The Secret of Thumbnails
...and Notan Thumbnails
Three Value Thumbnails
Computer Thumbnails
Recommended Books/Chart

What is a 'thumbnail'? Thumbnail sketches are used by artist to visualize the final painting. Also, to record the essence of a scene, artwork, etc. and to work out an interesting composition. Usually done quickly with a pen or pencil and no larger than an inch or two. The artist's shorthand that may not mean much to anyone else.
What is it not? A thumbnail is not a fully rendered pencil drawing. It is not a working drawing the same size as the final painting where the artist has worked out many questions about value, shape, edges, etc., what used to be called a 'cartoon'. It is not a full color mini-version of the final painting such as is done for important commissioned work. Not meant to be seen by anyone but the artist.
What do they look like?


More Painting Secrets:

The Secret of Values New
The Secret of Emotion

The Secret of Critiquing
The Secret of Composition

The Secret of Visual Idea
The Secret of Borrowing
The Secret of Tonalism 
The Secret of Style
The Secret of Maxfield Parrish

The Secret of Plein Air
The Secret of No Solvents
The Secret of Water Mixable Oils

The Secret of Thumbnails
The Secret of the Process
The Secret of Knife Painting


The bottom one is about 2" high x 1 3/4" wide.
Notice the notes. These are on light gray paper.

Why not just take a picture? The camera records everything without discrimination. In a thumbnail you must decide what is most important and eliminate the rest. This is the first step in the creation of a work of art...Simplification. Going from real world profusion to 2D design is a major transformation.
What are they for? Memory aid and planning tool. They can help you remember important features of a subject, why you found it interesting or beautiful. Also great at museums to remember paintings you liked. They can be used to try many compositions quickly. The first one is almost never the best one.
How are they made? Hold in your mind the initial flash of excitement that caused you to get out your sketch book. Might help to jot down a word or two first about that feeling. Draw a rough rectangle. Depict your idea in a very simple sketch. Outline the major shapes. Ignore smaller shapes and details. Try squinting to see only the big shapes. Imagine how it would look as a painting.

Try likely variations, learning and improving from sketch to sketch. Establish roughly the location of major elements.

What sort of notes are useful? Start with the emotional content...tree emerges mysteriously from fog...majestic mountain scrapes the sky...magical alpine glow...light flows across from left to right. Note relationships, contrasts, weather, sounds, smells. Whatever might help bring back the experience.
Why bother? I want to get right to the painting. Do it because it will save time in the long run and you will end up with a better painting. Sometimes you see the idea so clearly there's no reason to do a thumbnail. If you've been painting for years outdoors you may have found a way to do the exploring right on the canvas with just a few light strokes of the brush. That's what I do on location. For larger studio work I still do many trial compositions on paper or on the computer. Most beginners would benefit greatly from thumbnails.
Why don't mine help? It's a skill that has to be learn by doing. The beginning painter may get very little benefit at first because having never painted he isn't able to imagine how his idea will look translated to paint. The more he knows what can be done with paint and what works, the better he can plan a painting and the more useful the thumbnail becomes.
When it's done, then what? Set it so it is easily seen. Use it as a guide for sketching your subject on the canvas. Make  refinements as you go.


Notan Thumbnails

What is a notan thumbnail? When used in paintings, a Notan drawing is the underlying light and dark structure.

Seeing Notan is the act of identifying patterns of light and dark. A good Notan drawing will simplify the full range of a subject’s values into a black and white design—the white represents areas directly in the light, while the black depicts areas in shadow.

For a more complete explanation:

Where does 'notan' come from? A Japanese design concept involving the play and placement of light and dark next to the other in art and imagery. This use of light and dark translates shape and form into flat shapes on a two-dimensional surface. Nōtan is traditionally presented in paint, ink, or cut paper, but it is relevant to a host of modern day image-making techniques, such as lithography in printmaking, and rotoscoping in animation.
What's the purpose? Make better compositions.
What does one look like?


Three Value Thumbnails

What's it look like?

What is it? The white of the paper, black and a gray made with hatching lines.
What about more than three values? Here's one with black, white and two grays...from a Degas painting. More than five values and you begin to loose the simplification...not recommended.


Computer Thumbnails

What do they look like?


How do you do that?

1. Start with a photo of Alisa Wielerstien taken last Saturday night, April 4, '09, at the Fox in Spokane. She's an amazing soloist and prodigy.

2. Convert to gray scale.

3. Posterize - 2 colors...greatly simplifies the image, makes it much easier to see the structure and make changes..

4. Edit...

5. Or posterize - 3 colors.

6. Edit.

7. Change from low key to high key by adjusting the brightness and contrast..

8. Select areas and fill to easily explore color options.



Recommended Books/Chart

How can I learn more?

Recommended books/chart: 








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