There are steps that have been used for centuries to make designing more efficient. It is not necessary to use all of these steps in every design situation but they are included here to give you a better idea of the entire process.

  Thumbnail sketches where the visual idea is generated and refined
  Rough where the image is first drawn full size
  Refine the rough where the image is refined and all of the questions about it's appearance are resolved
  The product where you make the finished product


The expanded components of form are:



Thumbnail sketches (called thumbnails) are one of the most powerful tools available to an artist. This is where the image is invented.


When you have done this for a while you will develop a style that works for you.

The first visual forms of an idea are thumbnail (small) sketches (simple drawings). It is important that they be drawn quickly since you want to record your ideas while they are fresh in your mind. The mightiest cathedral might have started as a small scribble that was only meaningful to it's designer.

Each image suggests different versions of the same or a new idea. You need to put them all down on paper as quick as you can in a stream of consciousness style. Ideas are no good to anyone in your head -- they have to be acted upon. Having an image to see lets you evaluate the idea more effectively. This is a very productive system since it allows (encourages) you to try out and evaluate many ideas in a short period of time. It is not necessary to draw all of each of the thumbnails. You might just draw details or a few samples of a repeated pattern to get the idea. The sketches are not meant to be finished miniatures. They need only communicate their meaning to the designer. Draw as many ideas as you can, keeping the assignment in mind.

Typically a series of thumbnails will start "fishing" for an idea with a series of mostly unrelated ideas. As you get into the process the sketches tend to center around one or two major ideas and become variations on those ideas. It is best to take the idea too far so that you are satisfied that you have gone far enough.

Separate the creative part of drawing from editing. Draw first and ask questions later. Evaluate your sketches relative to your concept. Solve the problem you made for yourself -- or change the concept. Do as much planning as possible using thumbnails where visual decisions can be made quickly.
More about formatting in the Figure/Ground section

Decide which sketch you are most likely to develop and draw a rectangle around it that represents the Design Book page. This is called formatting. It will help you decide how large to make the image and where to put it on the page. Experiment with how the image will fit on the page in the thumbnail stage.

This is the best place to experiment with value and color relationships. It is much faster to color in a thumbnail than a full size drawing. Choose color(s) for contrast and impact. In the case of the sun symbol the temperature of the color must be an important consideration.

At least a page of thumbnail sketches (labeled THUMBNAIL SKETCHES) will be needed to make a good symbol.


Roughs are where the image is refined.
The first full sized sketches of the image are called roughs because they are just that. When enlarging a small sketch into a full size drawing additional design decisions usually need to be made. Designing requires a lot of decision making.

When possible roughs should be the same size as the desired product. A large object like a building requires many scale drawings (smaller proportional drawings with dimensions indicated).

The first rough is a sketch that enlarges the thumbnail. The image is then refined through a series of steps until all of the design problems are solved.

The materials and techniques used determine how the composition is to look and vice versa.

The tools and skills that are available to the artist will determine what the image can look like. Sometimes it is best to just develop the design and figure out later how to make it. This will not work, however, if there are restrictions on materials or methods. Then it is important to plan the image with those requirements in mind.

The sun symbol can be collaged out of black paper or drawn with pen and ink. Cutting the paper will result in crisp edges and more solid shapes. Tearing gives a more organic look but is harder to control. Drawing will result in lines that can vary in width and texture. The two techniques can be combined for a wide variety of visual effects.

Draw the desired thumbnail sketch full size if you are competent enough at drawing. It is often difficult, however, to keep the larger image in the same proportion as the thumbnail. There are several proven methods of enlarging a small drawing.

Draw a uniform grid of squares over the small sketch and then draw a larger grid where the rough is to go. l/2 inch squares on the thumbnail and 2 inch squares for the rough, for instance, will enlarge 4 times. Draw the image larger in the corresponding squares one at a time and the overall proportion will survive intact. Subdivide any squares that are too complex. Simple but effective -- good enough for Michelangelo.


