Thumbnail Sketching: A Magically Simple Technique to Improve Your Art & Drawing Skill | Yasmina Creates | Skillshare

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Thumbnail Sketching: A Magically Simple Technique to Improve Your Art & Drawing Skill

teacher avatar Yasmina Creates, Artist & Creativity Cheerleader

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      The Basics


    • 3.

      Play Around


    • 4.

      Evolve Ideas


    • 5.

      Brainstorming & Refrences


    • 6.

      Other Uses


    • 7.

      Live Example


    • 8.

      Putting it All Together


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About This Class

This class is for artists, graphic designers, letterers, or anyone that creates visual work.

In this bite-sized class I will show you a very simple and easy to implement technique that will make your work more balanced, cohesive, and just plain better! I will go over many concepts and ideas and will provide you with a review worksheet and an exercise worksheet to practice what you learned.

By the end of this class you will have the power to level up your creative process, so enroll now and let's get started! :)

Meet Your Teacher

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Yasmina Creates

Artist & Creativity Cheerleader

Top Teacher

I strive to make every class the highest quality, information-packed, inspiring, & easy to understand!

Creating is my biggest passion and I'm so happy to share it with you!! :)

Stay connected & in the loop by joining my Newsletter! (Also get 3 free coloring pages! :))

Did you know I have a book on drawing CUTE animals? Check it out!

