‘Copic’ Under Pressure…

Brunel Design students from across all years attended Made in Brunel’s annual Sketch-Off competition.


Another year, another Sketch-Off.  The hall was full to the brim of frantically sketching students.  Eraser shavings flew like confetti off the tables, Copic markers were propelled at the speed of light across A3 paper and the complementary beer and wine was guzzled down, serving as rocket fuel for the participants.  This year, there were six judges and three rounds to separate the da Vincis from the doodlers and find Brunel’s ultimate sketching master.

“…three rounds to separate the da Vincis from the doodlers…”

The Sketch Off is a yearly event which involves students from all levels of Design at Brunel (from the first years to the Masters students), who compete by sketching from given briefs at each round.  The Sketch Off is a relatively new addition to Brunel’s calendar, having only been established last year.  However, it has already cemented its place as being one of Brunel Design’s most anticipated events. 

This year’s Sketch Off was sponsored by the global product development and technology consultancy firm Cambridge Consultants.  Tom Shirley, an Industrial Designer from the company, took part as a judge for the competition.

“I’ll be looking for some interesting, unique thoughts, clear and quick communication of ideas and some novel thinking.” Shirley said of the first round, for which participants were given the brief to ‘Come up with at least three different dog toy concepts for the game fetch’. 

On your markers, get set, go!

Brunel Alumni Emilios Farrington-Arnas and Sam Gwilt formed part of the expert judging panel. Since their graduation in 2017, Farrington-Arnas has gone on to become a designer for the Science Museum and Gwilt now works as a designer for the consultancy Precipice Design.  Farrington-Arnas was not only present at the first Sketch Off in 2017, but was also a finalist.  “I do miss Brunel’s community, Made in Brunel and going to events like this.  It is quite strange to be back” he revealed. 

Whilst Farrington-Arnas reminisced about the social aspects of his time at Brunel, Gwilt was of a different opinion.  “I miss the deadlines” he claimed. But upon noticing his fellow alumnus’ expression of amused disbelief he explained, “I miss the adrenaline rush of it, which is something you don’t get in the workplace.” 

Perhaps it is unsurprising that Gwilt takes pleasure from being under pressure, because other than being occupied with his full time job at Precipice Design, he also runs the highly successful Instagram account and Youtube channel Sam Does Design.  On these platforms, the charismatic Gwilt presents his tutorials on design sketching and displays his beautifully rendered product drawings. 

So what were they both looking for when judging the sketches? Farrington-Arnas stated that “The ability to communicate a concept well and good use of light and shadow in the sketches” were his two main considerations.  For Gwilt, neat drawings were not necessarily what he was looking for.  “In the ideation stage I actually like to see some rough and ready sketches.” He said, “But also context and scale is very important, if someone draws a hand, they’re a winner.”

The judges had to assess over one hundred drawings throughout the evening.

Lecturer in Industrial Design at Brunel and Sketch Off judge, Marjan Angoshtari said of the event: “It is so vibrant and great to see so many students from different levels attending. I have even come across some Masters students.” 

When asked about what she will be looking for from the Sketch Off participants, Angoshtari explained: “I want to see a mix of concepts and a good quality of line.  When just looking at the concept, you can understand what the idea is and whether it has been communicated well enough.”

The first round went by in a flash and before anyone could finish rubbing out their stray pencil marks, time was up and the papers were collected. The concepts produced ranged from easy grip boomerangs to slobber-free toys and magnetically repulsed collars (your guess is as good as mine).  With more than fifty participants in attendance, it was something of a laudable triumph that the judges managed to sort through all the pieces so efficiently.  After about ten minutes, they emerged from the judges’ room with the prevailing sketches going through to the next round. 

The second task involved sketching and rendering a set of Beats headphones.  For this round, judge and Senior Lecturer in Industrial and Product Design at Brunel, Steve McGonigal stated: “I’m looking for sketches with good perspective and the detail of the product has been captured. Also, the drawing should look clean and a suitable line weight should be used.” 

Having joined Brunel University in October 2018, this was the first Sketch Off which McGonigal has attended. He concluded: “It is really exciting and the atmosphere is great.  The quality of the work is excellent”.

“The quality of the work is excellent.”

Nick Chubb, Senior Industrial Designer and Project Manager at Therefore (http://nickchubbdesign.com/) also attended the Sketch Off as a judge.  At Therefore, Chubb is involved in the entire design process; from the first client meeting and concept development stages to investigating the user experience aspects and detailed implementation of the designs. 

Chubb said of the Sketch Off: “It is very proactive event and is also a great opportunity for exposing the younger students to the work of the older students.  What I look for in the sketches is that the participant has a very clear sense of what they are trying to communicate.  To me the quality of the sketching from an artistic point of view is secondary to the clear communication of the concept.  They should capture the essence of the product and apply the correct proportions and perspectives.”

At the conclusion of the second round, the papers were collected and yet again the judges made a decision on which sketches to put though.  Finally, it was time for the penultimate round to commence. 

When the third task was announced by Brunel’s Chief technician Paul Josse, the participants collectively held their breath.  “Oh God, I need another beer.” Someone murmured in the sea of tables. 

“For this round you will have to draw an exploded-view diagram of this smoothing plane.  Good luck” Josse declared as he brought out a deconstructed model of a woodworking plane.

And with that, the room erupted with the sound of pencils frenziedly zooming across paper.  

Before the sketchers knew it, time was up and the judges returned to their room to choose the finalists.  For the last round only five lone participants remained.  The final task was to sketch and render a Chemex Coffee Maker. Being composed of the materials glass and wood, drawing it was no mean feat.

The audience were rendered speechless as the five finalists battled for the Sketch Off crown.

Much like an intense poker match, the finalists sat at a round table in the centre of the room, surrounded by onlookers.  The room went quiet as the five contestants sketched assiduously, eager to win the three prizes on offer (a choice of a £50 voucher, a Copic marker set or a Wacom tablet) and of course the glory of being crowned the Sketch Off master. 

However, the silence was broken from the five minute countdown, as a few profanities slipped out of a finalist and spectators began cheering on their friends.  When the last second was up, the room burst into applause before dying down to let the judges make their final set of decisions for the night. 

And the winner is…

Everyone waited with bated breath for the results.  In third place came first year Industrial Design student Augustė Žukaitė and in second place came final year Product Design student Timothy Boxall.  Finally it was announced that the winner of this year’s Sketch Off competition was Masters student Zihao Song, whose piece won for its deliberate and considered rendering style.  

The judges and finalists.

Even though they did not win, the other Sketch Off participants were still glad that they had attended. 

“I didn’t go to the Sketch Off last year and really regretted it because I felt like I had missed out.” one second year student revealed.  

“It had an atmosphere that was competitive but thoroughly enjoyable.” was another comment from a first year student. 

However, I believe that my favourite participant remark from the night was: “Free food is always a plus.”

Sketch Off winner Zihao Song (Middle), runner up Timothy Boxall (Left), and third place finalist Augustė Žukaitė (Right)