Will my horrible drawing skills hurt me as a physics major?

  • #1
I'm going to return to college starting Fall, 2019 as a physics major. In preparation, I've been going though various textbooks, studying the material and working the problems. The concepts I understand reasonably well.

The problem?

I'm horrible at drawing.

I see some problems, especially in classical mechanics, where drawing a sketch of the problem is needed. I'm worried I'm going to miss out on an important detail or concept simply because I can't draw well enough. I know I don't have to draw a Mona Lisa or anything but I have trouble drawing three dimensional figures and I worry that'll be a problem when I'm trying to visualize something in spherical coordinates.

Has anyone else had this issue?
 

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  • #2
BvU
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Hi,

I have trouble drawing three dimensional figures
Any samples ?
Find a beginner book on perspective drawing and doodle away
 
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  • #3
atyy
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You don't have to be great at drawing. The drawing (usually not to scale) helps you write the correct equations. If you understand the problem well enough, you just need very rudimentary drawing skills (in principle, you don't need to draw at all - to perhaps oversimplify, what "matters" are the correct equations).

Side note: Your drawing is probably better than some of these people.
http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Pontryagin.html
http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2014/08/fighting-study-physics
 
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  • #4
ZapperZ
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I'm going to return to college starting Fall, 2019 as a physics major. In preparation, I've been going though various textbooks, studying the material and working the problems. The concepts I understand reasonably well.

The problem?

I'm horrible at drawing.

I see some problems, especially in classical mechanics, where drawing a sketch of the problem is needed. I'm worried I'm going to miss out on an important detail or concept simply because I can't draw well enough. I know I don't have to draw a Mona Lisa or anything but I have trouble drawing three dimensional figures and I worry that'll be a problem when I'm trying to visualize something in spherical coordinates.

Has anyone else had this issue?

You can't draw squares, rectangles, circles, and straight lines?

Zz.
 
  • #5
jtbell
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For me, using graph paper helps. You don’t need the expensive kind with a millimeter grid. The cheaper kind with a quarter-inch or maybe 5-mm grid is fine.

Three-dimensional figures need practice. I draw xyz axes first, with one at an angle. Then I draw the lines that are parallel to the axes, and often dashed lines for rectangular boxes that contain the object or parts of it. That usually helps me fill in the curved lines.
 
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  • #6
gleem
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Drawing if definitely a useful ability especially where geometry is important. It will help to see relationships that might not otherwise be apparent. You do not have to be a good free hand drawer just learn to use a straight edge, compass and protractor. You don't need the precision of an engineer or architect but make sure they not carelessly drawn otherwise they may be misleading. Angles that should be equal should look equal, lines that are to be parallel should look parallel
Practice with simple geometric shapes until you gain confidence.
 
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  • #7
Dr. Courtney
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My drawing skills were poor, and I've mentored a number of successful physics majors who also have poor drawing skills.

Like most things, improvement will come with practice.

No, you won't be an artist, but you can be a physicist.

I've seen lots of things kill physics majors: wine, women, song, drugs, poor math skills, laziness, etc.
Never poor drawing skills.
 
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  • #8
DaveC426913
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Fun fact: Practicing problem-solving using drawing will improve your drawing skills.

And working out how to draw things will help you understand the problem better.

You're not supposed to go into school being excellent at every ancillary skill you're going to need.
 
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  • #9
symbolipoint
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What kind of drawing skill is this that you believe would prevent you from drawing enough to handle Mathematics and Physics? Is it the kind which improves with practice, or is the problem something else? MOST of us can draw with one hand and arm but only very badly with the other. MOST of us can write neatly with one of our our hand and arm but very badly using the other. As long as you can write legibly either with left hand and arm or with right hand and arm, then your drawing ability is good enough and improvement can be accomplished, at least enough for handling Physics and Mathematics.
 
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  • #10
symbolipoint
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I'm going to return to college starting Fall, 2019 as a physics major. In preparation, I've been going though various textbooks, studying the material and working the problems. The concepts I understand reasonably well.

The problem?

I'm horrible at drawing.

I see some problems, especially in classical mechanics, where drawing a sketch of the problem is needed. I'm worried I'm going to miss out on an important detail or concept simply because I can't draw well enough. I know I don't have to draw a Mona Lisa or anything but I have trouble drawing three dimensional figures and I worry that'll be a problem when I'm trying to visualize something in spherical coordinates.

Has anyone else had this issue?
The few, only people who had such an "issue" were under-performing students academically and were absolutely not any kind of science or technology "majors". If you seriously have some manual or neurological usage trouble interfering with your ability or comfort in making simple figurative drawings, precise drawings yet simple, then you should consult your school's Special Education representative.
 
