I have had the opportunity to teach drawing and visual storytelling on several occasions, and I find it incredibly rewarding. I have taught both children and adults, but my “Drawing for Communication” workshop for adults has been an evolving endeavor since 2017. The audiences for this workshop are interested in learning how to convey ideas simply in business or academic environments, akin to drawing on whiteboards during meetings.

Theora teaching a drawing workshop for adults in 2017

When I teach drawing to adults, I start by focusing on what prevents people from drawing: not the skills or technique, but the mental blocks picked up in the years since we stopped scribbling with crayons. Many adults think they should be able to draw naturally, and then feel ashamed and quit when they can’t. I work to help people overcome this fear by addressing these unrealistic expectations, letting go of perfection and even realism, and showing how much meaning you can convey with simple cartoon drawings. I incorporate a lot of humor into the workshop, partly because it’s more fun, but it’s also another way to help students let go of perfectionism!

A doodle library suggestion for simple people

Once we address these mental challenges, I show students how to develop their “doodle library”. This library is made up of fundamental shapes, communication elements, simple people (but not stick figures) and environments. Students are given the opportunity to practice and draw their own library as we go. I also have with an additional section on storyboarding which I can add if time and interest permit.

Finally, we end with an exercise where the students put their new library to use by translating a short story into 1-2 drawings.

I’ve been fortunate to teach this workshop in person at the following places:

Using comics to explain pace and rhythm in visual storytelling.
  • My Design for Interactions master’s cohort at Carnegie Mellon University, 2016
  • M*Modal’s internal employee conference, ClosedLoop, 2017
  • Guest lecture at the Carnegie Mellon University Integrated Innovation Institute master’s program, 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Here are some nice comments from former students:

I enjoyed Theora’s sketching class because it helped remove common misconceptions on sketching being majorly about talent instead of a learned skill. I was able to use simple shapes and tricks to make simple cartoons and represent situations and scenes that were not as complicated as I initially thought. It was all about being able to communicate an idea with simple tricks which is something I use before creating my digital engineering solutions!

– Jessica Ezemba, Masters candidate at CMU Integrated Innovation Institute

Theora’s class breaks down barriers for people who may be ‘afraid’ to start sketching ideas. She encourages participants to start small by visualizing complex objects as basic shapes and compile a doodle library. Her class definitely gave me more confidence as I study design and apply the concepts to my business career!

– Kaila C. Richardson, Masters candidate at CMU Integrated Innovation Institute