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1. Trailer: What if there was one invaluable tool that could make your art better? What if all that was required to use it was a piece of paper, a pencil, and your imagination? I'm talking about thumbnail sketching. This simple and time-tested technique can save you time and frustration. It will help you generate many ideas in a short period of time. You will make harmonious compositions and plan out the best illustrations or designs with a lot less effort. It can be used with anything that is visual, from illustration to character design, to website design, story boarding, lettering, graphic design, and more. It's very easy to learn and to implement. In this class, I'll go over everything you need to know to get started, from what it is to basic design concepts, keep in mind and explore two things you can play with and even how to use mind-mapping to brainstorm. There'll be many helpful tips and insights throughout the class, and I'll provide you with a review worksheet and a fun exercise worksheet to help you practice and see how you can make any idea into beautiful composition. By the end of the class, you should have a solid foundation to start your next illustration or design project from, and once you master this process, your work should become more cohesive, balanced, and interesting. So what are you waiting for? Enroll below and take your art to the next level. 2. The Basics: So what exactly is a thumbnail sketch? It's simply a small sketch that explores an idea, a layout, or a concept. It is used to plan out an illustration or design on a tiny scale so that numerous ideas can be visualized in a short period of time. So what are the rules? Well, there really aren't any, except to stay small so that you can do a lot of sketches. Your goal is to experiment and to find your favorite way of making thumbnails so that it feels more comfortable to incorporate it into your artistic process. Let's start with some simple examples and ideas. Here I drew cherries in a stylized and semi detailed way without an outline of the page it'll be done on. In the next one, I made a simpler design using only basic shapes and then boxed it in to show the pages edges. In this one I started out in a doodle and sketchy style. You can be as messy as you want, and then draw in a circle background. The last one is how most thumbnails are drawn. Starting with the edges of the page or layout already defined and I have to draw within. I conveyed a lot of information with very simple lines and shapes. It's easy to see if the composition is balanced or interesting from the tiny doodle. So as you can see, you can make thumbnail sketches in any style and anyway you want. You make up the rules. You can use any supplies that you like and experiment to find your favorite way of working with them. Now let's go over some basic things that you can explore and should keep in mind in each tiny sketch. 3. Play Around: In these first two examples the cat is confined in a layout, and notice how one of the layouts is vertical while the other is horizontal. I can also play around with interesting ways to crop and can assess the negative and positive space easily with the small doodle. Another fun thing to play with is scale. You can make something bigger or smaller or even closer or further away. Don't feel confined to the rectangle or square layout, try using different shapes. The shapes could just be colored backgrounds or outlined on the page or you can cut your paper to final illustration. If you're a graphic designer in making logos or digital illustrations, then you don't have to box in your sketches at all. You see how the ear comes out of the triangle and so do the paws, little details like this make your composition much more interesting. Also notice how the cat in the circle is made up of straight and angular lines except for the paws until it stick out. This contrasts with the circle background. When you work small it's easy to put in cool little details that are actually very noticeable on the larger scale and harder to brainstorm on a bigger piece of paper. You can also experiment with color right on the page, whatever your medium. None of the things I have shown you are rules, they're just ideas. In the end you should do it your way whatever that might be. 4. Evolve Ideas: We now make thumbnails. I like to stay loose and just concentrate on the general shapes and lines. That's also how I sketch. So that's how it'll be throughout the class. It doesn't mean that you can't make yours perfect and detailed, that's up to you. Here I made a thumbnail on which a girl is on a swing set by a lake. Now I can play around with the idea and change as many details as I want. The second one, I flipped the image, then I changed it to someone sitting by the water and added mountains. Do you see how much information is conveyed with very simple lines? I made my final thumbnail large and that's good to do if you're exploring more detail. That the girl is fishing, the sky is more defined and I start putting in some values or darks and lights to see how the composition looks. When working on your thumbnail, pay attention to how your eyes travel around the composition and ask yourself, "What is the focal point or the most important thing that you want to stand out?" I can make the girl standout by omitting the background colors and making her dress red, for example. Just ask yourself simple design questions as you make these. Thumbnail sketching can be this simple. You can do more or less of them, that's up to you, but it's essentially an evolution of ideas. Now let me show you how you can do the same thing but with the reference or an object of inspiration. I use my little Buddha statue inspiration in each tiny drawing. I'm still keeping it loose and tiny but I'm playing around with perspective, angles, scale, and cropping. I like the second compassion drawing the most, so I tried it again with different cropping and a script type. Putting notes below your thumbnail is always a good idea and don't be shy in drawing on them. I really like the compassion idea the most. I'm going more into the sketching out first and then inking. I like the result but it wasn't perfect, so I tried a circle layout and was much happier with the hair, ear enhancing pair showing. Then I used a simple ink marker to show how I want the colors and lighting to look. I can do a few sketch of this and try out different color combinations or light sources. If you're a digital artist, you don't have to do this since it's easy to change colors on the computer, but if you're traditional like me, it's a great idea. To recap, I drew many different ideas and pick my favorite, then I refined it until I was happy with it. It's simple and quick, it's not supposed to be complicated, and adding the small process to your work will make you produce much better results. 5. Brainstorming & Refrences: Now let's talk about generating ideas. You can always get right into sketching but if you really don't know what to draw, a great way to start is by mind mapping. Mind mapping is simple. For example, I want to draw something with a wolf. So I write it out and start connecting ideas to it. Then I can connect more and more ideas to other ideas. I like the idea of wild flowers in a forest and then I think of a flower crown. It doesn't matter how silly the idea sounds, just write it down. Once I have a spark of inspiration, I can put a couple of ideas together and start making thumbnails. I tried out the first idea but I didn't really like too much. I like the hollow moon idea, no matter how cliched is. Now I can do more sketches of it. You might also want to use references, especially if it's hard to imagine what you're drawing. I usually use references, but the trick is not to copy what you see and instead be inspired by it and just use them as general guidelines for what you're drawing. For example, I don't know wolf anatomy and if in the final illustration I did a wolf in my head, it wouldn't look like a wolf. Maybe even put more than what image together in your mind, like a collage. So you see generating ideas is very easy and you can do many in a short period of time, thanks to mind mapping and thumbnail sketching. Try this out with something random like a shoe and see what illustration or design ideas you can come up with. Be sure to share in the project gallery if you come up with something neat. 6. Other Uses: Thumbnail sketching can be used in character design, website design, story boarding, lettering, and so much more. Basically, anything visual can first be a thumbnail sketch. So here I'm trying to come up with a logo. I can sketch many ideas quickly and then pick one and refine it. In lettering layouts, you can sketch out where the words will go with simple lines and fill it in and see how it looks like. It's good to see the results in such a small format, so make it a habit. You can also use tracing paper to help your designs. I aligned the word Love in ink and then traced it. Since I'm working tiny, I can keep cutting my page onto smaller pieces that I can keep tracing it until I refine it. Once I'm happy with it, I can use it as you would any other thumbnail, or even scan it in and vectorize it. Get creative with your process. 7. Live Example: Now that we learned what thumbnail sketching is, and various ways of doing it, let's see it in action for a real illustration. I start out with an idea of a rose with writing around it. I warm up with a couple of doodles for layouts. I picked out my two favorites, and now I'm going to my watercolor notebook to try out those designs. I sketched them both out in much more detail than the thumbnails, but I still kept it loose. Now, I'm adding color to try out different combinations, and to see how it looks on each layout. The last step is adding ink, because that's the medium I work with. Now I have too many illustrations and I can pick my favorite, or see if anything needs tweaking. I went with the one on the right, and now I illustrate it as I normally do. The final result is not an exact replica of the thumbnail, but the layout is the same. So you see, thumbnail sketching is easy. It does not take a lot of time. It's fun, and it really improves your design illustration and brainstorming process. Now that you know the ins and outs of thumbnail sketching, it's time to try it out yourself with a fun worksheet. 8. Putting it All Together: Now it's time to download the review and exercise worksheet PDFs in the Your Project section of the class, and print them out. Then head on over to I also left the link in the video notes. When you first load the page, it will give you a random word, you can use that or you can click generate like I did. My word is temperature. I started mind mapping by connecting any idea that comes to my head associated with temperature and any of the words that connect to it. I keep writing down any idea until my map is full. Then I looked over the words and put little stars next to the ones that inspired me. I started drawing quick thumbnail to see what different ideas can look like. I stay loose and leave notes if I once remember something. Once I draw a bunch of them, I pick up my favorite, or in this case it's between two choices. Now, I refine the thumbnails by drawing slightly bigger and with a little more detail. Notice how I sketch with a pencil first this time so that I can play with shapes and lines and refine more with an eraser. When I'm happy with the composition, I ink it in. You can just use a pencil and nothing else. This just helps me to see the shapes more clearly, and is a personal preference. This is optional, but I added some color to thumbnails. Once I'm done, I can pick out which one I like more. In this case, the bear hibernating in the bed like a person with a hat on, just pulled on my cute strings. I cut out the thumbnail, but you don't have to. This way I can place it where I can see it easier and it's especially helpful if you have a smaller desk. Then I proceed to illustrate the bear by first sketching, then inking, and then painting like I always do. For this part, you can do in any medium that you prefer. Because a general composition is already planned out, I can concentrate on the small details like the snow outside or on the blanket. As you can see, the final illustration is made up of the same shapes and composition as the thumbnail, but it's not an exact replica. You don't want to kill your creativity just because you have an idea already in place. You still want to play around with it, but the general idea is the same. As you can see things with thumbnail sketching, the process of generating this idea and refining it was a breeze. Now it's your turn to show me what you can come up with. Share your worksheet and final illustration in the project gallery. If you get confused about what to do, just re-watch this lesson and use the review worksheet for inspiration. Or if you're really comfortable with working with thumbnails, you can skip the worksheet altogether and just show your thumbnail sketching process and final piece. I'd love to see how you work, and I can't wait to see what you create. This concludes the class, I hope you enjoyed it and learned a lot. If you have any questions, leave them in the community section. Happy sketching, and I'll see you in the next class.