Design insights & tutorials.

Blank Canvas: How Do You Learn?

For this installment of Blank Canvas, I’d like to hear from our readers on the topic of learning new design and illustration techniques and software.

Obviously here at the Go Media Zine, we offer plenty of design and illustration tutorials, however not everyone learns best from a computer screen.

Creative types have a wealth of information online nowadays, however many out there learn best from a classroom setting, one-on-one tutoring or perhaps even good old fashioned books.

If you are one of those who keep up to date and expand your arsenal online, what do you prefer as the format for your content — step-by-step tutorials, video walkthroughs, “quick tip” articles or in-depth analysis of techniques?

For our student readers, do you augment your classroom studies with outside sources? If you’re already a degreed pro, what do you use to keep current, and have you considered going back to the classroom?

About the Author, George Coghill

George Coghill isa freelance humorous illustrator/cartoonist specializing in mascot cartoon character design & cartoon logos. His cartooning & illustration work can be seen at and at his cartooning and illustration blog. Be sure to follow me on Twitter here!
Discover More by George Coghill


We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • Adam_Wagner

    I learn most when forced to do something out of my comfort zone. Then (kinda by necessity) – my method becomes noob Google searches such as “color fade css3″. I gobble up the bite sized tip from the page I end up on & alt-tab back to task.

  • 13thGeneral

    For the most effective learning experience, I require a heart mix of all the ingredients; visual, audio, tactile, practice and critique.

  • Brian Kelley

    written tutorials work best for me, watching some one do it doesn't help me at all as I usually get bored of “hi my name is this, I talk and type really slow, and wait 30 seconds after each click” and stop focusing, and the whole pause, play, pause, play, rewind, etc gets annoying.

    With written tutorials, I can skim the parts I know, and get to the meat of the article/tutorial quicker and easier.

  • Amy

    I always learn best when I have to complete something new by myself. If there's anyone else to rely on or ask all sorts of questions to, I have a harder time keeping things in my memory

  • teebee

    I learn best just by doing. The 2nd best way is short videos. Too long of videos and I can get lost in all the detail. I also subscribe to a lot of rss development feeds and have several text files on my flash drive that I save bits of code and tips to from these feeds (ie: jquery.txt, javascript.txt, wordpress.txt, etc). I _always_ have my flash drive with me so I always have my “cheats” with me. I also have a test domain where I have several sites set up and I can try new things, plug ins, themes, etc.

  • saraelizabeth22

    I'm a design student. At my college they don't teach any software or skills at all. The instructors job seems to consist of mediating projects and critiquing. So I learn mainly by just doing. Time is not alloted for rigorous learning of software so I just try to wing it half the time and search in the adobe help the other half.

    I agree with Brian, video tutorials can be a big pain. Books can be too, not to mention the price tag. I'll randomly try some scroll through tutorials when I have time.

  • EyesOpened

    Books, and online studies i learned the most from. I started designing when i was around 14. When i was done with high school i went to tech school for graphic arts. There i got my diploma in design. At that time affordable universities were not offering a graphic design program, so i went the teach school route. I learned a great deal of information. It was hands on and great fun.. but I always learned more when doing it by myself. I wasn't the type that could focus while in a class room. To push my studies further i took online classes and read a great deal of books. The computer is an incredible tool to learn from when you use it right. I think the best designers are the non degreed pro's. The ones who are completely self taught with the natural talent. I get calls everyday to be hired at my firm. When i ask some back-round questions like what programs do you currently use. They say quark and a little photoshop. When i ask what or where did you design in the past? They say the penny saver. Even the ones who were taught to use up to date software lack major skill in their portfolio. I can't count how many portfolios i've looked at of college students who were taught to be a designer for a news paper/ add agency. I think the universities are really lacking in terms of getting students ready for the real world. I mean if you want to get paid minimum wage and work for some news paper that's your call. I'm just saying the stuff i see from many college grads is really weak. At least where i am from. But when i get the call from a designer who didn't go to school and who designs based only on passion. I am blown away by their work. Not only is their portfolio non generic and pops out, they know a great deal about design.

