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clyfford still | museum
Crayon thumbnail drawings of abstract works by Clyfford Still
Clyfford Still, PP-607, 1972 (detail). Crayon on paper, 11 x 11 7/8 in.
Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO. © City and County of Denver / ARS, NY

CSM at Home Activities: Thumbnail Sketches

Thumbnail Sketches

Thumbnail sketches are small, abbreviated drawings to quickly explore composition and ideas. They are done rapidly and with no corrections or changes. Thumbnail sketches help artists remember big ideas of a subject or composition. Clyfford Still created thumbnail sketches throughout his career to explore a variety of subjects.


  • Drawing instrument
  • Paper


  • Begin by sketching some frames for your sketches. Experiment with size, ratio, and shape.
  • Sketch out the main parts of your composition.
  • If you come across a composition you like, do some additional sketches to continue playing with it.
  • Add color if you’d like.


  • Thumbnail sketches let you try out many different ideas quickly. Don’t focus too long on details or be critical of yourself.
  • Challenge yourself to explore compositions and ideas that are outside your comfort zone.
  • If you find a thumbnail sketch you really like, you could make some notes about the subject, the colors, or anything else you’d like to remember.
  • Turn your thumbnail sketches into larger, more detailed, and finished works of art.
  • Check out some examples of Clyfford Still’s thumbnail

sketches below like PNX-7, 1935PN-3, 1943; or PP-607, 1972.

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