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Preparatory sketches: What are they for?




I used to be very impatient and rush to paint, I so wanted to have fun with the paint that I was skipping the preparatory sketches phase.

As I am getting more experienced, I now realize the virtue of not rushing. I also understood that the earliest mistakes are also the most difficult to fix. Any mistake with composition for example will be way trickier to fix than a color adjustment.

So it is very important to take the time necessary for planning before even starting a painting.

Here are a few ideas you can try before starting to paint:

Thumbnail sketches

Thumbnail sketches are great for working on composition. They also give you the opportunity to see your design in a simplified way, usually with only three tones: dark, medium and light.

trying on compositions on thumbnail sketches

Trying on composition variations on thumbnail sketches.

Seeing a picture at a smaller scale is a good way to spot any problem within the composition, that is why thumbnail sketches are an excellent tool. To make your sketches, simplify your design into a few essential shapes and color them in one of the 3 main tones: light, medium or dark.

Thumbnail sketches are also a great way to take a distance from your reference picture, you can use a reference picture to draw the sketches and then rely more on these sketches than the original picture to make your painting.

Taking a picture of a painting you are working on and looking at it as a thumbnail on your camera or computer screen is a also good way to get a fresh perspective on your progress and spot problems.


Trying color schemes on sketches

Thumbnail sketches are usually very small (a few inches) but sketches to try on color schemes or patterns can be bigger.

Trying on color schemes before painting.

Trying on color schemes before painting.

You can try color schemes on sketches before starting to paint. To go faster you can make one drawing for the future painting and then scan that drawing. That way you can print it many times on paper and try on different color combinations.

  • If you are trying on colors with colored pencils, you can print on regular paper
  • If you want to use watercolor paint, fluid acrylic, or oil pastels, you can print your drawing on Hahnemuehle bamboo paper. This paper won’t buckle with watercolor or fluid acrylic and is very pleasant to work on.

Trying on colors on Hahnemuehle Bamboo paper.

Trying Patterns on sketches

You can use little sketches with patterns sometimes before starting to paint but also during the painting process to help you take a decision.

trying on patterns

You can test a few patterns before starting to paint.

trying on patterns 2

You can paint a few patterns ideas on paper and tape them with masking tape to see how they would look on an area of our painting.

Are you making preparatory sketches before painting? Any tip you would like to share?

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