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Draw Like It’s Your Job
From designing window displays for Saks Fifth Avenue to drafting the auroras on Jupiter for the brains at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Stefan G. Bucher draws like it is his job, uh, because it is.
Stefan, who has been drawing since he was a kid, still has moments of, “Crap, how do I make this?” But the answer is always a variation of, “If I can draw it, I can build it.” And for him, the design and exploration stages of his work are heavily based in drawing.
For those of us who use drawing to create and communicate in a more social sense, or do it as a hobby or creative passion, there is much to learn from this pen-in-hand hustler — including how to embrace excess when drawing and understanding that sketching can sometimes allow you to communicate with others in a way that no spoken or written language can match.
Drawing the Yeti for Saks Fifth Avenue
Saks Fifth Avenue needed a yeti for their holiday season and Stefan was the designer for the job. The deadline was tight, and within the first weekend of getting the gig, he’d drawn around 40 yeti variations, one of which would eventually decorate the storefront’s windows and become a plush toy sold in Saks stores nationwide.
Stefan isn’t a fan of sketching thumbnails because they can lie (a story for another article) but for sketching characters nothing beats them, he says. The final draft of the winning yeti actually showed up relatively early in Stefan’s sketching binge but the furry guy was a little shy and had a couple of contenders (one too blah and one a bit too devilish) to outstrip before coming to 3D life as a soft and squeezable stuffed animal and the inspiration for all of that holiday window decor for the Saks stores.
According to Stefan: “My yeti worked in part because of the story — the whole little world — that I created around him.” That start of a few dozen sketchbook drawings ended with a plush animal outfitted with a 20-page “emotional” care tag booklet. Plus storefront windows. Plus a hashtag. Plus life-size yetis that were found throughout the stores for selfies and sightings from the kid contingent that certainly gave old-school Santa a run for his money. Plus a Yeti origin-story children’s book written and illustrated by Stefan and published by Harper Collins.
So when you draw, draw to excess. Your sketchbook is the place where you can do that and not only will the results hold incredibly value for you — you may uncover the start of an even bigger idea as Stefan did with his yeti.
And remember: “Your own style of drawing may be beautiful exactly because it is wonky,” says Stefan. That means liberation for us all. There is no one style that reigns above all others. Draw the way you can draw and accept that is what makes it beautiful.
Even as a professional, according to Stefan, you have to make peace with your ability and keep working and getting better but also be able to say, this is good enough without continually wincing and wishing it were better or something different.
A Home for the Blue Man Theater
Stefan had an ongoing relationship with the Blue Man Group doing graphic and advertising designs and layouts when they asked him to take a stab at the facade of their new theater in Las Vegas. He was also asked to design the lobby, gift shop, carpets (tougher than you’d think!) and product packaging. In my words, it was a lot. In Stefan’s words, he grabbed a notepad, filled it with sketches and the Blue Men reps said, “Yeah, let’s do exactly that.”
The more you see your vision clearly and can translate it into your hands through drawing—it gives you a different level of access to the world. “Dealing with clients and having that skill,” says Stefan, “means you can approach the situation with an assurance that is really helpful. Like going to a foreign country but knowing the language…”
Stefan has the ability to think up something and make it real with drawing. You don’t have such overarching powers in a lot of situations. “In a lot of jobs you have to do a lot of talking to describe the future you envision, and you might not be able to connect those dots for your audience,” says Stefan. “As a person who draws, I just go to my sketches or Photoshop and I’ll show you what I think the future should be!”
Drawing Jupiter for NASA
For Stefan, a proud space nerd, working with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA was a thrill and an honor. The assignment itself involved designing a poster advertising Jupiter as a tourist destination (as part of JPL’s Visions of the Future series).
Stefan created a series of options all orbiting around the mystery and wonder of Jupiter’s auroras. Incorporating typography and imagery that got to the right look and feel took a few tries. Stefan bounced between Victorian-era to a 60s-era vibe. He customized letterforms and took inspiration from the colors of the auroras themselves. He dialed up the drama and dialed it back.
That’s all to say, it was a creative process. Done with love and considerable skill, but not one and done. But where would be the fun in that?
If you have the confidence to sketch it out and see what that looks like—don’t stop there. “Evaluate it, then make a second sketch, and a third. Keep editing! Keep evaluating,” says Stefan. Eventually, you’ll get your work where you want it to be.
Inspiration for Your Drawing Life
If you love to draw, sketch and create, share that passion at the first ever SketchKon this November in Pasadena, California.
At SketchKon, the unconventional convention devoted to sketching, drawing and creating, one of the instructors on tap will be none other than Stefan. He will share even more of his insights on how pivotal, interesting and most definitely varied projects can all start with drawing and sketching.
Register now to secure your spot. Then it will be just a matter of counting down to days and days of sketchcrawls, drawing workshops, art materials demos and more. Basically, a sketcher’s dream come true!
Meet Stefan G. Bucher
Stefan G. Bucher is an award-winning designer, illustrator and writer.
His latest project is his book, LetterHeads, which combines his love of letterforms and character design.
He is also the founder of 344 Design.