Are thumbnail sketches REALLY necessary? I get this question from my students a lot. Especially beginning art students. With every new art unit/project, one of the main things that my students MUST do is use thumbnail sketches to plan out their compositions. After all of the whining and fussing, the kids will come up with some great compositions and ideas. Even when they think they have exhausted all of their ideas, I push them to come up with a few more sketches.
Even for me as an artist, I need to plan out my work. It just makes sense to get your ideas on paper.
Especially for inexperienced art students. YOU NEED TO PLAN! You need to get multiple ideas “out there” and then figure out how to solve problems as you go. I encourage my students to also jot down notes and things as they think about them. Yes, I set a fixed number of sketches they need to do for a project. I will get 3 or 4 really well-done sketches and then the rest half-hearted to appease the requirement. I’m sure I probably did they same thing when I was their ages. I also bring up the fact that in college I usually had to have 50 to 100 different thumbnail sketches for each project we were to do. That usually makes them settle down a little.
Just like everything else we do in education, differentiation is the key. Do I always make kids do the set number of thumbnails? No, of course not. Depending on the student and the situation I will change the requirements or if they are dead set on doing a certain composition, I allow them to forego the number. How often do we as teachers complain about “busy work”? If our students have a solid plan and know the direction they want to go, I step out of their way and let them run with it.
At some point, we go from simple assignment planning to full blown creative problem-solving.
If a student has a solid plan, know’s their media they will use, has the subject matter planned out and a strong composition, step aside. It’s time to let them fly. They have gone through part of the planning process and they are ready to go. No need to waste any more time on “figuring out” what they want to do.
Whatever your project goals you will need to show students how to plan and how to begin everything with idea dumping. I also call it the “brain dump”. Get ideas and concepts down on paper. Add written ideas and text as well. Like anything we really want to do well, it all starts with a plan and figuring our the problems we want to solve with this plan. This is what thumbnail sketches do for our students. No matter what type of planning exercises you do with your students, figuring out a strong composition, how they will satisfy your student learning targets and objectives as well as come away with a project they are proud of is really the end goal.
All of these planning skills will help students to get to thinking independently and looking for answers on their own without having to constantly ask you for the answers. “Teach a man to fish…” is the philosophy I like to give my students. Teaching kids to think for themselves as well as learning to problem solve in any situation should be the ultimate goal.