Recently a friend of mine who is a writer said to me “writing is thinking.” What she meant is that as we write we often discover the internal structure of what was previously a collection of random ideas and as a result locate the real intention of our work through the act of doing it.
The same can be said for drawing- particularly certain types of drawing. Specifically I am thinking about thumbnails. Thumbnails are visual thinking. They are the place to work out visual ideas, to search for and find the structure of a painting. As such, we must invest enough time in them to explore the idea, but not so much time that we try to turn it into a perfect little drawing, and thus limit the time we have to look around for other ways to express the idea.
Thumbs are thinking visually. That’s all. They are like first drafts of your painting- those first steps toward finding the right structure for your visual idea. If there is only one thing you carry away from this class and incorporate into your process, this should be it!
Here are some thumbs from a small sketchbook I often carry with me on walks. It is 5 x7 (important only for understanding the small scale of these thumbs). They certainly are not great drawings and some are not especially good designs. A few of them have since become paintings. One of them became a monoprint. In most of them I have seriously limited the shapes and values – trying to get down to something essential. A few are more developed. Some are abandoned – a trail I didn’t follow because I lost interest or got a better idea while I was working.
Once you get in the habit of recording and working out your visual ideas this way, it becomes automatic and your sketchbook becomes a rich repository of ideas that you can use (together with memory and imagination) for years to come.
P.S. Our six week online class Drawing the Landscape is designed to give you the tools to draw and sketch in the field and studio with confidence, both improving your plein air paintings and leading to better, finished work in the studio. Join us!