The grids must be proportional to one another

The overhead opaque projector is a versatile device for transferring images.

Opaque projectors can enlarge an image easily. They will project onto any surface and give a lot of control over scale adjustment. The projector gets hot so be careful. A photo copy will work if the thumbnail page is too awkward to put in the projector.

Most photo copiers can enlarge and reduce images slightly. Making a copy of a copy (called generations) will eventually enlarge the image enough.
   Overlays are another powerful designing tool. Tracing is easier and faster than drawing.    

Simply drawing the thumbnail larger is usually not enough. As the image gets larger it also must be refined. More information often needs to be added and some parts may need to be adjusted or reconsidered.

There are several ways to refine a rough. Erasing and redrawing works with pencil sketches. The drawback of this method is that the original image is lost in the process -- and the new drawing may not be as good. It is better to draw first and then erase the parts that do not work.

A better solution is to put a translucent paper (like tracing or layout bond) over the rough and draw the needed improvements onto the new sheet. It is not necessary to redraw the good parts of the original until you have invented a better solution for the problem areas -- which may take several tries. Then the remainder of the original can be traced along with the improvements, refining them in the process.


A light table (or window) will make the Design Book pages transparent enough to trace through.


There are a number of devices that can greatly assist the drawing process:

A ruler is useful for measuring and drawing straight lines. It is foolish to try to draw a straight line without a straight edged guide.

A circle guide is helpful for drawing small circles or arcs.

A compass will draw large circles or arcs.

French curves are plastic templates that have a variety of curves and are useful for drawing complex shapes.

Drafting triangles and protractors can help draw angles consistently.

These tools will simplify drawing smooth edges and give added control to any artist. They can be used at any time during the design process but are probably too restricting to use for thumbnails. They are most useful for refining the roughs and making the finished product.

With a colored thumbnail it is possible to see all of the colors together and get a good feel for the entire composition.
The sun symbol will use only one colors but later projects will use more. When colors are to be used in a composition, they should be planned early in the design process. Thumbnails are a good place to start since decisions and changes can be made quickly. Felt pens and colored pencils are good tools for this purpose. This project uses black, white one color. Keep in mind value relationships. They are easiest to investigate using thumbnails.

Coloring a rough is time consuming and not always necessary. Usually small samples of colors or coloring parts of the composition are enough. With collage it is possible to compare small samples of the colored papers by simply overlapping them in the desired sequence and proportion.



The designing is almost complete. You should know what the image will look like by now.


The last planning drawing needs to have all of the design decisions made and the image taken far enough to insure it's successful completion. How much detail this requires will vary from artist to artist but too much is usually better than too little.

If someone else needs to be satisfied, like a client, the final rough (called a comprehensive -- or comp for short) needs to look enough like the finished product to sell the idea.

Some where between your thumbnails and roughs all of the color and value relationships to be used must be explored. If you are using a pen to draw the sun you must show how that pen's marks will look on one of your roughs.

The designing should be nearly completed at this stage. What the image will look like and how it will be made should have been determined by now. It is important that the content -- the meaning of the image reflect the concept. The sun symbol in this case needs to communicate the designer's idea(s) about the sun.

When someone else looks at your art they are the ones that read the content -- they interpret what they see. It should correspond with what you want them to see.


Label the first rough ROUGH and the final rough FlNAL ROUGH. If they are the same drawing use only FlNAL ROUGH. The final rough will be the last chance to (as the name implies) refine the image.



Designing well means planning well.

In the real world many designers have someone else craft their designs. You will need to be both designer and craftsperson.

It is possible to make a simple image like a sun symbol without all of the steps in this project. The results will almost certainly be better, however, by using all of the design process. For complex or important projects this becomes even more necessary.

The better the designing (planning) is done, the better the results. It is important that the composition be carefully and skillfully made to take advantage of the design. Careful in the sense that the desired image is the one produced and skillfully crafted to the best of the makers ability.

