Ask Adam Anything #11: On Sketching

This week, Adam answers a question about how he uses sketching to aid in the planning of his projects, and how sketching is different than drawing schematics and blueprinting. If you have a question or something you want to share with Adam, post in the comments below!

Comments (46)

46 thoughts on “Ask Adam Anything #11: On Sketching

  1. How do you approach a prop/costume build from a source that has very few to no images for reference? I’ve been compiling a project file for an armor and weapons cosplay piece from an epic fantasy novel series (The Stormlight Archive Series by Brandon Sanderson) with only one general image reference in the book. The example shows the style and the proportions but the suit of armor and the weapon I’m working towards creating only has a brief one or two line description in the prose. What is a good rule of thumb to determine where to draw the lines between accuracy, interpretation, and invention in costume/prop builds?

  2. Adam, I am starting up a comic con style event for Autism Spectrum kids and want to have a life size building block area as part of it. Could you suggest a strong, lightweight, and fairly inexpensive option for constructing the blocks? I think cardboard would be too flimsy. Thanks!

  3. Will Discovery release a “complete series” dvd/bluray collection of Mythbusters??? Also, you’re on an island for the rest of your life and are allowed one condiment (ketchup, mayo, etc)… What condiment will you have?

  4. Can we see some of the examples of your sketch and drawing here Adam thanks

    Yes! Would love to see that.

  5. I think in a previous podcast you mentioned that you were going to be building a Strandbeest, and doing it away from your shop. How do you pack tools and equipment when planning on building away from your home shop? And how do you plan on what to pack?

  6. Hi Adam!

    If you could only own three glues, what would they be?

    I know you like specific questions, and I’m more curious about general pros and cons here…. but it seems like very few people give a 30,000 foot intro.

    I fix things if they break and sometimes make small functional things.

    I guess I’m thinking about wood, plastic, glass, metal, all kinds of material.

    If something plastic breaks like a not-heavy-duty enough laptop stand… A two part glue like epoxy resin? superglue? Another one-part glue?

    If something load-bearing breaks, even just a plastic bracket of some kind, how can you fix it “better than new”?

    I can look things up in a case by case basis, but I always feel like I’m back at square one for every fixit / construction project. It’d be really cool to hear some starting assumptions

  7. I’d be interested in Adam’s reply to this as well, as too plan on recreating props a book series: Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series.

    I’m still in the planning and design and reference gathering phase, but I’ll share what I’ve been thinking about.

    • I have a massive Google Doc where I’m placing all of my reference and ideas. This includes direct reference quotes from the books. Some are like your armor, where only a few lines exist. But some have a lot of hidden information attached — by this I mean that I learned more about the prop by how it was used by characters (this book has its title on the spine, this knife was used to skin a person, this gold chain fits around a child’s neck but not over a woman’s head, etc).
    • My document also has a list of possiblematerials I want to use (cast pewter, Vantablack, gilded leather, etc) and possible techniques and processes. Some are new and modern (such as 3D printing) and some are archaic and old world (such as various bookbindings).
    • For two particular objects, they’re both described similarly and vaguely (both teardrop shaped pieces of jewelry). To make them both distinct, my current design idea for one is based of a Prince Rupert’s Drop, the other is a highly faceted cut jewel.
    • For the Sword of Truth series, they did adapt it to TV with the terrible series Legend of the Seeker. Propwise, IMO, this is good and bad. The titular object is terribly done in the show (it’s a modified Kit Rae sword 😒) but the Mord Sith (red leather clad torture giving ladies) outfits and agiels are awesome.
    • Lastly, some objects I’ve also connected them to other prop replicas. On the RPF, there was a cool build and run of dragon teeth from the 1981 movie Dragonslayer. I’ve never seen it, but the prop is a cool design so I may as well commandeer it for my collection. And then it’s got an extra side story to the replica.
    • Edit: It also occurred to me that Adam’s ODB of the Hellboy comic sword applies here. There is some visual reference, but he has to translate it to the real world. There’s also a whole thread on the RPF of a guy that makes gorgeous replicas from the Hellboy comics.

