The main purpose of my trip to Yellowstone was to paint. With all the drawing I’ve been doing, I was really looking forward to having some time to focus on oil painting. But when I sat down to do my first painting in Yellowstone, I felt like I had to relearn painting techniques. It took a few attempts to establish a comfort level. What really helped me were my thumbnail sketches. Even thought they are hastily done, they enable me to understand my subject better, find the large shapes and consider the value patterns.
Sometimes when I find a subject I like, I’m not sure how much of the scene I should include. One of the things that caught my attention in Yellowstone were the little creeks that meander through the meadows. They’re charming. Initially I thought this subject would be all about the creek and just suggest trees in the background. But with the help of the thumbnails, I decided it would make more sense to show more of the trees and the distant hills. From the two sketches below, you can also see that I tried slightly different shapes and treatments for the creek.
Of course, once I jump into the painting things change a bit more.
Another way to zero in on what to include in a painting is to draw the whole scene, then add lines to consider various crop possibilities. This one is admittedly messy. But then at the time I had no thought I’d be sharing these with the world. Now you know the truth. I do REALLY fast thumbnails because I want to get painting before the light changes. Even though these sketches are fast and messy, they are hugely beneficial. By taking a few minutes to consider shapes and values, the paintings are off to a good start.
The scribbles turned into this:
I know I’ve talked about thumbnails before but I thought you might like to see how they relate to paintings. For a large complicated drawing, I might do a series of thumbnails to plan the composition. For general sketching, I usually jump in and develop the design as I go.