Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thinking On Paper

-By Dan dos Santos

I happened across this wonderful excerpt from a 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' episode the other day, and I found it's sentiment to be really charming and surprisingly insightful as well.

Although the lesson he is trying to teach is ultimately about the importance of creating something, there is another remarkably astute observation within it...

"Now, I wouldn't have made that if I'd just thought about it."

I often times find myself laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking about what I'm going to paint. In fact, I was doing this just yesterday thinking about a painting I am going to do for an upcoming gallery show curated by Lauren Panepinto. Although I may come up with a good idea or two, it never compares to the ideas I get when I actually put pencil to paper, and let my thinking happen on the page.

When I am actually drawing, and not just thinking about drawing, I stumble across much more interesting concepts. I use that word, 'stumble', very deliberately, as it often seems to me that the best ideas are accidental and I just happen to be witness to them.

These sort of accidents don't happen the same way when you just think about your work. Drawing out your ideas, good or bad, helps you think of them in a more visual manner instead of just a cerebral/narrative one. I found myself making new connections between visual concepts that seem so obvious in retrospect, yet eluded me when they dwelled only in my head. I see the repetition of shapes more, edges matter more, an empty space feels more tangible, and what I choose NOT to draw becomes just as important as what I choose to include.

The process of physically drawing something engages not only your mind, but your eyes and your hands as well. It seems to me that all of this additional sensory input can't help but to inspire you better than just thought alone.

So I encourage you all, whether you work digitally or traditionally, the next time you are coming up with a concept, pick up a real pencil and do your thinking on the paper, not in your head.


  1. Fantastic post :) Few weeks ago tutors from my University pointed out to me that very often I have image of finished work in my head instead of trying out different concepts. I have realized that when I stop thinking about my final result, my work looks much more natural. Straight from the heart.

  2. Indeed. I find this both in art and in writing. I can work to play things out in my mind before touching a blank page, sure, but then at some point my thinking tends to run in circles and never gain momentum. It's way easier to put the ideas down and let them develop on the page.

  3. That's a nice coincidence, I was just thinking about that and wondering that I needed to think more before actually drawing, needed to built an image or concepts in my head first, otherwise I often end up reproducing the same kind of subjects or the same familiar shapes. Although I do agree on what you say too, and always would find new surprising things when the pencil touches the paper. I guess the way is somewhere in the middle, where it usually is.

    1. Hi Marie, I think that's a different issue, which I also deal with. When I begin drawing, I immediately begin drawing the same exact face, at the same angle for whatever dumb reason. It's probably just a matter of muscle memory and comfort. I find I have to draw through that old stuff to get to the new stuff. Whether you think about it, or simply draw trough it, I think the solution to that particular problem is being conscience of it and deliberately fighting against it.

    2. I get that, thanks for your insight ! I'll definitely be more conscious of this in the future. It's kind of reassuring actually, I'll know that the good stuff is behind next time I draw the same face (at the same angle, sadly) for the hundredth time. Thanks again.

  4. Ooh, keep us informed on the show Lauren is curating. Something to look forward to. I have never been one who is able to picture something in my head before doing it. Seems redundant to me anyway. And anyway if there is any magic is what we do it is when that eye, head, hand combo starts to work together. Think with your hand, see with your brain, and draw with your eyes or any mixture thereof. Hope you're having a great day in your neighborhood Dan.

  5. Thanks Dan, just the gentle kick in the ass I need today :)

  6. I"ve had some of my best works be fully realized in my mind's eye before pencil hits paper/canvas. I've also had some of my best works start out as giant pieces of crap but I kept pushing, kept ERASING (so important) and eventually worked that piece of crap into something I really like. For me, it can happen either way or a combo of both. One painting actually came to me in a dream, with split triad color and everything.

    Focal point is something I am trying to work into my work now... and for this former comic book artist, that is really, really hard as I used to delineate everything. Its coming, but it is not coming naturally yet.

  7. Great thoughts, Dan!

    I start all of my lectures about composition with this line:

    An artist thinks on paper.

    Wish I'd coined it, but the illustrators from the Famous Artists School came up with that one...over 60 years ago.

    This one I did come up with and have been saying it for ages: "Draw first. Think next."

    Keeps me moving!


  8. Oops! I just noticed the title to your post! Hah!

    My bad....