Guide to Thumbnail Sketches

This video explains and demonstrates the process of how thumbnail sketches work within the artistic process.

There are many benefits of thumbnail sketches: they can save you time when working on a final piece of artwork and allow you to explore more options for composition.

Landscapes Track: Repeated Objects, Atmospheric Perspective, thumbnail sketches

The demonstration shows simple strategies on how to crop or expand your thumbnail sketches and how to diversify your options. Demo and discussion led by Art Prof Clara Lieu and Teaching Artist Cat Huang.

Jordan McCracken-Foster, banner
Jordan McCracken-Foster

Video Walkthrough

  • Thumbnails will save you time!
  • Planning out compositions is more efficient.
  • You can work out mistakes in thumbnails very quickly.
  • Thumbnails need to be small, about palm sized.
  • Don’t add details to thumbnails
  • Industries like editorial illustration require thumbnails.
  • Start with about 5 thumbnails.
  • Use any media that is useful to you in your thumbnails.
  • Be sure the aspect ratio of your thumbnail matches the final art.
  • Don’t draw a grid and fill in your compositions, it’s too confusing.
  • Draw a literal rectangle for each thumbnail with space around it
  • “The first mark is the 5th mark.”
  • Tweak your thumbnails by cropping and expanding.
  • Mixing digital and traditional media for thumbnails is useful.
  • Viewfinders are a concrete, physical way to see composition.
  • Larger sketches that show value and color can help with the final art.
  • Getting feedback on your thumbnails from others is useful.
Jordan McCracken-Foster, banner
Jordan McCracken-Foster

Thumbnails: Line

Bowsers, Ginger, Kaining Wang, Cat, Joy Liu, JenK

Thumbnails: Value

Bowsers, Sarah C. McGill, Helen Cook, Prof Lieu, Cynthia, Wadalafer

Thumbnails: Color

Jordan McCracken-Foster, Gouache tutorial thumbnails, Ginger, Ashley, Wadalafer, Prof Lieu, Triplegem

Prof Lieu’s Tips

I don’t think I have ever said to a student (in person or online) that they showed me too much in terms of their preliminary sketches, second or third attempts on a drawing, their reference images, and more.

Pen & Ink Drawing, Song Kang
Dip Pen Drawing with Ink & Markers

If anything, most of the time I am telling students that I want to see more of their process. Often I can get insight on their thinking from looking at their thumbnail sketches!

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