Thursday, October 4, 2018

From Thumbnail to Color at Japanese Garden

10/2/18 Seattle Japanese Garden

This week my sketching-as-thinking class (my title for it, not my instructor’s) met at Seattle Japanese Garden, where the Japanese maples are beginning to turn. Although a few trees are ahead of the pack, most are showing just a blush of pale orange with the more brilliant hues yet to come.

The purpose of our visit to the Japanese Garden was to study how different our compositions might be in a formal garden where every planting has been designed by a landscaper’s vision compared to a more natural (and messy) location like the Arboretum. As before, I tried to make thumbnail sketches that would help inform me later “back at the studio” as to how to develop a full drawing based on photos (which is the intention of this type of sketching).

10/2/18 thumbnail
Spotting a lovely young maple with a large rock in the pond in front of it, I made a thumbnail of that composition (at right). When I thought about how to make the maple stand out from the wall of green behind it, I realized I’d have to darken the background behind the lighter colored maple. You can see in the photo (below) that the background is somewhat darker than the tree, but Suzanne concurred that I would have to really exaggerate the darkness to make the tree stand out. Likewise, I noted that in my thumbnail sketch.

After two-and-a-half hours in the garden, where the temps were in the mid-50s, and the sun darted in and out of clouds, we were all chilled. I was relieved that the class was over so that I could warm up, but I kept thinking about how that little maple glowed in the fleeting sunshine.

The others left, but I went back to the maple by the pond and decided that I would do my “back at the studio” sketch right away! It really helped to have done the “thinking” thumbnail while discussing the background with Suzanne because I knew how to approach the tree.

As I sketched, I remembered sketching the same maple just about a year ago (see below) from a slightly different angle. It’s gratifying to see that both my technique and composition have improved since then.

10/5/17 The same tree sketched a year ago.


  1. The little tree just pops with color! Lovely lines too!

  2. I'm glad you went back and did the color sketch using the thumbnail right away. I always find I like to do things when they are still fresh in my mind. Tina, your work has progressed so much since the sketch you did of the tree a year ago. Brava!

    1. Thanks so much, Joan -- I'm really happy that I've made progress!

  3. It's a challenge to me- painting what I want to see, not just what I see. Looks like your discussion with your teacher helped a lot.

    1. Yes, it did help. . . the trick is remembering it every time! ;-)


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