How important is it that an Art Director knows how to draw?

a teachable moment Scott Hull Associates should art directors know how to draw

This past month Scott Hull Associates was involved in a LinkedIn discussion that posed the question, “How important is it that an Art Director knows how to draw?” Scott Hull has this to say about the idea, “Is it the pencil or your ability to communicate an idea? It all comes down to evoking an emotion. Anyone who can harness creativity and innovative ideas will be the power brokers well into the future.  That’s one rule that will never change.

At Scott Hull Associates with live by three words. Originality: Doing what you love not only makes art more fun to create, it also delivers results that intrigue and engage customers. Collaboration: To be truly effective in today’s media-saturated environment it takes many people communicating together, with a shared set of values and objectives, to achieve visual results that truly make an impact. And lastly, Results: Our job is to harness these trends into viable visuals that move markets.? The means of communication, technology and speed will change. But it will always be a pair of eyes, connected to a brain, which we process and make decisions by.

Here are a few of the other comments on the discussion board that caught our attention as poignant and insightful:

So to answer the question, I would rather have someone who can communicate clearly and quickly with a few lines or just an idea. It doesn’t really matter either way, as long as you have clear communication creativity. ” -Dave

The best art directors I worked for had the ability to sketch their ideas out so one of the designers who answered to him/her could take the layout to completion. I also can't imagine an art director giving instructions to an illustrator or photographer without a basic sketch. The drawings don't have to be tight renderings but should be clear as to communicate the art director's intent. –Mark

It makes absolutely no difference whether you can draw or not.

The hands aren't the only means of delivering expression. Contrary to popular opinion.

In fact the rhythm of the hands can often dilute and distort the magnificence and authenticity of the expression.

Hands can be such primitive, clumsy, frustrating things.

If drawing becomes that important to direction, I’d say that there is too much prescription going on. Your artists should be alive to your direction on so many more levels than one. –Stephen

Depends whether you consider drawing as part of a creative, expressive process, just like another form of writing - and thinking - which in fact it is or merely see it like a skill to present & execute ideas. In both cases being able to draw can be valuable - but the value will be very different. –Yves

How about the notion that drawing actually stimulates the brain in a way our computers can't and helps unlock our creativity and enhances the flow of good ideas?

As Danny Gregory put it so eloquently in an article titled "Just Draw", responding to the question of why we should pick up the pencil: "Simple: Because our jobs, our happiness, our lives depend on it. Because our goal is not to produce slick comps; it's to lead a creatively fertile life. Designers, art directors... get paid to be creative problem-solvers. We need to tap back into the wild mind we had when we held crayons instead of computer mice." –Jeremiah

Working as an academic director at Art Institute, we still (require) our graphic design and advertising students to learn basic drawing skills. We’re not training them to be illustrators, but to draw well enough to convey the visual message. I tell them some of the best concept sketches still happen on a cocktail napkin! We teach them rapid visualization, have them do thumbnails and roughs (with a pencil or Sharpie…gasp!) before they go the computer. They work better and more efficiently when their ideas are sketched out first. When I worked at Imagineering the dozens of graphic designers could all draw…and draw well. Art Director of Graphic Designer, it certainly is an added plus if you can render. –Catherine

Somewhat clear indication suffices. Not too much hand-holding or “leading” is what I think works best when coordinating creative with an illustrator/designer. Oral skills of clarity should also never be overlooked. How many of us would enjoy a dollar for every time we’ve heard, ‘I love what you’ve done here…’ only to be followed with a complete overhaul?” -William

For an AD or CD, not terribly important if they have good verbal communication. However, if they can't describe verbally, they'd better be able to draw. -Ken

I think drawing teaches you to see--so yes, I think it's important. -Lisa

I have mixed feelings. I think it depends on the niche and market of employment...packaging? Information? Web? Listening to the client and clearly communicating appropriate paths to solutions is the key whatever form that takes. I feel that the cost of the personnel outweighs the billable task of having them sit at a drawing table. Creative directors need to be just that...creative and directing in a directed direction. -Cynthia

Both Saul Bass and Milton Glaser consider it an essential part of being a designer. -Matthew

I believe it is important and additionally that they understand basic principles that present good design. I don't think they have to be a famous artist or to spend a lot of time drawing, but place an importance on understanding shapes and position, color and shade, composition and flow of design, copywriting basics and also have the ability to share a "vision" with the team that will produce. -Kathy

Not entirely necessary, but if you can't draw, you should make up the deficit in writing or yarn-spinning. -Chuck

How important is it that your pilot can see? Auto pilot can pretty much take off and land a plane. Everyone feels better, is more confident and effective if one can put the art in art director. -Steve