I admire artists who can dive into a blank canvas and pull off a great picture without any preliminaries, but most of the time I'm not so lucky. I have to do lots of sketches to try to solve different kinds of problems.
Here are some of the sketches for “Song in the Garden” (scroll down to see finish). On the upper left is the first concept, taken as far as possible without reference and used as a placeholder in the storyboard (see last post).
The second scribbly drawing is a “placement thumbnail.” The goal is to try to place elements in the scene and experiment with different compositional ideas. The heads can be simple ovals, and it’s OK to keep trying different positions for some of the figures, like the head of the Styracosaurus. It may take ten or more of these until the size and placement of elements feels right.
With that locked in, and with the other references at hand (photos of models, miniatures, scrap—all of which I’ll talk about in later posts) I try to establish a quick “tonal thumbnail,” (upper right). This serves as a map for the light or dark tones of the picture. It occurred to me during this step to make the background dark, rather than light, as it was in the original storyboard concept.
Not every picture gets this step, but I wanted to take a couple hours to paint a “color thumbnail,” (lower right). This step gave me assurance that the whole picture would really work out the way I was hoping before I committed myself to the labor of the final painting (below).