Thumbnail For Watercolor Painting Success

On a beautiful spring day last year I sat on the banks of a riverbed in my town.

The babbling brook was so soothing that eased my tired mind.

I sat in awe of the lush beauty hidden away in my community.

I faced west looking down into a canopy of trees bent gently over the riverbed. “I want people to see this beauty”, I thought. How do I communicate all of this with a small watercolor painting?

Many times I have been stumped by the scene in front of me.

Many times I have wished I could just start over in a different frame of mind.

The only real solution to this mentality of “Oh No!” is to prepare.

I have talked about Complete A Watercolor Composition Before You Paint It before. Yet, there is one step I often leave out of instruction…thumbnails.

Thumbnails are powerful and effective for solving the present issues even before you draw, yet most people will not understand this without some sort of background in drawing. Therefore, I take my students to the small composition drawing.

Thumbnails will not solve your detail problems, but they will safeguard you from losing sight of the overall composition while you are painting it.

Below you will see a couple of examples of thumbs for this painting and then you will see the painting.


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A thumbnail is a small sketch used to emphasize values and the primary visual focus of your piece. Most of the time they are not measured and are so small that only the artist can recognize the content. You will need to do these things to be effective while working with them:

  • Impact is most important
  • You can use dark values for emphasis
  • Use abstract shapes
  • Details must be minimal or nonexistent
  • Keep your point of interest the focus
  • Juxtapose each scene- It makes different emphasis each time
  • Try an outline of shapes if the values aren’t working
  • Create a lot of compositions quickly and solve problems quickly

If you are completely stumped in your painting process return to square one with this process. If you are not too far along they will generally solve your problem.

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