Last week I spent a lot of time thinking about thumbnails as a result of the first lesson of my current online course – Watercolour On Location.
I rarely use thumbnails in my own work when I am out urban sketching but I often use them when I teach as they are the best way to explain my thought process.
I like to work spontaneously and I want my sketches to be the first response to a scene, so I’m often keen to just start. I have developed a number of techniques (such as starting with the focus and starting with the darks) which enable me to work in a way that encourages making decisions on the fly. I love this way of sketching as it’s all about discovery and risk-taking – I’m not afraid of producing an unsuccessful sketch. But if I was more concerned about producing consistently good results, I would always do thumbnails.
I think your attitude towards thumbnails is related to how you define sketching. Many of my urban sketching friend’s ‘sketches’ are more like quick plein air paintings and I totally understand the need for a thumbnail if you are going to spend an hour or more on a painting. For me, ‘sketching’ is my initial response, so often the thumbnail IS the sketch.
In the first lesson of Watercolour On Location I explained a number of different thumbnails to explore different aspects of designing a sketch – story, position, important edges, big shapes and values. It was really interesting to hear the various ways in which people struggled with doing a series of thumbnails as a planning stage for their work. I’ve been aware of some of these issues for years, but it was great to be reminded of them.
Thumbnails should be small, working drawings focusing on the big picture issues but with enough accuracy to be a useful guide for the main sketch. The struggle for many people is that they are not confident with their own drawing/observational skills to be able to do a working drawing easily. They either:
- start drawing without thinking about the important elements (edges and shapes) and end up spending a lot of time producing a smallish sketch full of details.
- or else they rush, resulting in a thumbnail which is often too inaccurate to be useful.
Another issue is that doing the thumbnails can take away the time and the energy that people had for the main sketch.
Can you relate to these issues?
I truly believe that being able to do good thumbnails is a specific skill that needs to be developed. And so, I’m planning some bonus material inside the new course to address this.
- If I use thumbnails for the first (and second) sketch of the day, I’m reminded of the important issues and get into a rhythm of resolving them. I’m then able to think through these issues in my head without actually doing a thumbnail for the remaining sketches that to do that day.
- Sometimes it’s fun just to do the thumbnails study. I am finding that I then don’t need to do a main sketch as I have already adequately recorded the place.
- I’m really liking the graphic of thumbnails in my pages – either as a small element on the side of a page, or making a pleasing page of just thumbnails.
I have a lot more things which I could share but I’m leaving them for my video within the course.
Watercolour On Location has been my favourite course to run – I’ve been loving all the great work done and the amazing questions and comments each week. It’s been so wonderful to get beyond the ‘what brush are you using’ type of questions to the really important issues of composition, design, value and story-telling. My creative brain is getting a real workout and I know that when the dust settles it will do good things for my own work. If you are doing the course – thank you for making it so special!!
And BTW, I’m closing enrollment to the course in a few days time so I can fully focus on working through the lessons with this incredible group. The course will not be available until the second half of 2020.
However, right now, I would really love to hear from you:
- If you are a beginner, what do you struggle with when it comes to thumbnails?
- If you are a more experienced sketcher – how often do you do thumbnails? When do you decide to do them and how long do they take (thumbnail vs the main sketch)?
I can’t wait to read your comments!