The Tug of Thumbnail Sketches


by Clara Lieu

When I started working on these graphite drawings a few weeks ago, I hadn’t made any artwork for 2 years.  For this reason, I knew the most important thing was for me to just get my feet wet again, and to get a grip on my drawing approach and materials. Usually, I’m probably the world’s greatest advocate for doing thumbnail sketches, and if you’ve been my student, you’re likely wondering why I haven’t done any thumbnails in this project so far. When I started, I felt so out of touch from drawing that I decided that I simply wasn’t ready to be thinking yet.  I needed to get my hands on the materials, get myself back into the physical movements of drawing before I could even begin to compose anything.


It was liberating to draw so spontaneously, with no plan in mind. I told myself I could keep doing this until I felt like I had “gotten back into shape.”  I knew eventually, my drawing process would lead me back to doing thumbnail sketches. Sure enough, after about 2 weeks of drawing spontaneously, I’m now feeling the need to create thumbnail sketches.

The last drawing experiment really suffered because I didn’t think through how I was going to compose the piece. I started out with 2 separate drawings,  (see above and below) deliberately making one portrait very dark and heavy, and another extremely light and ethereal. That visual imbalance was important to create so that the two drawings didn’t fight for attention the way they did in my last drawing.


I tore into the first drawing (see below), but this ultimately was a poor choice because I ended up tearing the paper so that the piece stood on it’s own. Consequently, when I went to attach the second drawing to this torn one, I kept feeling like the second drawing was an intruder that was disrupting the first drawing. I could see myself trying to preserve specific areas of the first drawing, which then hindered my ability to merge the two drawings together effectively.



This drawing taught me that I can’t do the “sculpting” of the paper in a linear manner; I have to plan in advance how the two drawings are going to interact in terms of the tearing. I had failed to consider how the two drawings would merge as three-dimensional pieces. Consequently, I ended up practically obliterating the second drawing so that I could preserve areas in the first drawing.


One development that I was excited about in this drawing was my tearing technique.  At first, I was tearing and crunching up the paper in a random fashion.  For me, the choice of the tissue paper was to replicate in some way the transparency and thinness of human skin. I started looking at images of peeling skin (if you’re squeamish, I don’t recommend this!)  and examining the specific shapes and patterns that skin peels in. On many parts of the body, skin starts peeling when a small section becomes loose, and then the skin peels outwards.  I started poking holes into the drawing (see above, on the bottom left of the lip) and curling the tissue paper outwards to refer to the way human skin peels.


Another positive development is that my enthusiasm for these drawings has only increased the more I work on them.  I have so many ideas and experiments I want to try out that my hands can’t keep up with my brain-a good problem for an artist to have.

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Drawing Again After a Two Year Drought
Drawing Experiments
Teaching Through My Artwork
Drawing Experiments:  Layered Drawings

Related Videos
Drawing Process for these Elderly Drawings
How to Draw Thumbnail Sketches:  Line
How to Draw Thumbnail Sketches:  Tone

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