I often get stuck when moving from thumbs to roughs--any ideas?


  • SVS OG

    Does anyone else get serious artist block after thumbnails? I can do pages of thumbs, but afterwards I sit staring at them for days and it’s like pulling teeth to decide whether they're any good, which ones to go to the next step with, or worse, to know whether the next step will be able look anything like the thumbnails because maybe the thumbs weren’t thought out enough. It feels like I should have a better solution/idea still in my head somewhere, but eventually I can’t stand it anymore and move on to drawing!

    I'm rather embarrassed to show an example, but I feel like I should be concrete, so here it is:

    Below are my four favorite Narnia battlefield thumbs out of about 36. (I'm also doing the Beavers' house and Edmund meeting the White Witch.) I wanted to see whether there were other variations and decide which would work best. But instead of doing so I took a three-day dive into designing the White Witch, which needed doing and I'm happy with the results, but I was procrastinating!

    After two more days of staring and procrastinating, I feel 1) is complete enough that I could take it straight to a drawing, but not sure it's the right scene for the trio. 2) was an idea I was excited about and did the most thumbs for, but now it feels like it just doesn't even translate, or at any rate it looks really different and I don't like it as well now. Of maybe it just needs changing--who knows? 3) was an afterthought, but right now I like it. Still, the scene is implied rather than described explicitly in the book, so I'm not sure whether it is a legitimate choice. And see how different it is?! 4) I like more or less like as it is, but just need to firm up the features and positions, etc. I still don't know which one of the four to choose.

    cordial thumbnails copy.jpg

    So, I'm wondering if this happens to you guys and if so, how to you get confidence about your choice and move on? Is there something about the thumb format itself that discourages small figures or that makes it hard for me to evaluate them? Is it something about my style requiring more research to flesh out details of anatomy and perspective? Are there some kind of exercises I could do to produce better thumbs or take them to better roughs? Am I not doing thorough enough thumbs to begin with? I having some kind of confidence/perfectionism problem?

    I have noticed this with several projects I have done lately, and I'm just wondering if I have the wrong idea of what a thumbnail is supposed to be or how to take them forward. I'm probably not the only person who has had this problem, so I would appreciate your input!

    Thank you.



  • I have the opposite problem and rush through the thumbnail sketches haha. Maybe we could trade advice? How do you find patience in exploring different possible illustrations? I usually get only to 4-5 haha.



  • For your questions, it might be your style requires a lot of time investment so you want to make sure the thumbnail you choose is worth it. May I ask, is this client work or a personal project?

    On choosing thumbnails with confidence, look for potential rather than absolutes. Take the thumbnail which you’ll enjoy painting or matches the message you want to say. If the thumbnail answers 40%-60% of your questions, move on to the next step. Maybe a color comp or a smaller version of the finished piece.

    Take incremental steps and prioritize the learning process rather than the end product.

    PS: All of your thumbnails look great and your style is amazing haha. Can’t wait to see them in color!



  • @LauraA in Lee’s thumbnail video I believe he says his next step is to pick three and take them out into a larger rough to see if they are working out which one works best. You could try that?


  • SVS OG

    @donnamakesart It's a personal project, but it's the last step before publishing my website, so I think that's adding some pressure. Good point about trying to get to 40-60%. Maybe the problem is that sometimes the one I think I will enjoy painting is not necessarily the one which I think is the best conceptually!

    @carlianne That's what I was trying to do above. Strictly speaking, they aren't bigger, but I zoomed in. Going to rewatch that video!



  • @LauraA oh then maybe paint the one you want to to loosen up then go for the conceptually good one to put in your folio. The key is to trick our minds into doing what we have to do by doing what we want to first haha.

    It’s what works for me but take it with a grain of salt haha. Hope you find an enjoyable process!



  • I also find going from thumbnails to a more detailed sketch is one of the most challenging parts for me.
    I break my problem of choosing thumbnails into 2 parts, and I deal with it one at a time.

    The first part is about choosing the one I am going to go final: I often outsource this decision by posting here in the forum or getting feedback from my artists and non-artists friends. I would try to describe what I am trying to do/express, and I ask other people to tell me which thumbnail works the best for them. The thumbnails need to be at the stage that can more or less read without me say much (it is probably more like in between a thumbnail and rough sketch). Not knowing what is the best idea is a common one for beginner artists. Sometimes, I submit 3 roughs to my client and have no clue which one is the best honestly. I also had shown some of my roughs to a much more experienced artist friend asking for feedback. He often tells me that I have a clear winner among the 3 sketches, but I can not see myself at all. I think with the volume of work we do, we will get to the point of known what is good.

