Thumbnail sketches

Today I share some thumbnail sketches (small compositional studies) for a couple of large format drawings I am currently working on.Thumbnails are not meant to be detailed. For two-dimensional work, it is very important to emphasize the borders of the drawing and make sure its proportions are consistent with the proportions of the final piece. It is common for beginners to focus more on the subjects of a drawing or design than the placement of the shapes as they relate to the picture plane (border). This results in thumbnails with little regard for shape, proportions and unity of the over all design.

As you can see below, the figures in the sketches are simplified. What matters here is the placement of the shapes and the values. Many artists do the line thumbnails first and then add value or color.

In these compositional studies,  I was interested in exploring the impact of considered geometry in the design. I set out to explore the golden rectangle (a classical format for many art-forms throughout history) and to play with points of emphasis within it. I haven’t done many drawings or paintings using this format and am finding this process very interesting. Below you can see how the harmonious divisions of the golden section rectangle have influenced my decisions regarding the intended points of emphasis in the composition.

The thumbnail sketch on the left shows a higher value contrast around the head and shoulders of the left figure (my dad). The placement of the head and shoulders happens to be in a pleasing area of the golden rectangle, which makes this an ideal area for a focal point. In the final drawing, my intention is to have an accent (a smaller area of emphasis) around the lower part of the therapists’ legs (the figure to the right).

On the top right thumbnail sketch, I explored a different division of the golden rectangle and tried to place key parts of the figures in various points of intersections. I placed the shapes of the figure so they loosely echoed  some of the angles that result from this particular division of the rectangle. On the bottom right, you can see a third diagram showing my intended focal points and accents on the final piece. The two heads to the left will be the main area of emphasis, the head and feet of the figure to the right will be accents. I will develop more contrast of value and denser marks in those areas. Although this is the plan upfront, more often than not a drawing evolves differently than the initial plan and it’s important to remain responsive through its development.

I am currently working on some step by step construction sequences to show how these divisions of the rectangle emerged, so look out for a post addressing that in the near future. I used the book “Geometry of Design” by Kimberly Elam as reference. This book brings many diagrams of harmonious geometric shapes and examples of how these have been used in art and design throughout history and I recommend it highly for artists, designers and art enthusiasts.

Not all artists and designers use these armatures to design their work, but many do. The concept of the Golden rectangle is introduced in many fundamental art and design classes and exploring it can be beneficial, for designing or analyzing art-work. Here is a nice link that introduces this concept http://emptyeasel.com/2009/01/20/a-guide-to-the-golden-ratio-aka-golden-section-or-golden-mean-for-artists/. Personally this is the first time I set out to create drawings designed around the golden rectangle beyond a class exercise and I am enjoying the influence the underlying grid is having on my designs.

A large format drawing in progress

After a busy academic year, I had the opportunity to recharge in June and July spending time with the family, catching up on reading and having fun in the sun. Now totally refreshed and with the boys back in school, I am back in my studio taking full advantage of some much-needed uninterrupted work time before fall quarter comes around.

I decided to begin working on large format drawings. During graduate school, I worked this way and really enjoyed the opportunity to be expressive and the impact of the scale so I am resuming that practice. Last week I prepped a 3. 5″ x 6″ paper and this week I started laying out the forms.  I normally clip or staple my paper to a board so that is what I did here. The first step was to cut down the paper a littler larger than the intended dimensions of the drawing. For this piece, I am working on multimedia paper from a roll. Many art supply stores sell rolls of paper or have a roll that you can have them cut to your preferred size. Using artists’ tape I created a border at the top and bottom to allow for several options for display later.


I am adding and subtracting marks so after setting up the paper on the board, I layered it with willow charcoal (you can also use vine) to create a base of mid-tone value. I prefer either of these charcoal sticks for this stage because of the softness of the gray and the workability of the medium (easily erasable). For such a large drawing, the best thing is to use the thick charcoal sticks for the base tone. I don’t mind if this initial layer is not perfectly even, since I anticipate heavy layering during the drawing process.

Thumbnail sketch and gestures

First I planned the composition carefully through thumbnail sketches, then I translated my image to the paper once again using  willow charcoal for easy correction. This drawing is part of a series about movements of the body, the subjects here are my father who suffered from PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy) for ten years and his physical therapist during a session. I want to show the stiffness of my dad’s body and the importance of simple movements that because of his condition he was progressively losing. When these therapy sessions were taking place he could no longer walk without assistance.

WIP01As you can see here, there are many construction lines to analyze alignments. Although my preference is to work from observation or memory, in this case I have photos for reference. I will compensate for the flatness of the image by drawing volumetrically and by visualizing the skeleton under the figures. For beginners, the most beneficial practice when developing drawing skills, is to work extensively from direct observation to gain an understanding of form and space. With a solid understanding of these concepts artists can go on to create convincing images using many resources later.

WIP02Once I worked out the proportions and planes of the figures, I set out to lay out the basic value patterns It is important to establish a strong over all design before focusing on details. In this case I want value (the lights and darks), to bring emotion to the piece and create points of emphasis. I approach my drawings with the mindset that there is still room for change in every stage, but mapping things out from the general to the specific is extremely important for the process and allows for important decisions early on.

With the main value shapes down, I introduced compressed charcoal for denser layers and more permanent marks. Compressed charcoal can include charcoal sticks and charcoal pencils. Due to the size of the drawing, I have not been using the charcoal pencil.  For the lights, I am erasing with a chamois cloth and white plastic eraser.

At the moment I am working on creating a sense of movement in the figures and have drawn and erased the pose of the figure to the left (my dad) several times, to show the exercises. I am also considering doing this on the figure of the therapist. Below are some of the changes the drawing has gone through. I’ll be working on the piece more this week and will be posting progress. For the different poses, I drew lightly with compressed charcoal so that I could rub it off but still keep the pentimenti (the traces of the drawing). With willow charcoal, the marks would’ve disappeared.

This drawing is still in its initial stages, I will be posting about the progress next week. Time to go into my studio now. Thanks for stopping by.