One of the great leaps I took in my work was when I internalized the idea that writing and drawing, at their best, are about thinking on the page.
The mistake I used to make was thinking that I had to have an idea in my head before I started making marks on the page. More often than not, it’s the other way around: making marks on the page gives me an idea, which I then follow by making more marks, which gives me more ideas, and so forth.
Thinking this way is about setting up a loop between head and eye and hand and materials.
(You only need to watch Ralph Steadman draw to see an extreme version of what I’m talking about.)
Speaking of loops: I am repeating myself. Here’s what I wrote to you a few weeks ago:
Drawing isn’t a one-way street from your brain to your hand. It’s a two-way street BETWEEN them. Your hand making the line tells your brain as much as your brain tells your hand. You might try to “run a line around your think,” but pretty soon the line bolts and gets away from you.
Endless frustration for artists of all ages comes from thinking drawing is just about getting down what you see with your eye or in your mind’s eye. The drawing emerges from the friction between what’s in the mind’s eye and the materials — you can struggle with it or you can dance.
I started thinking about all of this again after listening to this conversation between Ezra Klein and Annie Murphy Paul about her book, The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain:
I write a lot in the book about how artists and designers and people who swear by the pencil and the conversation that happens between pencil and hand and eye and paper that, again, it’s kind of a misunderstanding to think that the brain conceptualizes an idea or an image and then tells the hand how to execute it and then it’s done. That’s a very computer-like idea of how work happens. Instead, artists and designers find that it’s much more of an iterative process where they draw something. They make a mark, and then the mark reminds them of something. And they add another mark. And it’s a conversation, again, between hand and eye and paper and pencil. And I think the materials we use to do our thinking with, our external outside the brain thinking, can make a big difference in terms of what kinds of thoughts we’re able to have.
I want to show you some examples of how this actually works for me.
I bought some turquoise ink to refill one of my magic brush pens, and when I started writing with it, it still had a lot of black in the brush, which slowly turned lighter and lighter until the turquoise appeared, and provided me with a delightful metaphor:
Sometimes you just have to write your way out of the dark into the light.
I soon got to thinking about how I could use the black and blue brushes together…