Fostering your innate abilities

Last post I wrote that design isn’t drawing. I’d like now to go into further details on this topic.

We’ve all seen pretty permaculture designs on the web (although only the nice ones get published!) and it is true that a majority of permaculture graduates follow that pathway of drawing up a design which they can roll up and take home once the PDC is finished. Admittedly, some are qualified landscape designers and drawing is second nature to them. Others, like me, have been gifted other skills than that of drawing! 🙂

Sadly, I had to do like everybody else when I sat my PDC, and I -painfully- drew my designs. Throughout the all process I felt majorly awkward, self-conscious and stressed as drawing is not my strong suit. The result was a poorly drawn design (read ‘drawing’) which pencil work crucially lacked confidence (note the abundant use of white out correction pen – noice!) and colours were dreadfully timid. Here is a sample below (don’t laugh please!).


BUT, the permaculture design was all there!! Detailed sector and site analysis, sound understanding of slope and its impact on soils, water and nutrients, permaculture principles were all actively present, functional interconnections were demonstrated, etc… Yet, I didn’t feel confident showing my poorly drawn work.

I felt like at the school fair when all the kids’ drawings are pinned to the wall and yours is the subject of ironic comments and giggles!

I wish I had chosen a different medium to do my design presentation but there didn’t seem to be any other option.

it's all in the hands!!!

It’s all in the hands!!!

I now wonder what would my design have been if I hadn’t followed every one’s inclinations to draw… In retrospect, I think I would have displayed a very simple mud map or perhaps an aerial photo of my site and used a lot of theatrical narrative to explain my design… Because this is my strong suit – talking with emphasis, punctuation, hand gestures and body motion!

Choosing that medium would have felt more natural, less energy-intensive, less wasteful, more sustainable and resilient.

Choosing energy-saving design tools

Think of it this way, if you already know how to draw and you like drawing, then you probably already have all what you need (pencils and all) – and the PDC isn’t going to teach you any further ‘drawing’ skills.

But if drawing is not your preferred hobby, then you do not already have the tools required to do a drawing, right?

Design tools

So you end up needing to buy the pencils in all the right colours, the sharpener, the eraser, the ruler, the protractor, the compass and last but not least, the paper.

  • All come in their own packaging, at best cardboard, often enough moulded plastic.
  • All were manufactured god-knows where, probably somewhere in the Pearl River Delta.
  • All have a carbon footprint the length of my arm.

This isn’t resilient nor sustainable. To me, this isn’t  what permaculture is about.

Besides, I have always been naturally drawn to utilising ‘what we already have’, that is, in the context of this article, those intrinsic qualities that we own, nurture and naturally display.

Expressing our innate abilities

Joel Salatin rambles on about using the intrinsic nature of farm animals to do the work, and really, this is in my views the most sustainable pattern to adopt.

I keep this pattern at the back of my mind when I teach a PDC and never focus on teaching how to draw, but instead, I teach a thinking process, how to observe and make connections.

I let students choose their tools, their medium of expression.

I let them express their innate abilities.

If they aren’t naturally skilled at drawing a deciduous tree in the right design standard, then that’s fine. Who cares?

If they want to learn how to draw a deciduous tree in the right design standard then self-education (there’s a plethora of info freely available online) or a qualifying landscape design course is perhaps the best options in addition to a PDC.

I know that adult learners will naturally gravitate towards choosing the design method that suits them.


As adult-learners, we have previous experiences which we can draw from. We have crafted our own creative skills which we can confidently express: some use drawing, some use words, modeling, songs, etc.

Letting adult learner choose their design tools is the epitome of learner-centered education. And you know what, it works! Since doing this, I’ve seen fantastically creative designs – some nicely drawn ones too!

So if drawing isn’t your natural skill, don’t fret – there are many other ways to convey your thoughts . And remember that a PDC is focused on teaching a thinking process, not graphic or landscape design.

Selected students work

See you at one of our courses to learn more about permaculture design

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