One of the most important steps in my process is the use of abstract studies. More commonly known as thumbnails, I prefer to think of these explorations as weighted heavily in the realm of abstraction where form and content merge together quite closely. 'Thumbnails' for me imply a miniaturized version of my final narrative/content, and this is not where I want to begin the creative process.
The intertwining of the abstract with a vague awareness of a narrative fosters a broader freedom for my imagination, freeing my visual sensibilities up from preconceived ideas about figure, ground, and details. I love to explore the relationships of pure form, geometrics and interlocking shapes like puzzle pieces, building off the flatness of the images and developing structure from those base blocks. Inevitably I wind up projecting realistic content into the forms I see evolving, but the initial structure derives from the free play of gesture, shapes and scribbles with my pencil and chalk. When I am at my best, I have only a very vague idea what the content of the image may become!
Following are a few pages from my sketchbooks, illumination the various stages and approaches taken to these studies. Some are obviously focused and suggestive of figurative forms from the start, while others are a pure play of abstraction. I never know what each image needs for its development until I put pencil to paper.
I think the way I develop and form my visions through this process of exploration of is one of the main reasons why I have stayed a traditional artist while the digital media has subsumed the illustration field. The idea in its abstract form is always in 'motion', vibrating like a string as I attempt to find its 'true' note. Aspects of the design and elements are constantly jostling against one another as they find a balance in my minds eye. Once chosen or realized with decisive stroke, color or detail, I move onto the next note tackling the entire composition until the 'song' is played. This act of making the gesture concrete is a way I proceed to finalize and express my intent in a work of art. Every phase of my process, from the abstracts, to the rough drawing, to a preliminary drawing, color study and into the final oils are all ratchets that keep me moving forward toward my goal of completion. The idea that the entire song can be kept in motion during the entire phase of the process does not work for me!
One of the greatest frustrations I now experience in my career is the lack of time to execute the successful compositions and content I am discovering within these abstracts. My sketchbook is filling with them! We are all inspired by the potential expressed in a study, so much could happen from that initial bud, and we are constantly humbled by the lack of satisfactory completion of that original ideal, but it is the pursuit of perfection which brings enthusiasm to my studio time. I gladly chase that fulfilling goal, even if it forever remains just out of reach...
Below are the sample pages, with the last image displaying the fruits (and even a couple award winners) of a few of those initial buds of inspiration.