  • #11
CrysPhys
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To: OP

You can make your life a lot easier by using a simple computer drawing program. If you use Microsoft Office, Word has a basic drawing program included; start with that. Powerpoint has become overrun with useless garbage such as barking dogs and winking paperclips; stay away from that. If you want to go one step up, I would recommend Visio, easy learning curve and Office compatible and good functionality.

You still need to learn the basics of perspective drawings (look at a variety of textbooks for examples) and practice, but at least revision becomes easier: no more erasing or crossing-out and starting all over every time you make a mistake or want to make changes.
 
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  • #12
Thank you all for responding.

I'm feeling a little better about the situation. I was worried that my lack of artistry might obfuscate some mathematical relationship, especially in three dimensions, but I believe I'll be okay.

CrysPhys, thanks for your suggestion. That may be what I need.

Thanks again, everyone!
 
  • #13
Dr Transport
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practice, practice, practice. I was horrible artistically, the more I did it, the better I got and I still draw extremely detailed drawings and annotations in my notes to this day.
 
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  • #14
ZapperZ
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I still don't understand what the issue is here. I can pull someone from the Fine Arts dept., and he/she will STILL produce a "horrible" sketch for a physics problem, with shading and depth perception and everything!

We're not talking about artistic sketch suitable for framing here. We're talking about a sketch that is relevant to a problem. This means straight lines, rectangles, squares, triangles, circles, etc.... How much "artistic" talent does it require to draw something like this?

I put it to you that this has nothing to do with artistic talent. It has everything to do with understanding the material and what is required in solving a problem. You confused that with being unable to produce an effective sketch, the same way many students are stuck in solving physics problems due to poor understanding of mathematics, but mistakenly think that physics is difficult.

Zz.
 
  • #15
CrysPhys
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I still don't understand what the issue is here. I can pull someone from the Fine Arts dept., and he/she will STILL produce a "horrible" sketch for a physics problem, with shading and depth perception and everything!

We're not talking about artistic sketch suitable for framing here. We're talking about a sketch that is relevant to a problem. This means straight lines, rectangles, squares, triangles, circles, etc.... How much "artistic" talent does it require to draw something like this?

I put it to you that this has nothing to do with artistic talent. It has everything to do with understanding the material and what is required in solving a problem. You confused that with being unable to produce an effective sketch, the same way many students are stuck in solving physics problems due to poor understanding of mathematics, but mistakenly think that physics is difficult.

Zz.
That's a trivial example. Try something a little more complicated, such as:
http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/phyopt/polclas.html

ETA: I'm a strong proponent of understanding and explaining physical concepts via visualization. Worked greatly to my advantage during my sundry careers as a physicist, engineer, and patent agent. Being an early adopter of computer-based drawing programs and later CAD programs definitely gave me an edge over colleagues who clung to their paper, pencil, and eraser.
 
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  • #16
ZapperZ
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That's a trivial example. Try something a little more complicated, such as:
http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/phyopt/polclas.html

Again, those are just straight lines and wiggle lines. It requires no artistic talent. I have no artistic talent, and I can draw that, by hand!

The purpose of a sketch in doing a physics problem is different than a drawing for public appreciation. The former has to convey a specific, non-ambiguous, and clear set of information. It should not be open to "artistic interpretation", unlike the latter. It doesn't have to be beautiful. It just have to be accurate!

Zz.
 
  • #17
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My advice is simple: don't worry about it! I spent years teaching Physics and drew some dreadful drawings over the years but I learned three things which I would pass on:

1. Have a sense of humour and be prepared to laugh at yourself and be laughed at by students (I suspect some of the pompous answers above result from not understanding this one!);
2. Showing an enthusiasm for your subject that is infectious to your students, it will more than compensate for drawing badly or faux pas you make;
3. Most teachers are afraid of their students - yes, it is true. Having trained a good many in my time, one of the things which constantly comes up is "what do I do if a student is cleverer than the teacher?". The answer is simple and applies in this context too: firstly get them on your side, make them feel wanted, not a problem but a potential helper and use their innate ability. If they - or someone else in the class - can draw better than you, get them to do it for you (or do it with you).

Finally there is a story about the visit of a certain, relatively well known scientist to Oxford to give a lecture. When his talk was over the powers that be decided the two chalkboards might be worth preserving for posterity so they were taken down and one put in front of the other for collection the following day. Of course next day the front board was blank and, when quizzed, the cleaner said she didn't think the bunch of illiterate squiggles was that important after all...

So don't worry and thank your chosen Deity you're not a chemist or a biologist!

Bob
 
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  • #18
DaveC426913
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You can make your life a lot easier by using a simple computer drawing program.
I advise against this approach.
1] Sketching out the diagram is part of the problem-solving mind-set. Using a computer program will stimulate the wrong areas of the brain.
2] You will invariably waste more time getting it right than actually working on the problem.
 
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  • #19
CrysPhys
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Again, those are just straight lines and wiggle lines. It requires no artistic talent. I have no artistic talent, and I can draw that, by hand!

