Quick Thumbnails Are Fun

When I took Liz Steel’s Foundations course she sat down at one location and showed us how she occasionally draws half a dozen thumbnail sketches of different scenes in the area.  I didn’t give it much thought as it always seemed to me that urban sketching was more about making a choice, drawing it immediately, and moving on, making thumbnails somewhat redundant.

Shari Blaukopf talks about thumbnail value sketches in her new watercolor landscape course on Craftsy.  I think this is a more typical use, with the end result being a watercolor painting using one of the thumbnails as the basis for the painting.  Again I thought it not for me.


2015-06-11Thumbnails2But I’m still entrenched in my mustache notebooks and when I was out walking the other day I decided to do a bunch of thumbnails as I walked around Quebec City.  The notebook is 4×6 but the thumbnails were typically half the page so they were quite tiny.  I used a mechanical pencil to do them.  And you know what?  It’s FUN!!!

2015-06-11Thumbnails3Obviously this isn’t great art; that’s not the goal.  But it’s really fun to spend no more than a minute or two scribbling down some lines that kinda-sorta looks like the scene before you.  Maybe I’m supposed to be having deep thoughts during the process but, frankly, nothing could have been further from my mind.  Or maybe it’s that my mind couldn’t have been further from the process.  I was just scribbling.


I’ll be doing more of these but I probably won’t be using a pencil.  I’m not an eraser guy so I don’t need to use pencil and I simply prefer ink because it doesn’t smear as my hand moves across the paper.   Thanks to Liz and Shari, even if I didn’t get the msg the first time around.

Oh, and I did do a more formal sketch of one of these.  This one was done in a Stillman & Birn Gamma (10×7) with my Namiki Falcon.



2 thoughts on “Quick Thumbnails Are Fun

  1. Since I discovered urban sketching about a year ago, have been struggeling somewhat with the concept. In Swedish, sketch translates as “skiss” which is what you have been doing here, something very quick&dirty, done mostly for the artist’s own use, a kind of note to self. However, most of what passes for sketches in the urban sketching community is what I would call a “teckning”, which translates as drawing. Some urban sketchers make what I would call paintings, even. I even started calling fast sketches “snap drawings” on my blog, refering to snap shots, to stress that I did them without much thought and with very little time on my hands.

    I am often more attracted to this raw type of artistic expression than I am to fine paintings. Perhaps I find some kind of honesty there, and a sense of immediacy, or intimacy with the artistic mind. I really like what you are doing in you moustasche books!

    • Hi Victoria, thanks for taking the time to express your thoughts.

      Many artists “struggle” with the notion of calling a complete drawing a ‘sketch.’ It becomes easier if you realize that the notion that they are somehow ‘incomplete’ is but a definition within the fine art world where there are sketches that serve as information for finished drawings or paintings. But for a VERY long time, in other parts of humanity, sketches have been drawings that are done in sketchbooks. You see this from naturalists, scientists, art journalists and, urban sketchers.

      The drawing vs sketch is debated every once in a while and it’s a silly debate, regardless of language. Their definitions, even the classical ones, are not mutually exclusive. From Webster’s Dictionary:

      Sketch: a rough drawing….often used as a preliminary study

      Drawing: the art..of representing an object or outlining…by means of lines

      Notice that the first is defined in terms of function while the second word is defined in terms of its means of execution. Drawings are distinguished from paintings, not sketches. All sketches may or may not be drawings by these definitions depending upon how they are created. But if I use a fountain pen to draw my sketch, and then add watercolor to it, it’s still a ‘drawing’ by definition (representations by means of lines).

      Admittedly, urban sketching has taken on a decidedly, “if you did it on location it’s an urban sketch” and I agree with you, that there is a line that is often crossed and a lot of what we see is really ‘plein air’ painting. But one thing about urban sketchers is that “we use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles” (#5 of the USK manifesto).

      For myself, I draw with the time I have. Sometimes that’s two minutes, sometimes it’s two hours. I tell people I’m not an artist, and that I just draw stuff. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it (grin). — Larry

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