    The second part is about making a more detailed sketch and prepares for the final painting. Every time when I hit this point, I feel like I had forgotten everything about how to draw (I am still struggling with the family cozy piece at this moment). I am not a natural drawer - to draw anything decent probably take me 10-15 passes. Sometimes, this process would take me a week to go through (I would not work with it full time though). And very often, I gave up, and do something else, another thumbnail instead, or a new piece altogether.

    I do not have good advice for the second problem, apart from keeping trying. Sometimes, I had to go back and look at stuff I did before, looking at how the ugly rough drawing actually turned out ok in the end, to remind myself that I did this before, and I probably can do it again if I just keep trying.

    Nothing is wasted though, I also find myself revisiting old unused compositions for new pieces. I sometimes look at my ugly thumbnails on my sketchbook or in the iPad to look for ideas for the next piece.



  • @LauraA sometimes it takes time, like a few days of expressly doing something else, to decide on a thumbnail, so I don't necessarily see it as procrastinating. BUT...

    I will say that the thumbnails on this forum skew toward a legibility mine never have and probably never will have. It's only recently that I'm ok with this, so I thought I'd show you. I've noticed how pretty people's thumbnails are in comparison. Yours are so well drawn that not only can you post them here and ask about them, but I would understand them even if you gave me the title of the book and didn't say anything else. That is what I consider the sketch phase in my work. My thumbnails cannot be understood at all, so I am left to always decide on my own. The benefit though is that if my thumbnail does not show any of my drawing skills, I'm free to fill in general shapes with detail in the sketch phase. That's where I'm building forms and using detail and characters to capture the abstract composition in the thumbnail, which I always have underneath the sketch and painting stages.
    IMG_0592.jpg

    This is not to say you're doing it wrong, but that it's possible to move forward with a thumbnail that is almost purposely SUPER BAD.

    My favorite from the beginning was #1, but since your drawing is so recognizable, I can see that I do think the composition is lovely but the scale of the lion to the children is a little off, with Aslan (i'm sorry I realize I assumed it was Aslan) needing to be much bigger than a normal lion. To be able to say this about your thumbnails is amazing to me, as someone that put a bunch of circles into the middle of the thumbnail and ended up with a palm tree.

    I'm convinced we all use thumbnails for different things and that we don't always see this on a forum like this. My thumbnails are for abstract composition so I do everything I can to limit them to that. It stands to reason that if you're wondering whether a thumbnail is good enough it's an entirely different sort of purpose from mine. There's a feeling I get about a certain one, and I just know.


  • SVS OG

    @donnamakesart Haha, that's a good psych out, drawing out two ideas! It's more work, but at some point one might be obviously more successful than the other.

    @xin-li I like the distinction you make here between choosing an idea and making a more detailed sketch. I think making any detailed drawing takes a good bit of refining, especially if we try to use accurate perspective. And like you, I spend a long time in that stagel. But I have noticed that your finished pieces do make good thumbnails (i.e., the compositions are very legible), so you must be doing something right!

    @carolinebautista I remember this piece from the critique arena! I do notice that, however rough your thumbnail, all the main components are already in place. My thumbnails sometimes change almost to the point of non-recognition once I start deciding on the details, because I realize either the perspective or the anatomy was unworkable. I think that's what's at the bottom of what's bothering me the most. If they change so much, what was the thumbnail stage for and what becomes of the feedback I got?

    I also tend to make my thumbnails more legible so that I can post them here.

    Okay, here's my take away:

    I should probably distinguish between moments/ideas and camera angles/value choices, so that I'm sure what people are reacting to when they give feedback in the forums.

    I rewatched @Lee-White's Draw 50 thumbnails video. According to his process, what I posted above is probably only stage 2, and he does 3 stages. He also sits on the first stage for a while. And he mentions that even in the latter stages, one might come up with a better idea.

    I even think the answer might partly depend on the artist's style.

    Also, regarding Lee's advice, maybe I should try not using preprinted boxes, though I do want to adhere to a format.

    And last of all, I realized that part of the problem (this time) was that I had a lot of non-art things accumulating on my to do list, but I wasn't letting myself do them until I finished the thumbnails. The result was a vicious cycle!

    Thanks again, guys! I remain slow, but I think this one is just going to take time. And thinking through your answers, I think I'm going to go with one of the last two ideas for the final piece, because they are more on point.


Log in to reply