Thumbnails: An Economic Approach To Design

I did a previous post about how I brainstorm with doodles, and it was such a big hit with all three of my readers that I decided to revisit the topic.

The purpose of thumbnails is to work out ideas in an economical fashion. There’s no point in wasting time with an elaborate drawing, only to find out the composition doesn’t work. So what are the uses of a thumbnail?

Point-Of-View (POV): There are a lot of ways to view a scene, and a lot of different camera angles from which to choose.

If you look at the first thumbnail for the scene above, it was a straight-on POV. We see the same thing on stage, because a live performance pretty much only allows for that perspective. Because artists are not limited to this, it’s sometimes thought too simplistic a POV, but many artists use it successfully. Illustrators like John Bauer or Maurice Sendak pretty much used a straight-on POV, and they produced beautiful scenes. Basically, it’s okay just as long as the individual elements are still composed in an interesting way. In any case, I later used an overhead POV for the page above.

Relationships: Thumbnails can also help you determine relationships. In the scene above, I juxtaposed a close-up of the main character’s large head with little bees. Another effect was to bring the main character’s head through foliage, such that the daylight behind him produces a halo of light, further drawing the viewer’s attention to him. I used this same halo effect below.

Viewer’s Eye Flow: You can use thumbnails to determine how you want the viewer’s eyes to move across an image. In the illustration above, the viewer is first drawn to the main character (halo effect, remember? It says, “Look at ME”). From the starting point of the main character, your eyes drop straight down, working your way to the larger crabs on either side, flowing up the seaweed, back toward the main character. Guiding the viewer’s eyes this way can help them see things in a certain sequence, perhaps from most important element to least important.

Composition: Another principle used above is the rule of thirds. If you slice the image horizontally into thirds, you’ll note the sand occupies the bottom third, while the water fills the rest. This principle is also present in the illustration below. In this case, the image is sliced vertically into thirds, with the main character occupying the far right third, and the bright flamingos occupying the rest.

Another way to slice things up is to divide the image diagonally, and in this case, doing so causes the elements to flow toward our main character. In the scene below, the large branch slices across diagonally. The background tree-line also serve to reinforce that diagonal flow, again leading the viewer’s eye where we want it to go.Below are more thumbnails used to work out composition or character designs. Of course there are many other ways to work out designs, like digitally drawing, slicing, resizing, and moving things around.

Perhaps some of you would like to share different time-saving techniques which economize your workflow?

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4 thoughts on “Thumbnails: An Economic Approach To Design

    • Thanks, Chris.

      I’m sure most artists are already familiar with the these things, so I feel almost silly sharing what I know is basic stuff for them. But I forget that other visitors may not be as familiar with some of these concepts, so I hope they can find some of it useful. Thanks again for visiting!

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  1. I’m garnering an immense respect for your craft here. We non-artists tend to think you just sit down and draw. Instead, it is much like any other art (music, writing, acting, etc.) Deliberate use of techniques, working and reworking, and plain old elbow grease. Very interesting and totally new to some of us!

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    • Thank you. Interestingly, even though digital technology has helped streamline the actual work of illustrating, the brainstorming aspect of design has largely remained unchanged because it’s an intellectual activity that requires trial and error just like anything else.

      Like

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