    Best of luck on your cosplay and props. I’ve heard great things about Brandon Sanderson’s work; I plan on reading his stuff someday.

    And if you want to check out my project doc, you should be able to do so here

  8. I’m glad we got to see some of Adam’s sketches. I don’t feel quite so bad about my janky reference sketches.

  9. Thanks Adam, I sketch a lot, an idea I think about must be a sketch , sometimes I may not even start the project but there is a body of drawings , lists of potential raw materials and ideas associated with the concept like how I would like to light it,

    I am working on a model of the matrix Sentinal , I always loved Durrows designs and these are excellent robot designs , having great fun sketching out how I will create the tentacles , which will dictate the final scale of the model.

    Thanks for sharing others work spaces , I’m currently reorganising my workspace and the item that’s tough in a small space is organising the raw materials , have you any tips on storing rods, sheets and other odd shaped material both in their original state and also as they are being used

  10.   I have a similar question for Adam two desert island questions

    The first if he was to be deserted on an island with unlimited resources but no tools , what 5 unpowered hand tools would he bring to the island to continue living and making ?

    Second question is the same but which 5 powered tools?

  11. Sketching is always an important part of any project I do. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be artistic. Especially if you are making your own thing instead of copying a prop, it is a good idea to try and get a feel for how you want to do it.

    Last year I made a Steampunk Pirate costume and instead of a hook for a hand, I wanted a hydraulic, steampunk Claw. Like many of my projects I started with a sketch idea, then made a foam core mock up to make sure it worked and fit with my hand, and then of course the final project. The final had more knobs and gauges than the original sketch which is fine. I was basically figuring out how to make the main shape. And it helped me settle on the dual layer with rivets look for the claw part.

  12. Thanks for the Video. I have a question. Do you ever look back at your work as a whole and see common themes or things you like and did not realize you used so much of it? Such as a color preference that shows up a lot, or shapes you often keep using without realizing your doing it?

  13. Adam, I am starting up a comic con style event for Autism Spectrum kids and want to have a life size building block area as part of it. Could you suggest a strong, lightweight, and fairly inexpensive option for constructing the blocks? I think cardboard would be too flimsy. Thanks!

    Wilson Have you thought about using EVA foam? The floor mats may actually interlock into a cube… if not, that is where I would start. And I would use either foam core board to reinforce the in side or more EVA foam. Hot glue or barge contact cement to put it all together, plasti-dip and spray paint for aesthetics.

  14. Sketching is one thing, but how do you figure out what materials to use? In your sketches you also think about material to be used later on? Or most of the time you use materials that you have around that you buy in bulk just for the future without any project?

  15. Hi Adam,

    Maybe you’ve already talked about this but what are the 5 tools you cannot do without? I would also like to know if you have any favourite common/uncommon handtools.



  16. Search for plastic welding. There are kits and things that can help you fix things easy, something that you have to know before hand is a little bit of different types of plastic, just to not burn it and make it brittle. Sometimes it works way better that epoxy resin.

  17. Hey Adam,

    What, in your eyes, makes something cool, iconic, and a must have? There are so many things to choose from when deciding to make something. We have seen your helmet collection, your gun collection etc. But what is it that makes you say “I’ve got to build one of those”?

    Regards, Steve.

  18. Adam,

    How do you handle “project paralysis” ? That Annoying bit of brain short where you know what you should be doing , how it should be done, and have the desire to do it, but cannot for the life of you actually do it.

  19. Adam,

    Is your workshop the ultimate manifestation of you now, or if you started again from nothing would you change it all? What elements of a workshop are critical and what are merely niceties? I’m building out a new space now and battling a thousand compromises, small and large!

