The Thumbnail Sketch

The thumbnail sketch is a very small sketch (approximately 2" x 2") of your subject as you are viewing it through your viewfinder. The purpose of this type of preliminary sketch is to visualize how your subject will look once you begin drawing it larger on your paper.

Because of the simplicity and rapidity of execution, these sketches are very useful for experimenting with the arrangement of your subject within the format of your paper. It is recommended that you do two or three thumbnail sketches of your chosen subject before you begin your larger drawing.

Thumbnail Sketch Examples

In this series of thumbnail sketches, you can see that the artist was exploring three different compositional possibilities, based on the same subject matter. Each of these sketches was drawn in a matter of minutes, which gives them a feeling of great immediacy.

There are times when the thumbnail sketch will have more vitality and spontaneity than the final drawing because of it being executed in a flash of inspiration.

The final work (an oil sketch) is shown below.

Thumbnails Sketches
Thumbnail sketches and painting by Annette Voreyer, courtesy of the artist

There are some structural properties of the landscape that are important to think about when you are interested in rendering light, space, and atmosphere, as well as solid objects within the landscape.

Here is a drawing sketched after a painting by the great French landscape artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. This drawing represents, in charcoal, the simplicity of means that Corot used in the actual painting.

You can see in this small sketch that a convincing illusion of reality was created through the use of broad shapes with virtually no detail. The sense of light and atmosphere comes through a very careful observation of the tonal relationships between the sky, land, man-made objects, and water.

Camille Corot Sketch




The amount of complexity that exists in nature can be bewildering; therefore, thinking of the subject conceptually will help you make simplified and more convincing statements in your work.

As mentioned throughout this book, it is always helpful to think about where the light source is coming from and how it affects the various planes of the subject being drawn. This rationale also applies to working with the landscape.

As the light source in the landscape is the sky and is usually, but not always, the lightest element of the landscape, it is logical that those planes that are most parallel to the sky will receive the most light. This would include the ground, flat rooftops of buildings, bodies of water, and any other object that fits this definition.

Those surfaces that are perpendicular to the sky, such as trees, the sides of houses or buildings, or any similar plane, will receive the least amount of light.

It would follow that the planes of objects that are in between being parallel and perpendicular to the light source, such as sloped hills or mountains, and sloped rooftops, will receive less light than parallel planes and more light than vertical planes.

However, there are times when elements of the landscape other than the sky will reflect the lightest light. This usually occurs when direct sunlight is falling on an object or material that has a light local color, such as snow; a light-colored tree; or a light-colored, man-made object such as a house, building, or car.

Sky = Light Source

How Draw Falling Trees
113 3 1 1

1 Planes parallel to Light Source = Lightest

2 Planes angle to Light Source = Darker

3 Planes perpendicular to Light Source = Darkest

In Chapters 6 and 7, the laws of one- and two-point perspective were discussed. These principles pertain to the landscape, even when man-made, geometric objects are not present.

Now that we know the eye level and horizon line are vital to creating a convincing three-dimensional space, it is usually difficult to recognize where vanishing points might occur, unless a landscape contains fences or rectangular plots of land, such as those you would find on a farm.

However, look very carefully, and there are almost always some clues showing you shapes converging toward vanishing points. A few of these shapes would be clouds and cast shadows from objects such as trees, clusters of flowers, or similar growth.

Of course, all objects, whether concrete or amorphous (such as clouds), will diminish in size as they converge to the vanishing point on the horizon line. This is called scale. Having the correct scale of objects as they recede in space is crucial to constructing a believable three-dimensional space. This is why determining your horizon line and vanishing point is so important. It will help you reduce objects as they recede spatially so that they remain proportional to each other.

Peter Paul Rubens
Study after Peter Paul Rubens' A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning, by Dean Fisher

The Landscape chapter

In the study after the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens detail, you can see that the artist, who had such an interest in movement, was really trying to exploit the properties of linear perspective to rapidly move the viewer in a curving, undulating fashion from the foreground to the background of his picture.

There is a clear sense of where the viewer is standing and where the eye level and vanishing points are. Also take note of how the various planes of the landscape, trees, and shapes of the clouds all become smaller as they approach the horizon line.

How Draw Airplanes

Study after Peter Paul Rubens' A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning, detail

This study after Monet demonstrates how clouds converge toward a vanishing point on the horizon line. Take note of how dramatically the clouds decrease in size as they move into the distance. This clearly demonstrates that a well-drawn sky requires a sense of form.

It is especially important to keep these principles in mind when working with clouds, as they are in constant flux; they require a good amount of memory and theory to render well. It's also worth mentioning that to render clouds that are three-dimensional, there has to be a light and shadow side to them (and often some reflected light). As with any form that is lit by a primary light source, if the shadow sides of the clouds are left out, they will look flat.

Claude True Form

Study after Claude Monet's Sunday at Argenteuil, by Dean Fisher

The term aerial perspective refers to the manner in which tones and colors of objects are affected by the atmosphere as they recede spatially. Because of humidity and pollution in the air, the tone (lightness or darkness), or intensity of color of an object, lightens as the object recedes into the distance.

Looking once again at the study after Corot, you can see how faint the gray tones of the mountains are in the far distance. The same would hold true for color. If an apple were hanging on a tree right in front of you, it would be a much lighter shade of red than if it were 300 feet in the distance. The apple would be a even lighter red if the level of humidity in the air suddenly increased or the apple was placed farther in the distance. The next time you're in a mountainous landscape with a vast panoramic view, notice how light (and blue or violet) the mountains are far in the distance; they're often just a shade darker than the sky. An experienced artist can convey the precise quality of atmosphere present on a particular day, including a feeling for temperature and humidity level, based on the sensitive observation and careful rendering of the tonal relationships present in the landscape.

