For the longest time, I resisted doing 3-value thumbnails. Oh, I did “thumbnails”, don’t get me wrong. But black, white and only one medium gray? No, no, no. Surely you jest. There had to be shading in there; maybe not as much as in a value sketch, but at least three or four grays. And doing those sketches helped. I discovered all kinds of things about what I would be painting and even solved a few problems. The thing was, they took too long, and it was really hard to find cool, alternate compositions. Designs in other people’s thumbnails just snapped into place. Their tiny, 2 x 3” sketches could drag me across the room wanting to see more.
Not mine. Why?
Because what I was actually creating were value studies, not thumbnails. “OK,” I said when the light finally dawned. “I’ve got to cut it down; I’ll do black, white, and just two grays—a light and a dark grey without much detail.” Things improved. Each thumbnail took a fraction of the time and, tentatively, the big, abstract shapes began to peek through at me. Cool. Now I just needed to practice.
But I didn’t. Practice, that is.
At least, not enough. Certainly, no thumbnail habit developed. Plus, I still had Thumbnail Envy. Other people’s little gems had better, tighter design and more pull-me-across-the-room impact in roughly half the drawing time I was spending. Sometime during the two-plus years after taking John Salminen’s incredible breakthrough-inducing abstract workshop, how I see and interpret things has changed. One morning, someone in my Thursday painting group mentioned doing another 30-day challenge, and everything snapped into place: Three-Value Thumbnails. Thirty of ‘em. I could see how to do them and why. Paradigm shift!
Black. White. Medium gray. Absolutely minimal detail—can you see how much more exciting the thumbnail above would be if I had left out the ripples in the mid-ground water? For the first time, I know at first glance whether I’ve got a real keeper.
Try it. It’s not just worth the time; it’s exciting and enormously satisfying.
See you next week.