Thumbnail Drawings: The Itsy Bitsy Planning Tool (Online art lesson #34)

Studio Garden - Lilllian Kennedy

Daily Visitors To The Studio Garden. I think that these might be the babies that were born here this spring. (click on any image to enlarge)

Thumbnail explorations from the deer in the studio garden - Lillian Kennedy

Thumbnail explorations of deer in the studio garden - Lillian Kennedy

Once upon a time, so I’ve been told, a certain British landscape painter made field studies on his actual thumbnail (hence, the term).  Has anyone else heard this?

It’s an intriguing idea and I suggest looking at your thumbnail right now and thinking about how you could break the space into a few major areas to express  a  composition in a simplified manner.

Now doesn’t that make a 1″ x 2″ study seem big?

Thumbnails are fast and tiny shorthand drawings that artists  use to test and develop ideas. 

Lillian Kennedy  Pencil drawing of sunflowers.

Pencil thumbnail . I kept re-posing this group of sunflowers to study different looks.

They let you explore multiple options without pressure; in just a few minutes you can experiment with composition, subject, format, or colors.

You can “use your words” and write comments along side of your  thumbnail sketches.

Usually thumbnails are done as a group.

There are no rules on how to make a thumbnail sketch.

Use any media that inspires you.

Sunflower Thumbnail Drawings using Black and White China Markers - L Kennedy

Sunflower Thumbnail Drawings using Black and White China Markers - L Kennedy

pencil sunflower thumbnail drawing - Lillian Kennedy

thumbnail drawing in pencil - L Kennedy


Have at it, and let me know how it goes!


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7 Responses to Thumbnail Drawings: The Itsy Bitsy Planning Tool (Online art lesson #34)

  1. Jean in NH says:

    I love these. Wonder how they would frame up. Is there a second fawn, back end forward, by the umbrella?

    • Lillian Kennedy says:

      Yes, there is a second fawn in by the umbrella. I watched them both nursing this week.
      It’s a good question about how the thumbnails would frame up. As they aren’t standard sizes, they would be expensive to frame. Now that I am looking at these little thumbnails thinking of that though – they become more precious to me. It just goes to show you that seeing them as art vs. seeing them as thumbnail studies does change perception.

  2. Thanks for reminding us of this very useful tool. I was actually recalling just a couple of days ago how we used the thumbnail in the very first acrylic workshop I ever took with you. That day, I only very slightly changed the composition of the picture I was using as reference for the painting.

    I took a plein air workshop last year, and the fellow giving it makes several thumbnails in his sketchbook before commencing his actual painting. He worked out not only the composition, but the values as well. There was one location we were at that he decided to leave after making a few thumbnails, because he wasn’t happy with any of them. I found it a little inconvenient that day, but in retrospect–those little thumbnails saved him from spending time on painting a location he was actually unhappy with. Now, that’s what I call a useful tool! I definitely need to utilize these more. I still allow myself to study something and really think about it before I start a painting, but I’m sure my work would improve if I would do the thumbnails. I just never think about it. I know, I’ll make a sign to tape to my paintbox–don’t forget the thumbnail!!! 🙂

    • Lillian Kennedy says:

      Margaret, i hope that everyone will reread that second paragraph a few times; it drives home the point. Here’s the nut of it, “those little thumbnails saved him from spending time on painting a location he was actually unhappy with.” Aside from that – it is eye opening. When I started with the sunflowers, I was happy with the way that I had stuffed them in the vase, but as I switched them around, I kept seeing new things and getting new ideas.

  3. Tisha says:

    oh yes thumbnails have become a part of life thanks to you

    • Lillian Kennedy says:

      I need to do more of them. Sometimes I am in such a hurry to get on with the first composition that I see that I just plow into it. Usually, it would have been beneficial to have worked it out a bit before charging forward. Perhaps I can slow down and smell the thumbnails.

  4. Pingback: Step, Step, Masterpiece (Online art lesson #46) |

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