I have received many requests to write an article on the method I have been using to paint gaming armies. However, as I sat down to write this article, I felt strongly that my readers would benefit from viewing the big picture first. The sketch style method I’ve developed for painting armies is only a tiny subset of a much broader and richer topic of sketching in general.

So, what is the meaning of the term “sketching” in art and in miniatures? What utility does sketching serve the artist? What are some examples of sketching in various mediums?  Finally what are some methods for applying the sketching concept to miniatures in particular? These are the questions I will seek to answer in this article series.

Sketching as a concept

Sketching simply means concentrating on only one or two aspects of your piece at one time. You might focus on value (the placement and strength of lights & darks), the placement of colors, texture, or any number of other aspects. You can focus on a single aspect or combine multiple aspects in a sketch. For example, a sketch working on multiple aspects might define both the value and color of light on your figure.

Working on only one or two aspects at a time helps the artist make alterations and corrections earlier. The artist can quickly explore some aspect of the work without fear of damaging the final finish. Sketches capture the essential information about the piece early (value, composition, color), which helps visualize the final product long before the piece is finished. In this way, the artist can work on the vision in hand rather than in the mind.

Sketching Applied Across Mediums

Once you understand this definition of sketching you begin to see it applied across many artistic mediums including drawing, painting, and sculpting.

Most people think of drawing when they hear the term sketching. The first step in drawing is  to sketch out the proportions and placement of elements (composition). No matter how smooth your blending is, if you neglect sketching, your drawing will turn out more like the work of Napoleon Dynamite than that of Rembrandt.

A single drawing may go through many sketch stages before it is considered final. Each sketch is used to work on one aspect of the drawing.

Color sketches are often created to work on the coloration before committing to a piece. Painters will either create a sketch for reference, or will paint directly over the sketch.


Sketching is also used in sculpture. The concept of sketching is perhaps most important when sculpting the human form. The sculptor will first “sketch” the proportions of the model using wire and clay. This forms the literal bones of the sculpture.

Then the volumes are sketched to create the muscles. Only after these sketches are worked to the artist’s satisfaction will the artist move on to smoothing and finishing the surface details of the sculpt. Novice sculptors often make the mistake of neglecting the sketch in favor of smoothing and blending. Unfortunately, it is impossible to fix compositional mistakes past the sketch stage without ruining hours of work.

Sketching in Miniatures

We’ve seen a few definitions of sketching, how it is applied in other mediums, and the advantages afforded by the method. Let us move on to some ways that we can apply sketching to our miniature artwork.

Three methods of sketching I have seen applied to minis are the value sketch, colored sketch, and illustrative sketch.

Value sketch

  • On the most basic level, the role of the miniature painting is to help your eye understand the shapes of the sculpt, through highlights and shadows. The most It is accurate to say that the most important thing on any mini is the contrast of lights and darks on the figure.
  • Value sketches are applied using black and white paint to envision the values of the model.
  • Use value sketching to envision your light source. Sketch out reflections in shiny surfaces. Add additional details through sketching textures onto flat surfaces

Get started with learning to Sketch in Value with this free article!

Colored sketch 

  • The color sketch is a natural evolution from the value sketch. Instead of only interpreting values, you are now adding both color and You can apply color sketch over a value sketch or apply both at the same time.
  • These areas of color are painted with no transition or blend between them, so you are getting the full view of the relationships between areas of color on your model.
  • Best uses: to work out color composition, placement, and tonal variation.


Illustrative technique

The illustrative method is a holistic method of sketching. The hallmark of this style is that multiple sketches are layered one on top of the other to explore the various aspects of your painting. The illustrative technique can be hard to control in very small areas, so it works best on busts and large scale miniatures.

  • Each sketch is boldly applied using wet-on-wet technique that yields a variety of colors and tones. Although this style layers multiple sketches, each individual sketch layer may only focus on one aspect of the painting (value, color, saturation, texture, etc.).
  • Best uses: exploration and experimentation (being a holistic method, it gives the artist total freedom).

Finishing the Sketch

The methods used to refine and finish a sketch are as varied as the artist. I’ll be exploring various approaches, their combinations, and variations in a series of articles. I hope these articles will inspire a new generation of painters to explore sketching on miniatures. The first article in this series about finishing my sketch of Gollum is posted here!

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