Preparing a Thumbnail Sketch

Successful watercolor painting takes planning. Even the most impatient painter should take the time to plan by doing a thumbnail sketch. These quick, scribbly-looking, small sketches take only a few minutes and can save lots of grief later on when the painting is in progress! Much of your composition and value decisions can be finalized by developing a few little thumbnails. Working through your thumbnail sketching process will help you to see things that you might not see until later in the painting process, when it is too late to correct it. So, how do you begin?

First think about what view of your subject you want to portray. Do you want a close up view? A traditional view with a horizon line just above or just below the center point? Do you want to show only part of the image or do you want lots of “background” around the object? Try several quick little sketches to see what might please your eye.
Next decide if you want to paint your subject in a horizontal or vertical format. You may do a quick, scribbly sketch to see what might look nicer. Or, you can simply draw a vertical, horizontal, or square quadrangle around your image area.

Remember to use your viewfinder (a small piece of card stock with a rectangle cut from the center) to help you decide and isolate the objects that appeal to you.

Once you have a very simple line sketch of your layout or composition, check it by using the 3/4 Rule. Draw two vertical lines and two horizontal lines equidistant in the image area. Your focal point, or point of interest should not fall exactly in the middle of the picture plane, but should rest near one of the points where the lines intersect.

Then, start working in values. You can use your value chart and actually number the areas one through six, or just use your pencil to scrub in the darker values.

A Value Chart is a simple set of squares painted with pigment that ranges from dark to white. I make one that is about 3 by 10 inches with six equal squares in a row. I first paint the number 6 square with the darkest mixture of French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna that I can make, and keep it transparent. Then I add water and continue to paint each square lighter than the previous one, leaving the number 1 square white. After this dries, I punch a small hole in the center of each square. This is a great measuring guide for values.

Classes will begin again in January. Check out my website for more details: http://watercolorworksart.com/Classes

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