When I first started taking watercolor seriously I heard over and over about how important value studies and thumbnails are. But did I ever take the time to do them? Nope.

Then I had an idea to make them FUN with the most compact sketch kit I’ve ever used — check it out:

My little value study thumbnail sketch kit.

Here’s what’s in the kit:

  • Art Toolkit demi palette — the black one, since I thought it went with the value study theme. I squeezed a little Payne’s grey along the left side of a mixing pan. I really like using the mixing pan for this since you can see the true color of the paint. You can use any color that gets a good range of values for this as well — doesn’t have to be Payne’s grey.
  • Mini zig-zag book — it’s by Hahnemüehle, and the paper is similar to Moleskine in feel, whiter in color.
  • Mini Pentel waterbrush
  • Shop towel
  • and a rubber band to hold it all together

That’s it!

Art Toolkit has an Ultralight Kit that’s pretty similar here all setup and ready to go.

Here are a few of my sketches, starting with this one on the hike back from Mule Ears peak:

When you’re too lazy to use your shop towel, just use your hand :)

We were running out of water (even though I took 3L!) and it was getting up in the 90’s so doing a 5 minute thumbnail was perfect!

Next up, The Window, before we hiked down to the pour off:

The view from camp.

I forgot to take a picture of my Boot Canyon sketch while we were hiking so got one back home:

Same with Balanced Rock — there were just too many people there lol! (Check out my Balanced Rock hike report here.)

Last but not least, a quick roadside sketch of McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas. (If ever you have the opportunity to go to a star party there I highly recommend it!)

I can’t wait to start another one of these little books on my next trip!

So are value study thumbnails worth it? Oh yes!

  • You can capture the feeling of a scene quickly and satisfy that “sketch itch”
  • They don’t take up much time, so I don’t hold up my hiking buddies :)
  • This setup is super portable — you can truly use it almost anywhere!

When the holiday rush dies down I can’t wait to paint these larger using reference photos and my thumbnail sketches as a guide.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer.


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