How and Why You Should Thumbnail

No matter if you are a beginner to digital painting or a seasoned professional, this is a practice that can be useful to you in many situations. You should thumbnail and unlock all the potential that it can give you!

Making thumbnails is a great method to improve your compositions, brainstorm ideas, try new things and also to have fun!

One issue I find with people making thumbnails is that you can lose your focus and reason why you started making them to begin with.

Like with any skill or practice in art, you should have a honest and clear idea about the methods and workflows you use to improve your craft. My point is that a lot of the times I see people(including myself in the past) making these tiny drawings without a real goal in mind. Just making them because at some point we were told it is a good idea and everybody does it.

Making thumbnails is a powerful tool to add to your arsenal. You should learn how to take full advantage of them!


Keep your thumbnails simple and to the point! Just like our buddy Wile up there.

Thumbnails should save your time and not waste it

Now let’s think about it this way. For example, say you are making 10 thumbnails to develop a certain idea you had, did all 10 of them have something you like? Or maybe you liked 5 of them? If so, wouldn’t it be sound to paint all of them? Why do you choose one over the other? Really think about this honestly, that should be one of the most important questions in your head.

The practice of finishing an idea, a painting or a drawing is very important. Ask yourself if you like the sketch in front of you. If the answer is yes, keep working at it and make it as successful as possible. If it turns out to be a failure, that is totally fine, you end up learning a lot more from it than if you had abandoned it!

In my view, any painting/image can work as long as you handle its elements to achieve your goal/story/visual successfully, that’s about it.

In this example I have 4 thumbnails that originated from the image on the top left.

In this example I have 4 thumbnails that originated from the image on the top left.

Following these 4 thumbnails I did, can you see that even if the elements are repeated and similar, the paintings are quite different. They have a different mood, shapes, composition, action and meaning to them.

You really have to be honest with yourself and think if you really like the composition. If you do, then keep working on it and develop the image further.

The other sketches might as well be developed further into different paintings, if I really like them.
Keep changing and working on your initial sketch, destroy it, rebuild it, flip it, change shapes on it and make it work as well as you can!

This is especially true in this digital age, you can do whatever you want in Photoshop, you can change every aspect of your painting with a few keyboard shortcuts and mouse clicks. Do the work of the thumbnail on your sketch, zoom out and fix your shapes and make the image work for you.

Use thumbnails efficiently!

Are you going to develop a specific idea? Or you are just brainstorming ideas and picking one that strikes you as the most interesting?

Whatever the reason behind your thumbnails, do as many of them as you please. Just keep it simple! Keep in mind a few things I am going to list below.

Follow these to ensure you have a productive time making thumbnails:

  1. Start making simple bold shapes on the canvas.

  2. Keep your values to a minimal. Two to five different values should be good enough.

  3. Focus on developing interesting shapes and compositions.

  4. Rinse and repeat

This is basically the idea behind making thumbnails. They are supposed to focus on the core and most basic aspects of your image.

Final thoughts

Think about what you are trying to convey with this particular image you are making. If it hits your target, why change it? If it doesn’t hit it, change it up on the spot! Don’t get too attached to your own work while doing it.

Another takeaway is that you should think if you are using a workflow or technique in the right way or not. Ask yourself the way you are making thumbnails is the best you could be doing. Am I focusing on the right things? Am I being efficient while doing this?

These are huge questions that you should ask yourself every time you are painting, it is already hard enough to paint, don’t add more obstacles to the pile if you don’t need to!

Bruno Galuzzi CorsiniComment