My images start with thumbnails. There are a few exceptions here and there where I just wing it, but in the main I start with a thumbnail. I do pages and pages of thumbnails. Sometimes theyâ€™re for a specific piece, sometimes theyâ€™re just playing around. But I have an entire sketchbook devoted to tiny little thumbnails. In this case I did the thumbnail in pencil. I do most of them in pen, but thereâ€™s a really comfortable feel that you can get from a pencil that I have a hard time finding in other mediums (Fig.01).
There are a few key things when youâ€™re working on thumbnails. Firstly keep it loose. A tight thumbnail somewhat removes the purpose of doing a thumbnail in my opinion. I believe thumbnails should be quick explorations of different directions you can take your composition. They are a way to play around with arrangement and orientation without a lot of time being invested. Theyâ€™re meant to be fun.
Another key is to do a lot of them, as many as you can force yourself to do (and then a few more). Very often the first sketch you do will be the one you pick, but just as often the twenty-second sketch will have something that none of the others did. Considering that each thumbnail might take you two or three minutes, it would only take you an hour to crank out a couple of dozen. Before you spend hours upon hours rendering a finished illustration, lay a good groundwork by finding a great composition first.
For this image I sketched out a quick drawing and scanned it in (Fig.02). I donâ€™t often work with lines because I have a more painterly approach to images. Some people do amazing work starting out with lines, Iâ€™d just personally rather dive in and paint some shapes. In this case I was looking to try something new and expand my horizons... and it worked pretty well! So let that be a lesson to all of us (especially me) â€" donâ€™t get too attached to your methods. Explore and try new things.
After I scanned in my line drawing I set it to Multiply on its own layer in Photoshop so I could paint underneath it. Youâ€™ll note that my marks are broad and extremely general (Fig.03). I donâ€™t care in the slightest about details, texture, or rendering at this point. All Iâ€™m doing is considering the overall image. I even go so far as to force myself to not zoom in. It might not seem like much of a difference, but if you restrict yourself from zooming in youâ€™ll find that you simply canâ€™t pay attention to details. Give it a shot, you might find you like it.