Skill requires patience, concentration and knowledge of the tools and techniques used. Hopefully the painting projects gave you a sense of how important it is to craft your artwork well. This project is the first in a series of handmade compositions.

The final rough should be the same size and have all of the desired characteristics of the desired image -- in this case a sun symbol. The image now needs to be transferred to the location in the Design Book where it is to be displayed. It is also necessary to transfer the image onto black (construction) paper if that medium is to be used. Tracing, projecting, transferring and templates are ways to do this.

Tracing works if the target paper is thin enough to see through and/or the rough is drawn dark enough. A light table (or window) can help make the image visible through thicker paper. This will not work with construction paper.

Projecting with an opaque projector will work on all flat surfaces. There is a limit to the size of the original and the projector gets hot so be careful. A photocopy will work if the original artwork is too awkward to put in the projector.

Transferring uses transfer paper (something like carbon paper but erasable). Transfer paper is a thin (tracing) paper with graphite or chalk on one side. It is placed transfer side down in a sandwich between the original (the rough) and the desired location and the image is traced. The pressure of the pencil or ball-point pen transfers the image. Use drafting tape to hold everything in place while you work. Check periodically to see how you are doing





Do NOT cut up the final rough -- it should be displayed in the Design Book.


Graphite (the "lead" in a lead pencil) works to transfer onto light paper, white or light colored chalk for dark paper. Graphite and light colored transfer papers are available from some art supply stores. A light colored one can be made rubbing chalk onto a sheet of tracing paper and shaking off the loose dust. It is also possible to rub a soft pencil or chalk on the back of the image to be transferred and eliminate the transfer paper -- but this is messy.

Templates are objects that are drawn around. They work well if the shapes are simple. If a shape is repeated use one template (turn it over to reverse the shape) and trace it several times.

An image can be cut into it's component parts like a child's jig saw puzzle and the pieces traced around. If templates are desired and you do not want to damage the rough, make photocopies and cut them up.

Use a ruler, compass or any other mechanical devices to get the image desired. Take the necessary time to get the best possible results.


Collage is also an easy technique to use to get complex images using colored and textured papers as well as photographs.

Cuttings and pasting of paper is called collage. Collage works best if the shapes are large and simple.

If the sun symbol is to be made all or in part from black, white and colored paper it will be necessary to transfer the image a piece at a time to the paper, cut out the shapes and glue them exactly in place.

Use a light colored transfer paper on the black paper. The guidelines will show so erase them after the piece is cut or transfer to the back of the paper.

Most people are familiar enough with scissors to use them effectively to cut paper. Cut slowly and as close to the guideline as possible, turning the paper rather than the scissors. Straight lines, several thicknesses of paper and small intricate pieces are difficult to cut with scissors.


A sharp knife is safer than a dull one -- it cuts easy so you do not have to push hard and loose control.

Change the blade when it starts to tear rather than cut.



A small sharp pointed knife (an X-acto style handle with a #11 blade) is generally more effective than scissors. NOTE: these knives are extremely sharp and must be handled with utmost care. The tip of the blade will dull with use so plan to replace the blade every other project or so. Always cut into a designated cutting board -- the back of the construction paper tablet will do. NEVER cut into the table top. Think (measure) twice: cut once.

There is a trick to cutting with these knives. The blade will cut where it is aimed, not where it is pulled toward. Steer the blade by rotating the knife's handle with the finger tips. With a little practice (before cutting up the project) the knife will go where it is directed. Turn the paper often and always cut towards the body but not towards the fingers.
It is possible to cut out several similar shapes at once by stacking the paper and transferring to the top sheet. Work slowly and do not let the pieces slip.

  Accuracy is more important than strength.    
Use a metal ruler to make straight cuts. Put the ruler over the part of the paper you want to keep in case the blade wanders. Line the blade up parallel with the ruler and cut. Keep the ruler in place until the cut is completed, using as many strokes as it takes.

