This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

Learning by doing

Like most people, I learn best by doing. Show me a little bit, stand back, and let me try. If I get stuck, I appreciate a little gentle help.

So when I started teaching Graphic Design and Illustration, in 1996, I developed classes that allowed my students to learn by doing, the same way that I like to learn. And the results were spectacular.

I hate tutorials. They always remind me of the instructions on how to put together a bike. And they seem to work best for people who know how to do tutorials. Step 1, Step 2, Step 3. If you can do that, I'm amazed. But I'm bored by step two.

Unfortunately, tutorials are the way that most people try to learn stuff, like software. They find a tutorial, and follow along. And usually if they get all of the way through, they have learned nothing. And when they try to do something on their own, they have no idea how to do it. In the meantime, the people who make tutorials get money, and the students get nothing. Well, they may be able to say that they did the tutorial, or got a certificate, or something. But they really got nothing. And even if the tutorial were free, the price of spending hours to achieve nothing is too high.

Learning by doing is all about tests. Yeah, something I would tell my students that we were gonna have a test in a few minutes, and they'd panic, but the "test" was just doing stuff. In classes that required grades, I had lots of original projects, in training classes, I would say "OK, time for the test!" and give a project then. It was exactly the kind of test that people love to do, and many times I had to say "it's time to move on..."

I never had anyone memorize anything. Everything was "open book". You could ask me, you could ask someone sitting next to you. Most people were great about this - they wanted to do it on their own. This tapped into something very deep in human nature. And I saw people learn things, very quickly, and in a way that they could apply again right away.

I did the same thing to myself whenever I needed to learn something new. I created web pages to learn HTML, and CSS. I invented projects to learn the new tools in Photoshop, and Illustrator. I'd post them up on the internet the way a kid wants stuff posted on their parents' refrigerator. I learned by doing.

My favorite software program is Adobe Illustrator, and when I'm talking to people who have done some graphics, I'll usually ask if they're familiar with it. A lot of people just say no, and some say that they did a tutorial, or took an online class, which is pretty much the same thing. Some things need to be learned by doing!

Drawing at the top of this post: Adobe Illustrator