Tip #132 – Using Thumbnail Sketches – Part Two

As promised, a wee bit more on using thumbnail sketches!

Of course they are useful (and quick, and paper-saving), when you’re planning just what you want to do. Whether you’re working in your journal, planning a more formal painting, or even doing a mural size work, some small, very quick studies can firm up your thinking and save you time. Last time we mentioned choosing a format – horizontal or vertical, etc. – planning a composition, and working fast. (See Art Tip #131)

Personally, I don’t like to plan TOO much ahead, doing numerous detailed studies; it kills the spontaneity for me – so thumbnail sketches are just right.


This kind of small, quick sketch is really useful when you’re traveling, too. You may not have a lot of time as you zip through in a car or train (or in a plane! I’ve often sketched from plane windows…) You may be traveling with others who prefer to shop, golf, surf, fish, rock climb, hang glide, visit galleries – so you may feel rushed and perhaps even frustrated. Well, how long does a thumbnail sketch take? You’ll be surprised at how they can call up the memories of a time and place, with a few well-placed lines.

Helps you decide what you want to focus on for a larger work, too!


What colors do you want to use for your finished work? Sometimes working on the spot tempts us to try to exactly reproduce what we see — and we may overwork it, trying too hard. A quick color sketch or two, capturing different moods or themes, can really help in the long run. Try out a few options!

And of course sometimes all you have time for is a tiny color sketch … the middle one was from memory at a stop light, the bottom was a fleeting sunset. Working small IS faster…

As you saw last time, our friend Steve Penberthy sometimes does a few thumbnail sketches right in the margin of his field sketch…it’s handy and a really nice graphic effect. See more of his work.

I’d love to have you visit my newly re-born artist’s blog, my Etsy store  where I’ll be offering some of the demos from my classes, my catalog, where you can find instructional CDs and downloads for artists, or drop by for a visit on Facebook! Check out my YouTube videos for lots more art tutorials.

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