  20. I’ve been wanting to ask this for months already: On your last AMA, you mentioned in passing that one of the things you use your notebooks for is “working on mind sets”. After pondering that for a long time, I still haven’t figured out what that could mean, but I have a strong feeling that it will be something I very much need to hear.

    In case you where talking about something completely different, this is the specific problem I am looking to solve: I have important aspects of my life that should be perfectly compatible, being a classical singer on one hand and a composer/all-purpose creative on the other; before I started the classical journey, it was much easier for me to just be creative and make things, whether it was drawing or writing songs, stories and music. But somehow interpreting other people’s works and writing my own (non-classical) don’t jive. I started woodworking at some point to find an outlet for this insatiable need to create something of my own, but it doesn’t quite speak to my best abilities and I unfortunately I live in an area where it seems impossible to meet any people in the same situation (since surrounding yourself with the kind of people you want to be like is the usual advice).

    Any advice, and does your working on mind sets have anything to do with it?

  21. Hey Adam! So I’m an engineering college student who works a reoccurring temp job with an orthopedics company (Which, by the way, the process behind making orthopedic implants is awesome). As part of my job I move back and forth between the job and school and land at a different apartment every three months or so. My question is: what are your tips on starting a small workshop in this situation? I want to include such things as bandsaws, sewing machines, maybe even a lasercutter. Is there any good way to build a collection of medium sized tools while on the move?

  22. Hey Adam & Team,

    So maybe not a topic for Ask Adam but definately a topic you need to talk about, luggage. Both edc (which is somewhat covered in a few “what’s in your bag”) but more importantly “I need to transport myself and all this stuff from A to B, stuff-carrying-things”. And other travel paraphernalia. If you ask me this could be a whole subsection!

  23. Hey there Adam! I would like to know what college degree would be best suited for those wanting to get into your kind of “jack of all trades” making business. Or, where would be the best place for an at home hobbyist to build his experience (and resume) to get into the career of making for the movies. thanks!!

  24. My question for Adam:

    How do you deal with self doubt? I know you have told the story of how you felt as if someone was going to tell you to go home at ILM because you weren’t good enough so I want to know how you deal with that. Sometimes it really detracts from the enjoyment of my work. A quick anecdote to illustrate: I measured up a job to install some built-in cupboards and for some reason in the following weeks I began to worry that I had taken incorrect measurements so I went back to measure up again only to discover that all my measurements were spot on.



  25. Hi Adam. I just inherited a shopsmith 10 er from my father. He’s fine he just didn’t need it, it’s a huge upgrade to me when I get everything back into tip top shape. It was my uncle’s, grandfather’s, and grandfather’s brother’s before it made it to me. I have been enamored by the design and flexibility of the machine every since I saw one demonstrated in a mall while waiting for my mom to finish shopping as a kid. So this is a dream come true. I watched the video of getting your Bridgeport and how excited that made you. But as far as heirloom tools do you have anything that was passed down from your family in your shop that you wouldn’t ever part wi? . Is there anything your kids covet? You seem to have everything, is there something on your radar? Also I believe shopsmith was and is based in San Francisco do you have any plans to visit their shop?

    Great site. Keep on inspiring makers.

  26. Have you ever considered writing a novel? I can’t help but notice your growing resemblance to Isaac Asimov and it occurred to me that you might just have the skills to produce some amazing science fiction.

    Jack Ryan (seriously)
    Charlottesville, VA

  27. Hi Adam S.,

    How do you approach the iterative process of making and design?

    Do you prototype most projects before your initial build-up? Do you walk into every project knowing you’re not going to get it right first time? Do you look at every project you complete as simply the first phase of a longer-term iterative project?


    Adam Piercey

  28. Hey Adam, how do you find the motivation to push through the bumps in the road while working on a long term project.

  29. A lot of times I have a problem with a project that I have to put down because I’m not really sure how to proceed. Most of the time I’m standing in the shower and the “Aha!” moment comes to me there. Do you have a place like this that you’re able to relax your mind and mull over a problem and come up with the aha moment?

