SketchingNow Thumbnail Challenge

June 15, 2020 | 4 Comments

As part of the lead up to the return of my SketchingNow Watercolour On Location course, I’m sharing a number of free intro lessons which explain the main concepts of the course. These intro lessons contain some exercises to help us sharpen some essential drawing and painting skills.

But in addition to the original exercises (filmed on location and designed to be done outside) I’m hosting a free mini challenge this week – SketchingNow Thumbnail Challenge – which can be done from home.

Last year when I ran Watercolour On Location for the first time, a lot of people shared their struggles with doing thumbnails, so I thought it would be great just focus on this technique for a week.

This challenge will involve some really simple thumbnail exercises – focusing on seeing important edges and big shapes. These thumbnails can be done in 15 minutes and can be done in conjunction with other projects, courses and challenges. For example if you are doing the 30×30 Direct Watercolor Challenge, these exercises will help you think through your daily painting.


DAY 1:

For the first day of the challenge I went out to my new favourite sketching spot in my local area – Swain’s Gardens. It is full of beautifully designed terraces and steps. It was the perfect place to test myself with some quick and rough thumbnails.

It was really good just to focus on edges and relationships and not worry about all the other aspects I have to balance to achieve a successful sketch. There were some really tricky curves angles and perspective and I’m excited about future sketches which I can do in this place by some more careful design and composition – things we look at in Watercolour On Location. But even doing this exercise of just simply recording the important edges and their relationships to each other has created some very interesting compositions.

I also did some sketching for my Virtual Trip – in Florence – using Google street views These are more developed thumbnails but were completed in 3 minutes each. I was able to do all four while having an afternoon coffee which was nice! Note: I have worked really hard over the years to be able to work this fast!

They are much more standard compositions than the garden ones above – buildings and standard street views.

I marked up a scan to show you what the first few edges were.

It’s amazing how satisfying a few simple thumbnails are!

So… I’d love to hear from you….

Do you use thumbnails?

Do you struggle to do thumbnails? Do you draw them too large and end up putting too much detail into them?


  • Joanne McCabe says:

    Liz, I greatly appreciate the supplemental videos and assignments for indoor objects like teapots and boxes. With COVID and civil unrest in the US, working outdoors is not always safe or prudent at present, and may not be for some time to come. Hopefully those constraints won’t last forever, but it’s nice (and calming!) to have additional ways to explore the ideas in the meantime. Thank you! Thank you!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Joanne – I know that it is not possible or advisable for some people to go outside sketching at the moment, so I’m happy to provide alternatives. stay safe!

  • Barbara Gabriel says:

    This was very helpful, especially seeing your first lines on the elements and those relationships.

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