    I feel the same way about self taught musicians. The music always comes out with a more natural feel rather then robotic. Don't get me wrong when you have the natural talent and you go to a great school then theres no question. Your going to come out excellent. I know not all schools are this way but many of them are. Spend all this money on design school and still have the possibility to come out working a minimum wage job?? It's crazy. I know 10 designers who work and get paid minimum wage. One of those 10 stopped designing all together because of this and he was a great artist. So even the really talented ones who went to school end up with shit jobs. I think anyone who worked their balls off going to school for whatever it may be that they loved should be able to get the job of their dreams. I'd say that doesn't happen often.

    We already know that being a master designer does not require a degree. It requires the skill, passion, and ambition I'd say most of the great designers do not have a degree. Yet most of the minimum wage positions mark that it's mandatory to have a BA in design to get the job. So what about the designer who spent 8 years self studying design with an incredible portfolio who is more then knowledgeable in all the fields of design? He gets no acknowledgement? Mastery comes from passion not a piece of paper that you paid or your parents paid a shit load of money for. Again not saying school is a bad thing because it is not. If i can give any of you up and coming designers some advice. If you have you heart set on going to school. FIND A GOOD ONE! Make sure you look into the school you will be attending. Weather it be online or on campus. It's ultra important. Remember curriculum being taught at any schools is based on opinion. Find a school who's opinion you agree with!! Don't stoop down to working for an add agency. You will make so much more money as a free lancer. If you aren't into the free lance thing THINK BOLD and take chances. Save all the cash that you can now working whatever shitty jobs you can. Then open your own firm. Society has a great way to trick the human mind. Open that 3'rd eye up. Don't throw your money away to work for minimum wage. I apologize for this rant but i had to vent.

  • Kidkash19

    I learn by reading a lot of design articles, i have a huge page devoted to design in my iGoogle. I buy a designbook every month for inspiration and learning. I draw a lot (doodling too) and im always working in Adobe applications when i have the time


  • Arron

    Im an aspiring (beginner) designer and I find I learn best by reading step by step tutorials, pictures of examples help majorly aswell. Ill copy whats in the tutorial step-by-step and then apply it to my own work. Always online tutorials, cant afford books.

    • flipflop

      libraries man. some of the books are a bit old but alot of the same principles apply, you may not learn how to use the very recent vector tools for doodling onto a 3d revolved shape etc, but the basics are still there. vectortuts and psdtuts i seem to remember as being quite good. but if you can, find opportunities to design. that is what has helped me most. if you are involved in an event try to come up with a poster for it. if you are thinking of making a website, make mockups of possible designs and go round the web seeing what possible styles you could steal from :P

  • Kenton Smith

    I learn by doing. When it is new software or a CSS trick I learn by doing it, by using the software. I learn it faster by having a deadline. I used Quark for years and one day I started at a new job; I open my computer and there was no Quark. I went to my boss, “We use inDesign here?”, he said, “Yes, exclusively”. Nothing like no choices and deadlines to make you learn something fast.

  • MoonMountain

    For software, I'm a visual learner and audio helps as well to reinforce, so I learn best with short video tutorials, with stop and restart of the video. My personal favorite is – only $25/month to subscribe (I own no stock in the company! Just like their stuff…). But then, there's nothing like a deadline to push the learning curve, and I keep an arsenal of software and design inspiration books for reference.

  • Brady

    I am more of a hands-on person so when I want to learn something I usually read the steps from a source (book, online article, etc.) then apply what I've learned as I am reading. That helps me to grasp things a little better plus retain the information.

  • Simon H.

    That sounds really familiar.

  • Durkin

    I spend my time looking at well designed websites and then set about learning how to make the effects i like, myself. At the moment I'm slowly discovering its a case of trying to work it all out on my own using a text editor, firefox and photoshop.

    That said, I use firebug A LOT. its extremely useful for 'inspecting' other websites and looking at how they do stuff.

