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Thursday, February 02, 2012

How to Make Thumbnail Value Studies Fun

'Mountain Peace' 5x7 pastel on Townsend paper ©Karen Margulis
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Doing thumbnail value studies is like exercise. We know it is good for us but we don't always like doing them. When we do them we feel better and we see results! I know I am sometimes to anxious to get started on a painting and I don't want to take the time to plan and do a thumbnail. I have also heard other artists say that doing thumbnails spoils the spontaneity and enthusiasm for the painting. I am calling them thumbnails but I am referring to small value studies and not detailed sketches. I believe strongly that doing these little value studies is important for a successful painting so I have found a way to make it a fun part of my painting process. It's all about the tools!

TomBow Markers and a tiny 2.5 x 3.5 sketchbook

Artists love art supplies so when I found these Tombow Dual Brush markers and tiny sketchbook I knew it would make doing thumbnails quick and easy ...and fun! I had been doing my value studies with pencils but it was hard to get nice even value masses . The markers have a brush tip and have nice smooth coverage. They come in several values of grey both warm and cool but I prefer using #N95, N65 and N55. The sketchbook is 2.5 x 3.5 by Borden & Riley. Here are a few of my value studies and some tips on doing them.


  1. The purpose for doing small value studies is to help you plan your painting. It helps you design a strong composition with big simple shapes. You can simplify the big areas of lights, darks and middle values to make sure you have a strong foundation for your painting. You can evaluate your design to make sure your values aren't too spotty and that the value patterns help lead the viewer around your painting.
  2. Value studies don't have to be big. I like mine to be business card size. This prevents me from getting too fussy with details.
  3. Value studies are about shapes not lines. I don't do a detailed sketch but instead just block in my big simple shapes.
  4. When doing a value study you must squint at your scene or photo to remove the distraction of color and detail. You need to look at each big shape and put down the average value...if there are small light areas in a dark..make it all dark in your value study. As your painting develops you will be able to bring out the details and the lighter areas if needed.

Just remember to think Big Simple Shapes and have fun doing your thumbnails and treat yourself to some new tools! Like exercise, if you make it a habit you will see the rewards of your effort!


3 comments:

Μαριέλα said...

Ah! I love these small Notans so much!
I do alot of this kind of sketches, even smaller sometimes...
I learned all about notans from Barry John Reybould during a workshop in Italy (Venice), some years ago.
It's a great way to start a painting!
Thank you for sharing all these tips and suggestions...

Marian Fortunati said...

Well done.
I know that the notans are really helpful for most and are what so many teachers encourage us to do. My problem is that even when I've done several notans... I have difficulty deciding which version I should use to paint the panting.

Karen said...

Thanks for th comments. Good point Marian . What I often do if I have more than one strong choice is do a series and try more than one changing up color palette or paper or something to vary the original !