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. For me, thumbs are the place to work out visual ideas, to search for and find the structure of a painting. As such, I invest enough time in them to explore the idea, but not so much time that I try to turn each one into a perfect little drawing, and thus limit the time I have to look around for other ways to express the idea.
Thumbs are thinking visually. That’s all. They are like first drafts of my painting- those first steps toward finding the right structure for my visual idea.
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.
Working out my visual ideas this way has become automatic and my sketchbooks become a rich repository of ideas that I can use (together with memory and imagination) for years to come.