How To: Thumbnail Sketches

August 22, 2017

To make great art, you usually want to have a plan, and while sometimes you improvise and come up with one as you go, you’ll normally want to start with a thumbnail sketch.


Thumbnail sketches are small, very rough, sketches that help to firm up the composition of a piece. Because they are so small they are quick and easy to do, so it’s easy to brainstorm a lot before you get started.


Here’s how I do my thumbnail sketches for the best results.

Step 1: Get your materials ready


Thumbnail sketches only require paper and a writing utensil. If you have a sketchbook, it is probably easiest to draw them there so they are easy to find.


Usually there is no need to erase thumbnails since they tend to be a little messy by nature, so using a pen is fine if you don’t have a pencil on hand.


Step 2: Box it out


Create a space that will represent the dimensions of the final piece, if you will be working on a square, circle, etc. The measurements don’t need to be perfect, but it is best if the space is roughly proportional to the final piece, this will make the thumbnail more useful to transfer.


You can create intersections to split up the space in order to plan the dispersion of what you will be drawing. This can help balance positive and negative space


Step 3: Create Lines of Action


When creating a piece, you normally want to consider how the viewers’ eyes will be carried when they look at it. Creating lines of action can help you plan where to put elements and better your composition


Step 4: Start Sketching


Thumbnails are much more similar to sketches than to finished drawings, so keep loose and try to work lighter to darker so that information doesn’t get lost.


Create multiple thumbnails for the same piece, this will give you options and help you make the best finished product.


Step 5: Instant Gratification        


Sometimes you want some instant gratification, and to get a better preview of what your finished piece will look like. You can do this with your thumbnails by adding values or small details.


These are all the steps that I use when I’m planning out a piece, and I hope that they help you! Just remember no matter your skill level, by doing things as small as thumbnails sketches every day, you can get better!


If you have a sketch or drawing that you’re proud of, you can post it on Instagram with #mxfeature so that I can see it! Once a week I’ll pick a random drawing and feature it on my stories.

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