  30. Hey Meme outlaw, This is probably a question you’ve already gotten a lot of answers too but I thought maybe I can help. I’ve actually considered doing this stormlight archive series and making the white assassin costume, also something with very little detail outlined. I ended up really enjoying the project because I did it for me, it never went to a con or anything but it’s my truthless costume, and as a result, I loved it all the more. If it is not something you’re going to be able to get precise enough to pull from the book into the real world, I encourage you to try pulling yourself into the book with the piece. It might not get a lot of attention at a con, but I promise it won’t go to waste!

  31. Hey Adam!

    I was wondering if there are any particular aspects of builds that you aren’t comfortable doing and how you tackle those. I know that your obviously a well connected guy, but are there go to places you have to get those parts of the project done? I’m still working towards becoming a builder, but here in the Chicago area there aren’t a lot of maker spaces so it’s tough. The hardest thing I see is the hardware aspect if it has electronics in it. I’m getting better with prototyping, but things like soldering are still difficult for me.


  32. Hi Adam,

    Question from London, United Kingdom, When working on a project how do you choose the right materials for the job? when making a replica prop/costume often the material something is made out of is known other times its not. and like wise when working on something new how do you choose one material over another?

    Chris aka N1cod3mus

  33. Adam,

    Now that Mythbusters is over, it looks like you have oodles more time to work on personal/passion projects. My question is how did you deal with personal projects and the hectic Mythbusters shooting schedule? I would imagine there were external forces that kept you from being able to complete or even start certain builds or ideas. Was this unsettling for you? Did you find yourself starting more and more projects because you had small amounts of time and opportunity, but then never be able to wrap those projects up because the resources (time/location/materials) weren’t available?

    You might guess that this is a personal demon of mine. So many projects planned or started, to be left by the wayside due to life or weather or money getting in the way.

    Thanks for your feedback and I’m a huge fan of all the art/content you produce!


  34. Hey Adam,

    A question that isn’t at all related to the incredible things you do, but it has been bugging me for a while.

    What happened to the mirror in your workshop? how did it break?

  35. I have a question for Adam. I have been looking into creating a walking TARS from Interstellar. I have search around the internet and found lots of models. There were lots of pictures from Emerald City Comic Con where someone made a TARS but walked behind it, like a puppeteer controlling it. I would like to build a walking TARS that can walk on it’s own. The motion it would need to walk is very complicated and I have had a few ideas, but nothing successful so far. Is it even possible to create that kind of walking motion? Is there a place I could maybe share drawings of my ideas to see if it is possible? Thanks for any help or advise you can give.

  36. Adam,

    I’m always astounded by your breadth of knowledge and the depth of your skill in so many areas. How would you recommend someone go from watching Tested Builds and saying “man, I wish I could do that’ to becoming as skilled in doing builds as you are?

    P.S. Sorry for the poorly worded question!

  37. Just wanted to leave comment for Adam.

    I’ve recently watched a bunch of your talks on youtube. In one of them you mentioned that you went to see Excalibur as a kid and fell in love with the armor the knights wore. Then you told the story of how you built an armor yourself, wore it to school and ended up fainting from heat exhaustion =)

    While browsing the Prop Store I noticed they currently have one of the armors from the movie for sale, so I thought I’d let you know in case you wanted to check it out

  38. Hi Adam and Tested team.

    Question for Adam. i would like to produce a nice enough working replica in a smaller scale of the Pressurized Mating Adapter node and a Docking ring similar to the image attached. could you build one so i can get a better idea of how to approach it. thanks in advance

  39. Hi, Adam! Do you keep all of the plans, sketches, instructions for your builds? I was thinking of the excellent Captain Kirk chair– Do you still have those plans, and if you do, how do you go about organizing and filing the plans for future reference?


    CJ Carpenter

    Charlotte, NC

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