Thumbnail Sketches for a Landscape

This video is a demo of how to draw thumbnails using several reference photos to create an original composition.

5 min. video

See the process of how to merge the reference photos to create a dynamic landscape that shows depth. Demo led by Art Prof Clara Lieu.

Landscape Thumbnail Sketches
Thumbnail sketches in colored pencil
Oil Pastel Landscape Drawing
Oil pastel landscape drawing

Video Walkthrough

  • Be sure to draw a literal rectangle for each thumbnail sketch so that you are very aware of the edges and corners of the composition.
  • Emphasizing the trees in the composition to create a sense of structure within the landscape.
  • Adding value to your thumbnail is necessary for this image, which is more impressionistic.
  • Merging multiple reference photos to create an new landscape is a surefire way to make that the work comes across as original.
  • Be conscious of the foreground, middle ground, and background.
  • Atmospheric perspective is a great way to achieve a sense of depth in a landscape.
  • Take the time to notice what are the parts of the reference photos that you as an artist are attracted to, and how you can emphasize that.
  • Copying the reference photo verbatim means that you’re not really composing as an artist.
  • If your final art media will be in color, it’s good to do a thumbnail with value, and then to follow up with a thumbnail in color.
  • Break down the landscape in terms of patches of value to organize it.
  • Divide up the space with the value to create different “pockets” of space in the composition.
  • Look at the direction of the trees, the bushes, the hay in the landscape and show that in your drawing.
  • When choosing the thumbnail to use for your final artwork, sometimes a process of elimination can be helpful.
  • You can create thumbnails that are variations of other thumbnails to do slight adjustments.
  • Don’t be afraid to expand your thumbnail or crop it as you are sketching.
  • Consider how to merge your reference photos, don’t just place them side by side.
Clara Lieu
Watercolor in Utah: Widstoe Cemetery

Prof Lieu’s Tips

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It’s common for people to know about thumbnails, but generally speaking, most people have very little experience.

From what I have seen online, there aren’t a lot of reliable resources that provide a comprehensive look into the process as well.

Clara Lieu
Watercolor in Utah: Widstoe Cemetery

Or, people know about thumbnails, but don’t think they are necessary. When I was at RISD it would take me sometimes the entire semester to convince students that thumbnails can be incredibly useful, and that they can actually save you time long term!

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