Drawing Exercises: Creativity

Matt Page and Fernando Poeiras

This post is part of a series of Drawing Exercises developed by Fernando Poeiras (ESAD.CR/LIDA) with Drawing Matter. Find the introduction to the series here.

Good design is a good material solution. Within the boundaries of architecture, product, or landscape design, finding these solutions requires the application of the imagination to a specific problem. 

Imagination, like other human faculties, has a ‘natural’ and individual dimension, but it also has a dimension that can be cultivated—individually or in collaboration with others. These exercises aim to exercise and stimulate the imagination with the scope of specific design problems. Try several to identify which type of problem best stimulates your imagination. 

The drawings illustrating each exercise are intended to prompt ways of thinking about the tasks. The full Drawing Matter collection can be accessed by registering at www.drawingmattercollections.com.

Tomas Schmit, Two new ways to draw a circle (detail), 1971. Black and red India ink on paper, 515 × 300 mm. DMC 2230.

See, Observe, Compare

There is an enormous difference between seeing a thing without a pencil in your hand and seeing it while drawing it.
– Paul Valéry

Derek Boshier, Change, 1973. Black & white prints of photographs, poster paint, 510 × 280 mm. DMC 3284.

Observing through drawing is a way to better see the unique qualities of what you are looking at. Applying this to drawing offers a method to better know the drawing, its designer, and ourselves.

Choose a drawing from the collection. Spend a few minutes looking at the drawing. Hide the drawing and redraw it from memory.

Compare your memory and observation drawings, identifying their similarities and differences. Then compare them to the original drawing.

Look again at the drawing and redraw it from observation. While doing so, use image editing techniques—such as zooming/enlarging the image, changing the contrast, etc.—to better see and understand the drawing you have chosen. Choose the most appropriate materials, tools and techniques to reproduce exactly the uniqueness of the drawing.


Copying can give you insights into somebody else’s process, which may help you to a new level. But copying is a tool, not an answer.
– Skip Rohde

Mario & Antonio Asprucci, six alternative half elevations, Villa Borghese, c.1775. Brown ink on paper, 450 × 300 mm. DMC 1392.1.

Copying drawings allows us to observe a drawing and to learn more about the differences between the drawing’s author and ourselves. After each stage of the exercise, decide on a method for comparing the drawing and your copy for presentation and discussion. 

Trace – copy a drawing using tracing paper (perhaps over a screen/tablet or print-out).

Transfer – measure a drawing and use gridded paper and rulers to make a copy. Compare the copied drawing with the original.

Freehand – make two copies of a drawing, one a freehand sketch and the other from slow and careful observation. Compare the drawings to each other and the original.

Gather References

As an architect, you design for the present, with an awareness of the past for a future which is essentially unknown.
– Norman Foster

Alberto Ponis, page from London Sketchbook, 1962 – 67. Pencil, pen and ink, 190 × 150 × 10 mm. DMC 3507.

Collecting references and precedents is one of the tasks—explicit or implicit—in any project. It is important to organise them in a way that increases your ability to understand and imagine solutions to a project.

Blind drawing – make quick sketches of the different aspects of one or more drawings. Don’t look at your sketches while making them. Compare the blind drawing with the elements in the original drawing.

Design elements – choose a drawing with elements that interest you, e.g. roofs, windows, furniture, stairs, etc. Observe and draw them in a way that helps to understand and imagine these elements—e.g. from different viewpoints, as an exploded view, with diagrammatic annotations.

Similarities – choose drawings from the collection that have similarities. These might be drawing styles, architectural typologies, or affinities in the way that a designer has resolved an idea. Sketch the similarities.

Evaluating references – choose drawings that interest you and those that don’t. Organise these references and identify the reasons why they interest you/why they don’t. (Discuss your reasoning and refine your criteria.)

Drawing-thinking techniques

Sketches are social things. They are lonely outside the company of other sketches and related reference material. They are lonely if they are discarded as soon as they are done. And they definitely are happiest when everyone in the studio working on the project has spent time with them.
– Bill Buxton

Owen Luder,  Lego model for Hays Wharf exhibited at RA Summer Exhibition 1976, 1973. Print, 426 × 600 mm. DMC 3502.

It is important to choose design and drawing techniques that suit you, as well as the objectives and phase of the project. Experiment so that you can discover the most suitable techniques.

Analysis: choose a drawing and deconstruct it into its different visual elements (e.g. building + landscape + annotations). Then deconstruct the building into its different parts (e.g. the programmes of each room; the roof + windows + walls).   

Exploring solutions – study a detail and explore alternative solutions. These alternatives can start as impossible or paradoxical, but try to refine them to be a structurally sound alternative. At each stage, consider the consequences of your solutions.

Synthesis: re-combine the elements into a new solution. Try to combine them according to different principles: (i) modular; (ii) organic; (iii) addition; (iv) assemblage…  


Circle of the Sangallo Family, Illustration to Vitruvius, c.1530–1545. Pen and dark brown ink on laid paper, 150 × 250 mm. DMC 2939 r.

Tools – redraw a drawing with a different medium. Select one of the following translations: (i) a drawing into a collage; (ii) into a visual narrative, (iii) into a projection (e.g. perspective or axonometric); (iv) into a paper mock-up. What does the translation tell you about the material choices, limitations, etc., of the drawing?

Style – some designers have strong drawing styles. Replicate a drawing by one designer in the style of another. 

Languages – annotate a reproduction (either digitally or on a print out) noting the following: variations in line weight, speed of mark making, directions, composition, style, medium, text.