Origin of Sketches: The Evolution of Technology for Ideation

What do technological advancements mean for the way we sketch?

Gravity Sketch
Origin of Sketches: The Evolution of Technology for Ideation
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The histories of visual communication and the production of physical products, are conjoined by a single act: sketching. From the earliest known cave paintings, to detailed architectural schematics, the act of drawing for visual communication plays an invaluable role in the development of humanity. The evolution of the practise of sketching has been accompanied by technological advancements which have helped translate our three-dimensional world onto a flat plane, described by lines and contours, before the same flat drawings are often used to build another three-dimensional object. What do technological advancements mean for the way we sketch?

Throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance period, sketching was linked to ancillary crafts. The greatest draftsmen were also distinguished painters, sculptors and architects. In the workshops of craftsmen, drawing multiple drafts served the iterative realisation of creative concepts. Sketching was the primary mediator between the first concept and the master’s finished piece of work. Moreover, sketches served as teaching aid for the assistants who worked under the master craftsman, acting as the vehicle for preserving the tradition of the master’s craft.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches evinced his wide-ranging interest in other subjects: from science, to technology, to human anatomy. Leonardo da Vinci first suggested that the camera obscura might be of interest to the artist in 1490. The first transportable models could be used to draw from nature views of cities or panoramic landscapes. This version of the camera obscura included a tent large enough to contain the draftsman.The image was projected onto a flat surface where the draftsman could trace over the image projected onto a flat surface with great accuracy. Da Vinci’s interest in the anatomy of the human eye and the science of vision led him to create 240 detailed sketches of the camera obscura.

Leonardo Da Vinci painting, Camera Obscura
Leonardo Da Vinci's Camera Obscura

Fast forward to 1949. Pablo Picasso puts down his brushes to paint with light, in a collaborative photo project with Gjon Mili. Using long exposure photography and a small lightbulb, in just fifteen minutes, Picasso created over thirty “light drawings”, before agreeing to five more sessions with Mili. Picasso drew three-dimensional images in space, using his body and gestures just as he would have painted. The resulting images are a literal expression of the word photography – drawing with light.

Grayscale image of Pablo Picasso drawing with light for Gjon Milli
Pablo Picasso drawing with light for Gjon Milli

So here below, we have the evolution of technologies used for drawing and ideation, according to Gravity Sketch.


Pen and Paper

When someone says the word “sketch”, this is the medium which comes to mind. It’s gone through some variation in the instruments used, from papyrus and steel stylus, to etching lines on a wax tablet, to the pencil and sketchpad that we picture today, this method has remained unchanged for thousands of years.


Adobe Photoshop and Wacom Tablets

We can hardly think of modern design without picturing Adobe Photoshop being involved in the process somewhere. What started in 1988 as a basic image-editing program has evolved to become the generic trademark for all forms of digital drawing and image editing. Wacom first developed its cordless pen and tablet technology in 1984, and since then has become the drawing tablet of choice for artists and designers the world over. The aim of these digital devices is to combine all of the physical tools used in fine art, illustration and graphic design (plus some more that are physically impossible) into one place. The artists’ studio has now moved from a physical desktop, to a desktop computer, and is infinitely more powerful.


Man designing model of car on Wacom tablet in Gravity Sketch

Procreate (iPad app)

The app was first launched in 2011 with the aim of recreating the natural feeling of physical drawing, while utilising all of the tools available on a digital platform. Now, even if you’re not near a computer, you can use the full range of artist’s tools wherever you go. Artist James Jean has used Procreate to draw film posters, including the poster for Blade Runner 2049. David Hockney has even used the app to create a series of landscape paintings.


Gravity Sketch (VR)

All of the previous tools gave the user better capabilities at sketching in two dimensions, translating all ideas to a flat plane. The next leap in this evolution is sketching directly in 3D. Like Picasso drawing in air with a lightbulb, Gravity Sketch takes the input of drawing a physical line in space, as the line of the sketch. The beauty of Gravity Sketch is the ability to liberate yourself from the 2D step, and sketch directly in three dimensions.

Gravity Sketch has given me the ability to directly translate my idea to a 3D sketch/model. Having the ability to create in a 3D VR space with the same sense of depth and perspective as traditional sculpting media has helped bridge the gap when translating a sketch/idea from 2D to 3D. This is extremely useful when collaborating with other designers…

James Robbins – Automotive Designer


Red car designed by James Robbins in Gravity Sketch
Designed by James Robbins in Gravity Sketch.

This means adding depth, scale and physicality to our sketching which has previously not existed when we have been confined to two dimensions. Drawing in this way means adding physical gesture to our sketching in a way which has never before been experienced. Gravity Sketch is evolving the kinesthetic experience of sketching.


The trend we have described is one in which technology improves to give the user more power over the work they are creating. Every stage in the evolution of drawing has used a different kind of technology to empower the creator, giving them better tools. Sketches describe, they indicate, but they also clarify and specify, through mistakes and reiteration. Gravity Sketch gives you a simple array of tools to clearly convey your concept in three dimensions, from the outset. 


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