The purpose of a sketch in doing a physics problem is different than a drawing for public appreciation. The former has to convey a specific, non-ambiguous, and clear set of information. It should not be open to "artistic interpretation", unlike the latter. It doesn't have to be beautiful. It just have to be accurate!

Zz.
The OP specifically asked about drawing and specifically stated that he wasn't talking about creating a Mona Lisa. So you are the one confounding drawing ability with artistic talent. I believe that drawing ability falls into the same category as writing ability or speaking ability: it's a tool for conveying concepts, and one that a physicist should cultivate. I agree with you that a <technical> drawing needs to "convey a specific, non-ambiguous, and clear set of information" and be accurate; no argument there. And a poorly executed drawing does not fulfill the requirements.
 
  • #20
DaveC426913
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The OP specifically asked about drawing and specifically stated that he wasn't talking about creating a Mona Lisa. So you are the one confounding drawing ability with artistic talent. I believe that drawing ability falls into the same category as writing ability or speaking ability: it's a tool for conveying concepts, and one that a physicist should cultivate. I agree with you that a <technical> drawing needs to "convey a specific, non-ambiguous, and clear set of information" and be accurate; no argument there. And a poorly executed drawing does not fulfill the requirements.
I am not sure I understand your objection. Did you read Zapper's post? Specifically the first line.

He's saying having artistic talent is not a prerequisite. So, why the reference to Mona Lisa, and the rest?
 
  • #21
CrysPhys
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I advise against this approach.
1] Sketching out the diagram is part of the problem-solving mind-set. Using a computer program will stimulate the wrong areas of the brain.
2] You will invariably waste more time getting it right than actually working on the problem.
I disagree. Once you become adept with the tool, it becomes second nature, and non-intrusive. It's analogous to composing a document directly on a word processor, rather than writing it out via pen or pencil on paper, making corrections by hand, and then typing it out.
 
  • #22
ZapperZ
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The OP specifically asked about drawing and specifically stated that he wasn't talking about creating a Mona Lisa. So you are the one confounding drawing ability with artistic talent. I believe that drawing ability falls into the same category as writing ability or speaking ability: it's a tool for conveying concepts, and one that a physicist should cultivate. I agree with you that a <technical> drawing needs to "convey a specific, non-ambiguous, and clear set of information" and be accurate; no argument there. And a poorly executed drawing does not fulfill the requirements.

Unfortunately, the OP refused to show an example of his/her bad drawing ability.

The skill to do PROPER (notice I didn't say beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, etc...) sketch is like ANY other skill. It has to be practiced. I am poor at drawing, but I can definitely sketch a line, a curve, a circle, etc., mainly because I've done it many times.

Furthermore, if the question requires that one draws an axis at the center of a circle in, say, solving a Gauss's Law problem, and one draws the axis somewhere else, this is NOT poor skill in drawing, but poor skill in READING and understanding the symmetry involved! It requires no talent to draw a circle and 3 straight-line axes, but it requires understanding the physics concept to know where to put those lines with respect to the circle. That is the difference between proper sketch in physics, and a poor sketch in physics, and none of it requires any kind of drawing ability other than something a toddler is able to do.

I will put it again that sketching in physics requires the ability to draw circles, curves, squares, rectangles, triangles, and straight lines. These require almost no drawing ability. WHERE and HOW to put these together in a coherent manner that it helps in solving a physics problem, now THAT requires skills and physics knowledge. Those are two separate and distinctly-different abilities! It was why I said earlier that I can pull someone from the Fine Arts dept, and he/she will produce a lousy sketch. It has nothing to do with drawing ability, because the needed ability is so rudimentary. It requires knowledge and skill of what is needed to solve a problem to produce a suitable and appropriate sketch.

Zz.
 
  • #23
ZapperZ
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I disagree. Once you become adept with the tool, it becomes second nature, and non-intrusive. It's analogous to composing a document directly on a word processor, rather than writing it out via pen or pencil on paper, making corrections by hand, and then typing it out.

It doesn't help when you're in a 2-hour exam and no electronic devices are allowed.

Zz.
 
  • #25
symbolipoint
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I advise against this approach.
1] Sketching out the diagram is part of the problem-solving mind-set. Using a computer program will stimulate the wrong areas of the brain.
2] You will invariably waste more time getting it right than actually working on the problem.

That is also worth repeating:
I advise against this approach.
1] Sketching out the diagram is part of the problem-solving mind-set. Using a computer program will stimulate the wrong areas of the brain.
2] You will invariably waste more time getting it right than actually working on the problem.

It is so good that it's also worth reading again:
I advise against this approach.
1] Sketching out the diagram is part of the problem-solving mind-set. Using a computer program will stimulate the wrong areas of the brain.
2] You will invariably waste more time getting it right than actually working on the problem.
 

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