I've been noticing a problem in how I approach the beginning stages of a design or an illustration. For a long time I've blindly meandered my way through designs and compositions, my mind always hazy or blank when it came to pre-visualizing something. Often it wasn't until halfway through a design (after I'd done my obligatory thumbnails and started the final rendering) that I decided whether or not I liked what I was working on. After a few years of working this way, I finally realized what my problem was. Those obligatory thumbnails.
The thing I learned from training videos, articles online, and all through art school, was that I was supposed to produce a generous amount of thumbnails before moving on to the final product. I did as I was told and I was almost always frustrated at the result. I just couldn't comprehend the fact that some artists use thumbnails to think. They form their ideas through these tiny drawings and keep going until they hit something that they like, making decisions and refining ideas as they go. What I noticed about myself is, I DON'T THINK WHEN I DRAW.
I'm just not one of those people who can develop an idea as I'm drawing. When I draw it's only to execute an idea I already had in mind. If I want to stop and evaluate a drawing, or decide what direction I should be going, then I have to STOP and evaluate it. So if I'm coming up with a character design, or figuring out how I'm going to compose a dramatic scene, then I have to take some time to day dream, and THINK, and imagine. It usually helps if I jot down a few notes about what I'm trying to accomplish. Am I going for a goofy character? A stoic character? A submissive weakling? Is the scene I'm drawing dramatic? Is it grand and imposing? Is it a moment of revelation? Once my goal is clear and defined, I close my eyes, or put on some music, and let my mind run around for a while. Or I go take a walk. Or for you smokers, this would be a good time to have a cig. Or take a shower. This is when the ideas flow. And THEN, after all that, it's time to thumbnail the ideas. At this point I usually have a clear goal in mind and it doesn't take very long to figure out the best way to execute it. The result is only a few thumbnails just to iron out a few kinks. I've found that this approach works best for me. A ton of thumbnails is next to useless for me, (except maybe to generate random shapes which is sometimes a useful exercise). It just goes to show that different approaches work for different people. This is an easy thing to remember, and something that we often forget.