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Thumbnail Drawings

Cat Sketch

Thumbnail drawings are a terrific shortcut to rapidly improving your drawings skills and confidence.

What is considered thumbnail size?
Anything that is one to two inches square is considered a thumbnail. You decide what size squares to construct on your sheet of paper.

It only takes a minute or two to create an image and any practice is good practice when you are learning to draw. I try to do a thumbnail sketch each night.

I don't know what it is but I gain a lot of confidence when I draw within such a confined space. Normally, I shy away from drawing animals but this cat sketch was created with the side of a pencil and it appeared effortlessly, or so it seemed.


I don't draw from life because it would take too much time to set up the lighting, arrangement and all the fiddling that is generally needed. That would be a deterrent and I would probably make an excuse to avoid it.

On the other hand, if I have some reference material all ready to go, it only takes a couple of minutes to do a thumbnail drawing and I'm finished.

So, gather together some books and even use junk mail to keep next to your sketchpad so that everything is handy. Whenever I see something I really want to draw, I place it in the pile because items of interest are an incentive to start the project as soon as possible.

Let Your Subjects Find You

Bird Sketch


Avoid drawing things that don't appeal to you. Drawing is all about pleasure - it is what you want to do.

You know your subject has found you when:

  • you think 'I can draw that.'
  • you look at something and you immediately start drawing it in your mind.
  • you aspire to drawing something like that. Stop aspiring, have a go and surprise yourself. Even if it doesn't turn out to the quality you would like, you have pushed another boundary and improved existing skills.

One of the benefits of being an artist is that you can omit certain things from a picture and, vice versa, you can also include things that aren't really there. You are in control.

These thumbnail drawings are the perfect thing to help you with your decision making!

Oh, and don't forget to make a note of where you copied the image from and the date. You can put that information on an adjoining page or on the back but be careful with that, the impressions from your writing can ruin your work on the reverse side.

Show No Fear And Show 'Em Off

Bridge In Miniature

Do you recognize this bridge drawing from my first Drawing Critique? Well, here it is again, only this time it's in miniature.

I get a lot of comments like 'How did you fit that into that little square?' Really, I can't answer the question because I don't know, somehow it happens miraculously. I clear my mind and let my pencil lead the way.

All you need to do is first lightly sketch your image into the square to make sure it all fits into that space. This initial light sketch will save you a lot of time.

Butterfly image
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Sketch of cat licking

I had a couple of goes to fit the cat in and to get the right proportions.

When I looked at it next day, I thought it was too long in the body. So, I erased his feet and drew them in again, closer to his body.

It's probably still not right but it looks alright to me. I am doing this sheet of thumbnail drawings for my own benefit, and I'm happy, so mission accomplished!

It's amazing what you see when you check your artwork the next day. Somehow, mistakes are more obvious so wait about 24 hours before declaring any piece is finished.

What Is A Thumbnail Drawing?

Thumbnail sketches are usually used by artists to quickly capture an impression or an idea, and then they transfer it onto a canvas later on.

I just love to draw them because they only take minutes to complete.

It's a good idea if you keep a handy sized notepad with you at all times, so you can sketch anything that takes your eye.

Tree Thumbnail

The examples you see here are roughly 1½ inches square on my paper.

Click here if you want to see my thumbnail page up to now.

Here is the remainder of my thumbnail drawings - that now completes my first page of thumbnails.

This is how the whole page looks.

Update:
It has given me great joy to learn that you are inspired by thumbnail drawings so thank you for your feedback.

I discovered that I prefer to cut an A4 gridded page in half because then I'm not so impatient to see the finished page. Half a page is much more do-able.

If you are interested, here are more for your browsing pleasure:

You are welcome to copy them, in fact I encourage you to at least have a go. When you finish, you feel this immense pride and satisfaction, truly there's nothing like it.

Here is a grid for you to save and print - see the directions below to keep this grid on your computer.

Directions For Saving And Printing The Grid

This printable grid will fill a standard sheet of letter paper (A4). It's better if you save the image to your computer first and then print from your files to keep it at the correct size.

You can print it straight from the page but when I did that, it reduced the size of the thumbnails to about one inch square which is too small for my liking.

To save the image, right click with your mouse on the actual grid. Select ''Save Image As'' or "Save picture as". A box will pop up, prompting you to select where to save the image on your computer. Pick which folder you want to save it to, or select 'Desktop', it's your choice.

You can make your own sketchbook to insert the printed gridded pages or you can cut it to size and paste the grid into your current sketchbook.

If you don't want to rule up paper, there is always to option to use grid paper especially for artists.

Bridge Sketch

As a rule, we should do thumbnail drawings before we attempt a larger version of anything and that way, you can judge what fits and what doesn''t.

A rough sketch helps to organize a layout and provides a solid foundation for your next illustration.

You donate a lot of time and energy into detailed artwork, so, if you do thumbnail drawings as homework beforehand, you ensure success the first time around with minimum frustration.

Find More Creative Activities

Lady Sketch

I joined the Creative Everyday Challenge which is organized by a lovely young lady named Leah.

There is no pressure of a committment of any kind, but Leah gives you great ideas to explore. I've really enjoyed it so you might, too.

I decided a quick thumbnail sketch would be my creative indulgence each day which is perfect for those days when you just don't get a chance to do anything else.

I find the best time is at night when all is quiet. With each small sketch, I'm taking tiny steps towards improvement.

If you take the time to experiment with thumbnails, you may find out more about your existing skills and that gives you impetus to continue challenging yourself. Besides, you have nothing to lose by trying.

When you examine your thumbnail drawings, you are observing your own unique way of expression.

Click a link below to view a good variety of pencil tips:

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