I don’t know of any art instructor that doesn’t advocate some sort of preliminary sketch, thumbnail or notan. Maybe you do, but I don’t. We should probably stop saying to ourselves, “oh, I can do it without a thumbnail”, or “I should be able to do it without a thumbnail”. Maybe we actually avoid them because we think we might have to draw, God forbid! Or maybe we’re just impatient and anxious to get starting. When we are painting in Plein Air (when a thumbnail counts the most), we can get even more impatient, I think because we know the light is going to change. Things are fleeting. I don’t know why they seem to be such an area of resistance for most of us when we would all make better paintings if we just got over it and did them!
Here are my top reasons for ALWAYS doing them:
1. They are a plan or a map – honestly who doesn’t need that? If you think you can just get from here to there with no guide, then more power to you but I know I definitely can’t!
2. They resolve the issues you might have in a painting and save you time, aggravation and MONEY! Again who doesn’t want to save time, aggravation and money? If you have an area of a piece and you haven’t resolved it ahead of starting, it’s not going to get any better in the final piece; it’s just going to get BIGGER! We can waste a lot of time and materials on near misses.
3. You can be more creative. If you spend just a few minutes to play with the arrangement of the shapes, you just might find yourself with a more exciting composition. After all, composition is just arranging stuff. That’s all. A 10 to 15 minute investment in a strong arrangement seems like a pretty good deal to me.
4. You can establish the overarching value pattern. This of course is something that goes hand in hand with the placement of the masses but it also will help you to make initial value choices and establish the mood and atmosphere of your piece. Don’t you want that too?
5. Creates a playground in which to play, be expressive and experiment with new ideas. Boundaries are good and they actually allow us more freedom. I want that!
A couple more hints:
1. Try out different tools – I like ball point pens because they can easily create a full range of value, they don’t smudge and you can find them everywhere so you don’t have any excuses not to be doing them!
2. Try out different kinds and sizes of sketchbooks until you find a couple that really suit you. I recommend a size that will easily fit into a purse or backpack
3. Do them as small as you can stand. You might have to work “up” to smaller ones. The main reason for this is that you want them to be quick!
4. Don’t get frustrated. Over time your drawing skill will get better and better and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll improve.
Let yourself get hooked on doing thumbnails in whatever form makes it click for you. You might just find yourself in an airport or enjoying a park bench on a sunny day passing the time discovering the beauty and wisdom of the thumbnail. If it does that, isn’t that cool? But I’m sure if it does that it will also inform and strengthen your painting in the process!
With Warmest Regards,