Guide to Thumbnail Sketches

These videos explain and demonstrate the process of how thumbnail sketches work within the artistic process. ‘

78 min video

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
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.
Aaron Tveit Moulin Rouge Fan Art, Composition, Thumbnail Sketches

I think it’s somewhat a time management thing; if you can get lots of thumbnails out, you’re actually targeting the objective with the thumbnails so that you can get to the final painting quicker.

If your thumbnails aren’t really focused on the composition, and you’re thinking about color and brush technique, in a way that’s delaying your ability to get to the final piece.

Prof Lieu
Jordan McCracken-Foster
Jordan McCracken-Foster

Thumbnails: Line

Christine, Attagirl, Erica, M. TordyWadalafer, Cat Huang, Woodcut tutorial thumbnails, Ashley Tanelle, Crissie B., Neil Espinosa, Jen Noelle, JenK, Bowsers, Ginger, Kaining Wang, Caterpillar illustration thumbnails, Joy Liu,

Thumbnails: Value

 EricaM. Tordy, JenK, Johanna, Sarah Bernhardt cookies thumbnails, Neil Espinosa, Ashley Tanelle, Helen Cook, Bowsers, Sarah C. McGill, Portrait Painting thumbnails, Cynthia, Wadalafer, Oil pastel landscape thumbnails

Thumbnails: Color

Fan Art Draw Along, Expressive Color live stream, Erica, Crispy, M. Tordy, Creature design thumbnails, Johanna, Radish monotype thumbnails, Neil Espinosa, Sarah C. McGill, Crispy, Jordan McCracken-Foster, Gouache tutorial thumbnailsl, Ginger, Ashley Tanelle, Wadalafer, Purple/Yellow still life thumbnails, Soft pastel cookies thumbnails, Triplegem

Prof Lieu’s Tips

Clara cartoon

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!

Services Discord gif

As a free educational source, Art Prof uses Amazon affiliate links (found in this page) to help pay the bills. This means, Art Prof earns from qualifying purchases.