One of the best things about collage is that you can see what it will look like before you commit yourself by gluing.



Glue that shows on the front of the project is a sign of poor craft.


Put glue on over a throw away paper surface -- like a magazine. Turn the page for each object to keep from getting glue on the front of the piece.


Glues are only active for a short time. It is important that the glue be put on quickly and the paper positioned accurately before the glue dries.

Always put a collage together dry (without glue) to make sure all of the parts are there and the composition is correct. Mark the location of each piece before gluing --- there will not be enough time to try to figure out where it goes before the glue dries. One way is to put small pencil dots under two strategic corners. Another is to put small movable objects in place to mark the piece's location. Work with clean hands and be careful not to glue the book shut.

Glue sticks are the easiest and neatest to use but dry very quickly the glue is only active for a few seconds. The sticks with glue that starts colored (purple) give a visual clue as to the glue's condition -- once it turns clear it will not stick.

Apply the glue to the back of the piece over a sheet of scrap paper so that no glue gets on the front of the project where it will show. Put a stripe of glue the width of the glue stick around the edge of the piece, working from the inside out for delicate shapes. Do not worry about the center of the shape -- if the edges hold the center will not go anywhere. Apply the glue quickly and position the piece accurately against the guide marks. Flatten the rest of the piece down working out any air bubbles.

With glue stick the paper will lay flat but will need to be reglued along the edges after the page flexes a few times. Plan to touch up the projects on a regular basis.

Liquid glue sticks better and gives a longer working time but can buckle the paper making the finished project look wrinkled. Apply the glue in the same pattern as the glue stick using as little as possible and trying not to saturate the paper.

YES brand glue is the best but it is expensive. It is as thick as glue stick but comes in a jar. Apply a thin coat to the back of the piece with a stiff brush (wash it with soap and water when you are done) and handle like the glue stick example.


Working with ink is like working without a net.




Indelible ink felt pens should not be used in class because their fumes may be toxic and are annoying to others.


Ink is the choice for delicate or line oriented images. There are a variety of ways to apply ink. Corrections are difficult, however, and almost always show (white out only works for reproduction). Work slowly and carefully.

Transfer lightly with a graphite sheet making any corrections before inking. Use mechanical aides where appropriate.

Outline any area to be filled in. A brush works better than a pen for filling large areas (a pen is primarily a line making tool). If the areas are too large they should be collaged.

Felt pens are the easiest to use but can bleed through the paper.

Roller ball and ball point pens work well and some can be used to get delicate textures (not necessarily an asset for this assignment).

Technical pens can use waterproof ink but are demanding to use -- they must be kept clean and used vertically.

Metal nibs that are dipped into ink are the most versatile but the most demanding. Many different tip sizes and shapes are available and they can be used with a wide variety of inks.

Experiment with textures on scrap paper before attempting them on the project. Vary the width of lines to add more visual interest. Stand back occasionally to see the entire composition. It is common when drawing to get so tied up in details that the parts do not work comfortably together.

Corrections are best made by changing the drawing to hide the error. When that is not possible try scraping the ink off with the edge of an X-acto knife (experiment on scrap paper first) or try covering the error with white paper.


Working with more than one material is called mixed media.
Drawing works well for details, textures and of course lines; collage is best for solid areas of color or value (black) and smooth edged (cut) or textured edged (torn) shapes. The two techniques can be combined as long as approximately the same black is used for the paper and the ink. If the colors do not match, a photocopy can be made and used (make sure it is a good black one).

Glue the paper in place first then blend the drawing into the paper. Be careful since the ink may not work well in areas that have glue on them. Plan ahead to avoid unpleasant surprises.
The next part of the design process, content, is not something that is put off until last. It is listed last here but must be used throughout the design process. Go to Part C: Content.

2006 James T. Saw
Do not copy or reuse these materials without permission.