    If I get really stuck I Google it.

  • air jordan 20

    Well , the view of the passage is totally correct ,your details is really reasonable and new balance shoes you guy give us valuable informative post, I totally agree the standpoint of upstairs. I often surfing on this forum when I m free and I find there are so much good information we can learn in this forum!

  • Geoff Blake

    Like Adam, I do a lot of Googling to find answers…and admittedly, sometimes I go back and watch some of my own DVD's and video tutorials that I've recorded when I forget how to do specific techniques or tasks…embarrassing to admit, I know!

    But for me, it all begins with an end-project in mind, like learning how to customize a specific aspect of a WordPress theme, for example. Then, the seemingly endless research begins…by the end of it all, my eyeballs are burning out of my skull, the coffee pot's bone dry, and I have a completed project! I love learning and researching, so it's lots of fun!

  • DanielNyari

    Like Adam for me it's usually when I have to do something out of my comfort zone and to me nearly every project is something new or at least I look at it with the perspective that I can learn something new from it. It's physical as much as mental. You have to concentrate, work hard and know what you're looking for. Usually the longer I take the more I increase my chances to find what I'm looking for but you have to find your limit because it can lead you to become stagnant and eventually unmotivated.

  • alicaurusrex

    Really interesting to see how other people learn – I might take some of these ideas on board.

    I definitely learn by 'doing'. Simply reading or watching something goes in one ear and out the other, but if I sit down and methodically work through it then it sticks. For me, online tutorials are great because I can go at my own speed. I have an RSS subscription to a lot of great design tutorial sites that I check every day using Gruml. When I find something that I think will be particularly useful I save the webpage to a folder on my macbook and then sometimes if I get a spare afternoon I will sit and go through a few of them. I usually don't follow them exactly, I tend to go through the steps and try to get my head round whatever tools/techniques they use. Sometimes I print them out because things can be easier to follow when they're not on screen, or use dual screens so I don't have to keep flicking back and forth.

    I work as a junior designer and luckily for me my colleague is both super knowledgeable and also a very patient teacher! The company takes on projects, and he knowingly gives me the tasks to tackle that he knows are slightly out of my comfort zone and then when I get stuck he shows me how it's done… next project I'm at a higher level with my skills than I was on the last project. It's great! I'm getting paid to have one-to-one tuition, and I've learnt a LOT. As saraelizabeth22 said, school and college didn't give me the hands-on help I wanted, it was left down to the individual to learn the skills you needed to produce the level of work, so I think I'm in a very fortunate position right now.

  • Download60s

    Photoshop tutorial, from beginner to advanced. Including Photoshop text effect tutorials, photo manipulation tutorials, give you joomla templates,joomla extensions,wordPress theme,web templates,
    if you think i make a spam please remove this comment.
    thanks.. find more best tutorials here

  • MarcosLHC

    Depending on the subject. If is a digital technique I google it and read a LOT of tutorial blogs like this one. When it comes to Design fundamentals I rely on books. Art Skills and techniques like painting and drawing, I ask a friend to teach me. But I think I learned the most when I start to teach in a Design Institute. My students push me to learn and do new things to teach and always I have to give some thougts about my overall career and work.

  • gucci hysteria

    Great article. Being a punk-rock fan most of my life I found it interesting when the design style got popular a few years ago… But working as a web designer in a small city most of my clients didn’t get it, so i stopped trying to get grunge influences in my designs. After it got all over the internet I kinda grew sick of the easy cut and paste grunge that shit up style as you so well mentionned in your great article, but that’s when clients started to request it…

  • Aloflash Com

    thanks.. find more best tutorials here
    Photoshop tutorial, from beginner to advanced. Including Photoshop text effect tutorials, photo manipulation tutorials, give you joomla templates,joomla extensions,wordPress theme,web templates,
    if you think i make a spam please remove this comment.
    thanks.. find more best tutorials here
    You have good tutorials and i had post it on my website.

  • Anonymous

    I have a harder time keeping things in my memory