Learn To Draw In Only Twenty Seconds Using The Internet
April 28, 2009 12:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm a writer who needs to learn how to draw illustrations for my manuals. And I need to learn fast.

I'm a technical writer with access to Photoshop, Illustrator, Paint Shop Pro and GIMP. My company has decided that we need to do our illustrations in-house instead of outsourcing the work.

I have no real experience drawing, and need to be able to generate good-looking, PDF-ready illustrations describing DNS software and concepts using these tools. What are the best, quickest, freely available tutorials I can use to get up to speed on how to draw things and make them not look like my four-year-old did it?

We do not have budget or time for formal classes: we have to learn to do it ourselves. The desired outcome is a step above Visio line diagrams, but the company doesn't expect us to become Picasso, either. Some good examples of our intended outcome are here, here or here.

Some of you may want to editorialize in this space about how this is insane and my company is insane for wanting this. Please don't. I'm operating under the constraints given above, and them's the breaks. I have no influence whatever over the decision, and it is not up for discussion.
posted by scrump to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I think you can buy readymade clip art that you can insert into your diagrams. It'll cut down on your working time considerably.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 12:23 PM on April 28, 2009

I don't think anything in your examples was drawn by hand. I think maybe what you want is better software than Visio for making diagrams. Would that work?
posted by winston at 12:24 PM on April 28, 2009

Yeah, ancient-mariner got it. The only reason you wouldn't use Visio for at least your first link is because of the quality of rendering of the pictures. Consider clip art or stock photography + minimal Photoshop.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:26 PM on April 28, 2009

SmartDraw has some pretty good looking clip art.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:30 PM on April 28, 2009

What versions of the programs do you have? How powerful is your computer? What level of drawing skill do you, can you make simple 3D shapes by hand? Are you familiar with iStock.com?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:35 PM on April 28, 2009

Also, do you have access to previous illustrations?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:36 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: I get great stuff outta OmniGraffle, and I am by no means le artiste. It's really easy to line things up and connect things together, and give it all nice colors.
posted by Mach5 at 12:45 PM on April 28, 2009

I've had good luck buying icon sets. Sets like these for networking and security cost just $130 each and contain thousands of icons. Then use Visio for the diagrams.
posted by junesix at 12:46 PM on April 28, 2009

posted by unixrat at 12:49 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: Here, try this link for some basic concepts. Basically you need to learn how to draw some basic shapes, like circles, squares, triangles in order to draw more complex shapes.

The illustrations you like to are pretty simple actually and doable in Illustrator CS2 or later, which has a built in 3D drawing tool that would do these shapes really easily.

For more complex shapes, iStock.com is what you need and want. Check out this set of icons, which are vector and will look good in print and pdf, while only costing $15 US and you can reuse them if need be.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:50 PM on April 28, 2009

Have you looked into flowcharting software? These are basically flow charts with a couple of logos and some text added.
posted by amtho at 12:54 PM on April 28, 2009

Response by poster: Goddamn, Omnigraffle looks perfect, except for it being Mac-only. We're a Windows shop.
posted by scrump at 12:59 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: I do infographics like those you linked to all the time in illustrator. This site links to a bunch of tutorials. For you needs in particular, you should learn to place basic shapes, use the line tool and understand the Pathfinder palette. Here is a basic tutorial for the Pathfinder. There are some more advanced 3D tutorials on the page I first linked to which will allow you to do stuff like the houses in your second link.
posted by studentbaker at 12:59 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, I want to add that a really good color palette can go a long way to making things look cohesive and professional. There are many good websites that will help you pick pleasing palettes for your designs.
posted by studentbaker at 1:01 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: In case all the suggestions to try and use stock art or pushbutton applications haven't lead you to this conclusion already... Your examples are all fairly sophisticated and likely non-trivial for a neophyte to achieve. Illustrator, probably the most apt application for this style of work has a significant learning curve and the graduated tomes used in your first link example are especially ambitious, at least for a newcomer.

I don't mean to be a nattering nabob but, that's the reality as I see it. Maybe you can, somehow, hire an illustrator to do the work or stick to stock/clip art otherwise you could waste a lot of time AND get poor results.
posted by bz at 1:07 PM on April 28, 2009

Do you have the working files from the graphic designer? I mean, PSD or AI files, not the output (PNG, GIF, etc.). If you do, aren't there parts of the original drawings you can reuse? Probably the graphic designer put each component into separate layers. You can start with what you need from the layers, adding and subtracting stuff as needed for your new graphics.
posted by Houstonian at 1:51 PM on April 28, 2009

Yeah, if you are open to using and adapting existing graphics, see http://openclipart.org/; I guess you can tweak the vector files in Illustrator. Good luck. :/
posted by wintersweet at 2:27 PM on April 28, 2009

If you wants the cheapo then get Google sketch-up which allows you to do easy 3d which can be imported to P-shop. Although it's free I'm not sure if that license allows commercial work.
posted by JJ86 at 4:06 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: I took Photoshop and Illustrator classes as an illustration major in college. Did our instructors teach us the skills? Not really. These books did. The books are great- each chapter is a lesson, and it comes with a disc, so- for each lesson, there is a file for you to open and practice on. Best of all, I've seen these at my local library, so you could probably do it for free. Although if you buy a copy you'll always have it for reference. I think Photoshop and Illustrator aren't teribly difficult to learn, and they are great skills to have. If you did the lessons out of the book a few nights a week or on weekends you could probably get really good.
posted by lblair at 5:03 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: From my bookmarks.



posted by MesoFilter at 6:22 PM on April 28, 2009

Visio is what you want.... Visio, Visio, Visio is so easy to use you can basically use it your very first time easily. It is routinely used to create wireframes / illustrations for technical manuals. I'm sure you can download a free 30 day trial. Try it. Also, there are stencils created for Visio that are exactly like the OmniGraffle stuff you were looking at.
posted by xammerboy at 7:52 PM on April 28, 2009

Oh, and you do NOT want illustrator, which is NOT an easy program to learn.
posted by xammerboy at 7:53 PM on April 28, 2009

Oh, and search the term "wireframe".
posted by xammerboy at 7:54 PM on April 28, 2009

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