Drawing is Thinking; Painting is Feeling

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I remember once, while beginning a new character sketch for a book, realizing that I had drawn, erased, and then re-drawn the same line many times without rendering what I'd envisioned. Like re-reading a sentence in a book without grasping the meaning, I couldn't seem to find the essence of the line.

So, in an effort to refresh and eliminate distractions, I set down the pencil, stood up for a stretch and paused the podcast I'd been listening to.

Returning to the sketch again, this time in silence, the character's gesture and form eventually made way from my mind's eye to the pencil and paper.

Though it may seem obvious that the mental energy absorbed in digesting the podcast equaled less focused attention for drawing, this experience helped shed light on the degree to which drawing demanded all of my mind's attention.

In his book Drawing is Thinking, designer Milton Glaser, shares his internal dialectic in a series of drawings and illustrations which reveal a logic in drawing that underpins language and logic itself. 

In my experience, creative drawing is an expression that requires singular mental focus in order to speak clearly; while the language of color and paint may take root within a different realm of creative thinking.

While painting, I alternately find no distraction in listening closely to a podcast or audio book. Not only are these mental engagements not an interference, they are a welcome occupation for the 'internal critic' who might otherwise try to reduce form to a strictly material assessment, rendering a painting lifeless. Aside from keeping the critic busy, it can be helpful to employ the slant or peripheral view and the (much undervalued) eye squint to unsee or rather blur the details for a more intuitive, big-picture read of a painting. It can also help to ask questions like: Is this balanced? How does this feel? Does this speak?  

In other words: Does the objective thing have a subjective chance? Is there a counterpart of movement, breath, life?  

Though we may try to distinctly describe and perceive the faculties of the mind, we know they can't be parsed into neat territories. Nevertheless, the mediums by which we engage in creative thought can reveal things about the nature of art and reality. Drawing a new idea down from the imaginative attic may require a set of well-conceived stairs between the mind and the hand. Painting may build layer upon layer in staircases of color that elevate and emanate beyond any bannister or landing place.

Maybe any way we look at it:  Feeling thought.  Drawing color.  Picture word.  The real material of art is immaterial. 

The movement of the thread-of-thought-through-drawing and feeling-through-painting reveals aesthetic qualities about the creative fabric with which we weave: a fabric that is connective, elusive, continuous, and delightfully loopy.





Joanna Kaufman