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Deadly Allure - and the importance of thumbnails.

Journal Entry: Wed Feb 8, 2012, 11:31 AM

Stop looking at her actual thumbnails.  I mean thumbnail sketches.

Okay, so this isn't exactly a journal entry.  But since I can't be bothered to figure out how to post inline images in the commentary section of regular image posts, you're getting this.  Deal with it.

In my perpetual state of ultimate lazyness, this image has been bouncing around for a while, and I'm just now getting around to posting it.  And I've had a fair number of questions.  So, I think I'll take this opportunity to walk you through some of the happy accidents that fill the days of us artists.  That's right, Bob Ross may be the only one who owns up to it, but we all have them.

To me, the most important thing in art is making decisions.  In fact, you can break my art philosophy into a tidy little three step triad.  Observations -> evaluations -> decisions.  That's the important stuff.  Everything else is just about informing and fueling those steps.  Almost all of that is done in the thumbnail stage.  Which is why even if they seem totally gnawing-on-furniture boring sometimes, they're vital.  

Rough thumbnails are your no-holds-barred brainstorming.  Do at least a dozen to start.  Then evaluate them, and start to pick out things that you like.  Then more thumbnails, refining and incorporating ideas.  You're looking for compelling composition, gesture, flow, rhythm; you know, all those words that arty people use, but can't ever actually explain.

For this piece, I picked out these thumbnails out of about twenty to move on to stage two:

So, this was my first sketch.  And it pretty much does the job, gets the idea across.  But, resist the temptation to go on with your first sketch.  No matter how perfect you think it is, do a few more.  Looking at it now, the snakes aren't really very cool.  They feel a little like they were just thrown in.  So I'm glad I kept going.

The second sketch has some interesting things going on.  I like the vantage, and I like that the snakes become more of a mass, and dominating visual element.  I also like how they blend together in her hair.  But it's not quite got that "come hither, it's worth the horrible death." feeling that I'm going for.

The thing that I like here, is the ambiguity between her and the snakey shapes.  There are no heads besides hers, and that adds an interesting feeling to the piece.  You wonder a little bit if that's all part of her, and she becomes potentially supernatural, instead of just a hot girl playing with pythons.  Happy accident.

And here is the example of just plain going turbonuts overboard with the concept.  A cram-packed harem of sex and danger.  There's pretty much no room for thinking that you'll make it out alive, or unsmiling.

I took the things I liked from these thumbnails, and incorporated them in to a final drawing.  I took some of the happy accident ideas, like maybe she's part of the snake, and reinforced it with her outfit and her gesture.  Unfortunately, I painted over that drawing, so I don't have it to show anymore.  Sorry.  How anti-climactic of me.

So anyway, the lesson here:  Do thumbnails until you can't stand it anymore.  Exhaust your ideas, then go steal some and do more.  Then do a few more.  Then start combining them into your awesome masterwork of incredibility!

  • Listening to: Half of the voices in my head. The rest is jerks.
  • Reading: I'm trying to learn how.
  • Watching: Every step you take, every move you make.
  • Playing: a lovely little fiddle ditty vs. the devil.
  • Eating: Whatever wanders close to my glowy angler tongue.
  • Drinking: in the irony of it all.
Add a Comment:
358-2days Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2012  Student Digital Artist
All your images are dead links now.
rubyskye Featured By Owner May 4, 2012  Student Digital Artist
It's a shame the pictures don't work, but an interesting read regardless. I always get really lazy with the number of thumbnails I do.
snake-eyes-x Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012
All of the image links are broken. Also a couple images at the bottom of [link] are broken too. HTTP 404 Not Found.
SteveArgyle Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Yeah, we've been reworking my website, where all those links have resided. All the new stuff has different naming conventions and folder structure, so I'll need to go through and update everything. Sorry!
TheLegendarySam Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2012
Damn man! Those guys at Wizards took the least suggestive option. Once you look at all the other ones you realize there's still some prudery in MTG.
Lovely to see a professional sharing his work, btw. And I think it's an amazing card too.

Good luck :)
marcial-arts Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012   Digital Artist
The importance of thumbnails is applied on our avatars hahaha
Elvenwyn Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2012  Student Digital Artist
The final piece and first three thumbnails are awesome! However, I'm sure you saw this already with the fourth thumbnail that it's too busy and that taking one of the poses in there and putting it as a final picture would be cool, but I still love the final product overall. Also, thanks for putting this up, it acts as a nice tip.
Kiikeluren Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2012
I love the final version and all the thumbnails of this picture! :iconiloveyouplz: Also I like Deadly Allure, I'm going to have it in my black/green elfdeck :B
Do you play MtG Steve? XD
RevanREK Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Aw this is such a good journal. It's really informative and a great insight into how you create an amazing piece of work! I never do thumbnails, I know I should but I just don't have enough ideas and I just take too long to draw anything. So I guess I don't really have the patience to spend ages on a drawing, just to scrap it and start again, and my 'quick' drawings look rubbish anyway. Still I might just give it a go... You've inspired me, my fingertips are itching...
Corvidraline Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Ah, I wish I was more patient with my art... Because, although I really do understand the improtance of thumbnails, I do them so infrequently it's a shame... Though I do try to do them for action poses, because I'm still quite alot dodgy on anatomy and perspective... Thanks for these tidbits, though, they are both helpful and informative, as well as giving us a nice little window into how you think and approach things as an artist, which is really cool. Also, now I want to go get some snakes and toss them on my girlfriend. I'm totally sure it'd be worth it.

