Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thumbnails & Value Studies

I'm posting this one with some hesitations (since it's not a painting), but hopefully it will be of interest or value. Yesterday I busied myself planning the next watercolor for my Monday night class. I almost always do thumbnail sketches and value studies for my watercolors and occasionally for my oils.

Here's the process: I find my painting within the photo by moving little mat corners or strips of paper around on the photo to "frame" a design. Using a Papermate Flair pen, I make little sketches-maybe 3x4" or smaller, moving shapes around to fine tune the design. I pay attention to line, pattern, shapes, and how the picture space is divided into larger shapes. (The design chosen here is from the center of the photo reference.)

Next I make the thumbnail I like into a value study planning out where my darks, lights and mid-values will be. I may do several of these. I try for unequal amounts of dark, light and mid-values. I like to think of the design as the skeleton (support) and the value pattern as the soul the painting. When I paint, I'll follow what I've planned here more than what the photo tells me.
I learned this from several very good instructors along the way. There are probably many of you out there that do something like this. For me, if my design and value pattern are not strong, I might as well not waste my time painting it!

Next I'll come up with a limited palette of colors for a harmonious painting. That will be another post WAY down the road.
Speaking of road, we're headed off to San Francisco tomorrow just for fun. I'm taking my camera but not my paint...ouch! It's time to celebrate our 37th anniversary! I'll post if I can.


  1. This is a great post! I love doing these too and also have been taught this by several good instructors. I love seeing this kind of post along with your fabulous paintings too! Thanks and have a wonderful trip!

  2. Congratulations on 37 years!

    I really enjoyed your post. No one has ever taught me how to plan out a painting. I just sorta start painting. Really great information!

  3. Thanks for this post, Karen . . . am having such a hard time lately and this gives me a step to pause and prepare. I'm usually too impatient and just want to mix some paint but this would be good discipline and may help in rewiring my haywire brain lately. Congrats on your 37th!


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