This is not the story of “Why” you should put pencil to paper. You should already know that starting with analog means concepts iterate much faster than going through digital rigmarole; which I equate to opening Illustrator, setting the art board, figuring out which tool to use, experimenting with the tool before switching to something else, etc. You probably can Google the reasons infinitum. Instead, let’s talk about the evolving “What.” What is your tool of choice when you create a concept—when you first put thought to paper?
In my early years as a graphic designer, my tool of choice for developing concepts had always been the stick of graphite. Now, it’s the permanent marker. Don’t get me wrong I love my pencils; they are absolutely great for sketching and drawing. I used pencils even before I could walk. I've used pencils to pass exams and to capture my favorite subjects. I've used pencils in pencil fights and, once, as make shift chopsticks. I will always use pencils at the appropriate moment. However, during concept development, I recommend something, a bit more, permanent.
Only recently have I discovered the power of the Sharpie (really, any permanent marker will do). I started at XPLANE December of 2006 and from that point on I’ve used a Sharpie to capture my ideas and thoughts. At first, it felt odd. It didn’t have the fidelity of detail I was used to. It was too bold and loud. And, most of all, I couldn’t correct my mistakes; I couldn’t erase it.
The Value of Permanence
The Sharpie was meant for concept work. Ideas weren’t meant to be erased. They weren’t meant to be forgotten. They were meant to be valued, added to, and iterated upon. A pencil line was too fragile to seem important. It could easily be smudged into obscurity. The marker, when given time, had lasting presence. Yes, water can deflate the mark’s appearance and prominence. (But then, you really shouldn’t have liquids near your work area.) The mark was a commitment to an idea.
The Value of Bold
The mark called for attention and stayed boldly in place. You could read it from across the room. I especially like the markers with fat tips for collaboration. In a brainstorm with other creative-minded individuals (which really was anyone on the team or in the office who had the stomach and time to brainstorm), using markers and sheets of paper resulted in ideas iterating quickly. The pencil’s flourish was too intimate. Individuals needed to be close to see the pencil’s whim. It was much more difficult to gather a group around to see a pencil sketch. The pen's mark, on the other hand, called for collaboration. It was big and bold. The group could stand around it and mark their own ideas down and add to the mix. In a way, it was like a game of cards. “I see your light bulb and raise you a lightning bolt.” But, unlike a game of cards, it was something you could build up and improve upon. The mark was meant to be seen by many.
The Marker is the New Pencil
When you’re in the throes of design and need to come up with ideas and concepts, don’t be afraid of the marker. Be bold. Collaborate. Iterate. But, most of all, commit.