Sunday, August 11, 2019

Lessons Learned: Thumbnails

8/4/19 A small sketch in my own 'hood.

The Urban Sketchers Symposium is always an opportunity for learning, as is travel in general. Whether through taking formal workshops, talking with and observing other sketchers or simply sketching more intensively, my time in Holland taught me many things.

One was the value of thumbnails. It’s not a new lesson; I’ve probably learned it every time I’ve taken any class or read a book on drawing. This time, though, the lesson stuck for pragmatic reasons.

It started when I observed sketches that Sue Heston had posted on Instagram while she was in Paris before the symposium. She had made several pages of small thumbnail-like sketches and sometimes dismissed them as lazy, but I saw that they were an effective way to cover a lot of sketching ground while probably not taking much time. Several days later when I took workshops from Norberto Dorantes and Nina Johansson, both instructors emphasized the value of making thumbnails to try out compositional ideas before making larger sketches, and two lightbulbs turned on over my head.
Small sketches in Amsterdam.
Who says the thumbnails must lead to larger sketches? I could practice compositions at the same time that I cover more sketching ground. And when the temperature is more than a hundred degrees, the less time I spend on any one sketch, the better. Even if it was slightly more detailed than a typical thumbnail, each sketch took no more than a few minutes (these are all about 3 inches on the longer side). I enjoyed making them as much as larger ones. And the magic of these sketches is that regardless of size or duration to make them, they still prompt memories of the place and time as well as a larger sketch would. Travel sketching mission accomplished.

I enjoyed the thumbnail idea so much that I used it on one of my first sketches after I returned home. It helped to ease me back into my normal sketching routine again.

Next up: Weaning myself from the marker grisaille.


  1. Thumbnails are something I should do more often before painting, but I sadly don't. I like the idea of using them to sketch more.

  2. Like everyone else, I've heard the 'do thumbnails first' idea repeatedly. At least formally I've never figured out a way to integrate that idea into my location sketching which is more of a 'I'll draw that -> make sketch' process.

    The notion of just doing a bunch of thumbnails to capture an area makes a lot of sense and I guess I do that, since many of my sketches are simple. Still, I'd like to better integrate the idea into my sketching.

    1. The more I talk to seasoned sketchers, the more I learn that most use some form of thumbnails, even if they are very tiny sketches on the opposing sketchbook page, before getting to the "-> make sketch" part of the formula! ;-) I haven't integrated it either, but it's my goal.


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