It is said that the artist Claude Monet had such acute vision that he could tell the precise time of day—within a few minutes—based on the quality of light that he saw on a wall outside his studio window. He is quoted as saying, "I'm only an eye, but what an eye!"

Drawing Narni

Study after Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's The Augustan Bridge at Narni, by Dean Fisher

The effects of aerial perspective are usually more pronounced in cities where there is a higher level of pollution. In this drawing you can see how the tones of the buildings lighten as they recede spatially. There was a combination of a high level of humidity and pollution present as the artist created this drawing during the summer in Manhattan.

Notice that the amount of tonal contrast is greater in the foreground buildings where the darks are darker. This contrast between the lights and darks reinforces the illusion of three-dimensionality by making the foreground buildings advance, and the background buildings recede.

Looking Downtown from Midtown, by J. S. Robinson

Trees have the beauty and power to captivate us with their graceful, elegant forms. They are often a dominant element in the landscape. This section will focus attention on trees to help you draw them with greater understanding.

Very often, beginning artists will be so fascinated by the complexity and beauty of a tree that they will overlook the large "concept" of its form and try to draw every leaf and branch. In order to think about the form of a tree in geometric terms—that is, to simplify its shape—one can say that the tree's foliage comes closest to being a spherical form. The lower portion of the sphere is normally where the darker tones are when lit from above by the light of the sky. When the upper portion of the sphere begins to turn, its surface becomes more parallel with the sky, and it receives more light.

If you model your trees accordingly, they will appear rounded instead of as flat cutouts against the sky. The drawings on the following pages illustrate this gradual modeling of spherical clusters of foliage.

When the tree is illuminated by direct sunlight, look for its light-and-shadow pattern. Remember, it is much easier to see the simplicity of this pattern if you squint! This drawing of a grouping of trees, with its defined pattern of light and shadow, has a clear feeling of roundness and light.

Lighting Effect Human Face

Trees are infinitely varied in character, just as every human face is a unique arrangement of form and features. The first aspect to consider when drawing a particular tree is its gesture—that is, the overall quality of its shape. This is where the "feeling" of the tree comes from. Look for the main line, or the sweep, from the trunk through the main branches. Also avoid making your trees symmetrical; although this can sometimes occur, too much symmetry in groupings of trees will create a manufactured look in your landscape.

A common error when attempting to fit a monumental tree on a small piece of paper is to discover, after drawing the lower portion, that in order to fit the entire tree within the format of the paper, the upper half has to be reduced in size. The result is that a once-graceful form becomes clumsy and artificial looking.

With careful observation, you will notice that in most cases, tree trunks and branches taper very gradually, so that if a tree's trunk has a substantial girth, you can be sure that the upper branches and foliage will also be very large.

How Draw Barns
Stowe Barn, detail

This drawing of a grouping of three trees illustrates all of the principles mentioned in this section. Each tree has its own character, yet they work together as a natural grouping.

Careful observation will reveal that common rhythms between forms in the landscape are frequent due to each element having been exposed to the elements of nature, including light, wind, and rain, in a similar way. Capturing these subtle and interesting rhythms will help you to create unity in your work.

Dean Fisher Artist
Study of Trees, by Dean Fisher

In this intimate landscape drawing, the artist created a flowing sense of movement. This seems to be in step with the internal rhythms of the various types of growth depicted and their relationships to each other. This drawing enters the world of abstraction as much as it does the world of realism.

How Draw Renaissance Architecture

This is an interesting example of a perspective construction that would normally be used to develop an interior space. In this case, the artist has combined man-made elements with the natural world by using squares in two-point perspective on the ground plane to carve out a deep space. There appear to be the beginnings of an architectural structure in the foreground that, in this unfinished state, frames the figures and helps to create a sense of scale. You often see this blending of architecture and landscape in works of the Renaissance. The artist said he was looking for "Piero della Francesca meets Big Sky Montana."

How Draw Landscape Perspective

Perspective Study, by Warren Prindle


This cityscape has a fluid quality in the way in which the buildings seem to flow together. In many cases, the boundaries of each building within a cluster of buildings are eliminated for the sake of making a larger form fit together with the other shapes in the drawing, like a jigsaw puzzle. The fluidity of the tones was produced by the medium employed—a water-soluble graphite pencil (see page 16).

Water Soluble Graphite Pencil Drawing
London Skyline, by J. S. Robinson

In this drawing, the artist has interestingly juxtaposed contrasting images of winter and associations of summer together. She has composed the background with soft gray tones to delineate the buildings and the shadows created by the soft sunlight of a winter's day. The dark accents are used very sparingly here to keep this area distant from the viewer. She directs the viewer's gaze to the barbecue by placing it prominently in the foreground of her composition. Its importance is underlined by the strong contrast of light and shadow on its surface. This is the only object in the drawing that has this degree of contrast, and consequently it seems to shimmer with a barely contained energy. The artist may have been depicting her own longing for summer and her certainty that summer must return in defiance of the bare branches of winter.

Atmospheric Thumbnail Sketches
Backyard December, by Erin Raedeke

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  • louis anderson
    How to draw landscape perspective?
    8 years ago
  • jonas
    How to draw an original human face?
    8 years ago
  • Theodore
    How to draw thumbnail sketches?
    7 years ago
  • mathilda
    How to Draw Linear Perspective?
    7 years ago

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