As an artist, it is my duty to over think things, and then do my best to blow them all way out of proportion. This skill is particularly useful around 11 PM the night before all final artwork is due, although it also works well at the dentist’s office. Has this tooth been giving you any problems? I don’t know… should it be giving me problems?? Maybe it has, only I’ve been too busy to notice. Does caffeine have anything to do with masking the body’s natural pain mechanisms? Is this going to cost a lot? Can I leave now? You get the point.
Back in art school I once heard a classmate say that the artist’s job was to find beauty in nature, re-arrange it, and then simplify it. Pretty lofty stuff. I still believe in that simplifying thing though, and do my best to live up to it. But I’ll tell you. Every now and then one gets away from me, painting that is. And before I know it, I’ve blazed right past the simplifying part and straight on through to the over-baked, complicated part. Over thinking rears it’s ugly head again. Tragic.
Enter, the thumbnail sketch: the artist’s best friend. The great, cut-to-the chase, right-to-the-point, flawlessly executed, enough said, equalizer. Embedded in this little monochromatic masterpiece is an idea that came straight from The Gut. (Listen to your gut, it knows what it’s talking about!) Right from the gut, I say. Free of all the second-guessing, which can only turn a good idea into just pretty picture without a point. That’s so sad. (That’s where they get wallpaper, you know.) A quick thumbnail sketch makes it easy to be bold and daring. And it doesn’t cost much, either. It only took me about 30 seconds to get this idea down, and truth be told, I was already on to the next one before this one was finished, and then the next, and the next. And the next, until… I just can’t leave this one alone. Eureka!
I love thumbnail sketches almost as much as I love painting, sometimes more. They’re what my paintings aspire to be when they grow up… a worthy goal.
Here's one of my favorite thumbnail sketches from a book I illustrated titled Papa's Gift.