fusion of both. We are more than people who draw well and people who just have cool ideas. Technical skill is the limiting vocabulary, but we are looking for articulate speech.

What is the same between digital and physical drawing, what’s different? Getting a “feel” for materials and tools. What does the drawing express? What is its purpose?

4.14.18 Teaching Movement and Natural Forms

For this class, I prepared 45 minutes of material on geometric scale warm ups, mechanical and organic movement, as well as mathematically based forms. Professor Zywica and decided to co-teach the lesson by alternating, interruption, working together and drawing along with the other instructors lesson. This worked very well. When I was leading and explaining warmups, Matt drew his version of what I was doing so that students received verbal instruction, visual example, and live demo simultaneously. When Matt was teaching, I did the same. The effect on the whiteboard was quite dramatic because we drew so much that we had to erase nearly the entire lesson by the end in order to have enough room to continue. In the future, I would like to make a time lapse video of the process for documentation.

4.16.18 Micro Course Plan

IDEATE micros are highly effective three weekend 3hr classes which give students a crash course or starting point for a piece of software. I would like to follow this model by planning three 3hr workshops and a final assignmetn which could consecutively get students off the ground and flying on a topic or set of topics.

The goal of this course is to introduce students from a variety of backgrounds and schools to the fundamental principles, philosophies and practices of drawing to express ideas.

Day 1: Philosophy, Geometry, Variation, Perspective

  • Why are we doing this? Individual intros.
  • Convey ideas through free expression of the body to achieve control of line, curve, weight, perspective, hierarchy, and dynamism.
  • Differentiate ‘drawing to learn’ from ‘drawing to communicate’.
  • Simple marks: lines, curves, warmup compositions.
  • Plane geometry: square, rectangle, circle, oval.
  • Proportion: geometric division, subtraction
  • Dimension: cube, sphere, cylinder. Sliced and exploded forms.
  • Scene: placing forms on surfaces, drop shadow, obscuring.

Day 2: Mechanical Forms

  • Discussion: what are machines? Geometry, parts, assemblies, human manufacturing, examples.
  • Examples: I like spacecraft, combat vehicles, airplanes and robots. What do YOU like? Why? What are you interested in drawing?
  • Warmup: Lines and fair curves.
  • Arrows: paired fair curves which imply movement.
  • Handwriting: Variation and deliberate mark making.
  • Idea Illustrations: Connect words and phrases to encapsulate an idea
  • Application: geometric subdivision > UI screens session.
  • Primitive Assemblies: combine cube, cylinder, sphere into sand castles. Standard orthographic views and perspectives. Include environment and context.
  • Weird Machines with Screens: Invent a weird machine, and put a screen on it. Illustrate what it does.
  • Team Ideation Sessions: Group up and discuss things that you are interested in, try to illustrate each other’s ideas!
  • ASSIGNMENT: Come up with three simple ideas for your imaginary cyborg. Write them out as sketch notes for next class.

Day 3: Organic Forms

  • Walkaround and Pin Up: Observe each other’s work, talk about it
  • Discussion: What is an organic? What makes something alive, what sort of qualities do living things have?
  • Examples: I like fish, insects, plants and microscopic organisms. What do YOU like? What organics would you like to draw?
  • Warmup: Curves, geometric curve scales, round forms, circles.
  • Overlapping and Labelling: organic yet organized compositions.
  • Simple Insect Views: Planar views to simplify and clarify.
  • Complex Insect Views: Perspective and in situ. Environment and context.
  • Fish: form and movement.
  • Group Behaviors: Schooling, flocking, cooperation, level of granularity. Include environment and context.
  • Team Ideation Session: Think of crazy creatures, is anything about them machine like? What mechanical parts can you substitute? Draw each others ideas!
  • ASSIGNMENT: Come up with three pages of concept studies, aim for a variety of outcomes and ideas, try animal multiplication tables!

Assignment: Imaginary Cyborg Character Study

Your task is to imagine a genetically engineered, cyber enhanced creature from the year 2075. The creature must have a purpose. Is it a new attack dog-snake? is it a cuddly flying pet eel? It is a floating transport whale? Bioluminescent lamp slug-crab or firefly? Projection assistant dragonfly drone projector? Create a full page of simple concept studies for your idea.

On the following page write a description of the creature and what it does, along with planar views, perspective and action/environmental views.

On the following page include details and zoom components for all mechanical and organic systems which are relevant to its purpose. What parts does it have? What do they do? What chemical components are there? What is its skeletal structure?

Students will have two weeks for this assignment and will have in person meetings with the instructor during which they must present a proposal for approval.


The purpose of this class is to achieve basic fluency with sketching skills, and in the process become willing to physically express and ideate with complete abandon. No ideas are bad ideas right now, think of something crazy and make it happen. We will draw a LOT and boldly go where your mind has never gone before.

4.26.18 Scientific Illustration | Naturalist’s Notebook

This lesson intends to help students practice observing, seeing, noticing and recording field observations of biological specimens. Natural forms such as the carapaces of insects are highly functional, efficient interlocking structures which accomplish their intended purpose beautifully. As designers it is appropriate for us to study these forms and take what insight we can from their excellence.

5.4.18 Insect Notebook Lesson

This class included three different pages for each student as well as a thumbnail exercise in order to start thinking about page organization and idea communication. Below are my instructing notes from class.

insect samples provided by Professor Mark Baskinger
example sketch page



Adrian Galvin

design • science • visualization • illustration • jiu jitsu