Oh and also, I was in attendance at the pre-release for Dark Ascension in Flint, and it was great to meet you, even if I was a wierdo spazz. I had a great time drooling over your art, and I hope I wasn't too crazy. You're my favorite Magic artist, though, you see, so I was rather excited.
barzula-storm-demon Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I gotta say it, I love your art and getting to see more of the process I feel oddly honored, thank you for the tips in here :D
PrnzsAnbaa Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
This just makes me want to see each of these thumbnails brought to life more now though... As a woman, I can appreciate the sex appeal of a hot girl and the danger of snakes. I love the real piece, but now I'm curious...

All in all though, I love the detail in the leather and snake-skin lace. It makes her feel different, but one in the same as the snakes. And her demeanor is very come hither, but there almost feels like there is a certain affection for the snakes as well. Like they are her keeper as much as she is theirs.

Love your work. Can't wait to see more. I hope you are doing a bunch for Avacyn Restored! :D
lithriel Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Very good point all around. I have this awful habit of drawing one or two thumbnails and moving on. =0 I am sure my work could be better if I took more time to make it more interesting. Is it bad of me to like the first thumbnail you drew the best? It has a more believable and natural gesture than the finished piece (which feels like she can't hold that position for long as there is nothing supporting her back).
Treyos Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I think that the snakey harem might actually be worth the inevitable death. Plus, if I can manage to learn some of that snake-speak stuff that Harry Potter did, I could be in for the night of three lifetimes. ;)
Serch2 Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Nice lesson. If I had more time to draw, I would take it into account... However, its good to know it!
uncle-shaun Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Nice journal entry, Zteiv! :) It's fun to see your thumbnail & sketch process!
bitterlilraccoon Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012
My art can improve five fold with this little tutorial. Now all I need is the patience to do a dozen thumbnails beforehand.
tehwerr Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012
thanks for the advice!
Mottenfest Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I take it after planeswalkers for equality you're still employed by MtG, yeah?
BlackheartArt1364 Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Student General Artist
Do you do all this on your Cintiq or do you scribble out some by hand on normal paper with a normal pen? And I personally love the third thumbnail sketch. The angle makes it seem more provocative than the others.
SteveArgyle Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Mostly the Cintiq nowadays. But I'll still do stuff on paper now and then.
newmanaccount Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I like the third one. The way the snakes are like a mass all around her, like a sea of motion, it would look incredible if finished.
nyra711 Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Student Digital Artist
Ooh, multiple sketches, you say? That ought to help my incurable failure when it comes to art! ...somewhat...

My main qualm is anatomy...I can never seem to get proportions right...I suppose that comes with practice, hm?
SteveArgyle Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Practice, observation, study. If you can see that it doesn't quite look right, all you need to do is figure out how it's off. Take a picture of a friend in the pose that's giving you trouble, and compare. For the most part, you can usually just ask yourself "what's not right? Is it too long, too small, what?" You can usually just see it. Adjust until it doesn't look weird anymore. (One more reason to work things out in as early and primitive a sketch as you can.)
nyra711 Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Student Digital Artist
But...I don't have friends that would let me take pictures of them =w=; I'm an anti-social internet derp.

Still, muchly thanks for the advice :3 I'll have to see if I can get some reference pictures from the magical thing that is the internet.

I'd give you something as thanks, but all I have is this piece of pocket lint and a leaf :I
iancjw Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Great work and advice Steve!
FaeMarie Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for the lesson...I still have a lot of learning to do and it is always nice when people share :)

~Fae Marie
Projecta6 Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Professional Photographer
LEGEND! You are actually hilarious.
RowanKeltizar Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I like the 3rd sketch the best, besides the final. Gorgeous and sexy as always. :)
ValerieJB Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012
Thanks for the encouragement and advice Steve. I ususally get lazy about thumbnails. I do a couple gesture type sketches and then usually battle it out on the actual canvas. Which as you know, can lead to some frustration! lol

Thanks again. :)
LadyAltara Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012
Yet another of your artworks that I love. Which is all of them. I always love opening boosters and finding art by you in there :D
Kerevon Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012
I never thought I'd receive a meaningful and important lesson about art by looking at pictures of attractive ladies and snakes. How very wrong I was. This is very helpful, and quite interesting. The final picture is certainly an excellent piece.
SteveArgyle Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Is there any lesson that can't be made better with the addition of attractive ladies and snakes?
Kerevon Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012
Not really, no. Everything is better with ladies and reptiles.
petropicto Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012
I totally agree.

very nice final result by the way!

keep painting! :)
13raincell Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012
Enchanting and educational. Thank you for the insight!
Rath-Roiben-Rye Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Student General Artist
~~Very good advice! ^___^ I certainly don't do enough thumbnails, but I think I will now just to see how it turns out!
mike-reiss Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Akernis Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Nice, thank you for the lesson. if you don't mind how long does it usualy take you to do each of those thumbnail sketches?
SteveArgyle Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Not long. Usually five to ten minutes I'd guess. I haven't actually ever paid attention to how long each one takes. But I'll usually set aside a few hours just for this process.
SciFiArtist1724 Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2012
How long did it take you to render this once you had the final sketch?
Akernis Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I see, thank you.
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