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Drawing For Tattoo Design: Thumbnailing Will Make You a Better TattooerFor Sure Fireside Technique

Thumbnailing Will Make You a Better Tattooer...For Sure! | Fireside Technique


THUMBNAILS!!!! You know you should be doing it. We know you AREN’T doing it, but we’re gonna tell you why you definitely NEED TO!!


This episode was made possible thanks to:



Interview by By Jake Meeks —

Writing By Daniel Pushcarich —

Topics: Thumbnailing, Thumbnails, Tattoo Design, Drawing for Tattoos, Tattoo Thumbnails, Just Do It, not Sponsored by Nike, But Definitely Sponsored By Thumbnails


Importance of Thumbnailing in Tattooing

“Thumbnailing is crucial in solving shape and value issues in tattooing before diving into intricate details.”

- Jake Meeks

Thumbnailing is a valuable technique for tattoo artists, involving quick, simple sketches to develop designs. This method helps solve major design problems related to shape and value early in the process, making the tattooing process more efficient. By focusing on big shapes and avoiding the urge to dive into intricate details too soon, artists can create more compelling compositions.


Okay, How Do I Thumbnail For My Next Tattoo Design?

“I’m just thinking about the very simple shapes that make up the design that I want to make.”

- Jake Meeks

Male back and forearm thumbnail sheets

So, to start thumbnailing, create several quick sketches based on the general shape of the area of the body where the tattoo will be placed. Don’t spend a lot of time here, just make a quick outline of the potential areas, and if you need some help defining flow then add a LITTLE bit of musculature.

First set of thumbnails for the tattoo design

Using a complementary color palette, or just black/pencil color and the white of the paper use basic shapes like cylinders, cubes, and spheres to outline the major shapes and areas of the design. Spending about 2 minutes on each thumbnail. 

phase 2 of the thumbnailing process

Now, quickly identify which compositions work best. Pick your strongest 3, and spend another 2-5 minutes refining those before moving on.

final phase before designing the full render

Finally, out of the 3 you just worked on, decide which one is the absolute strongest. Spend another 2-5 minutes working out some extra, quick details before finalizing your design and moving onto the full value/color study.

DONE! Wasn't that easy?! In total you should’ve spent roughly 20-30 minutes figuring out what the best possible composition was for this client’s tattoo design. 


True Benefits Of Using Thumbnails In YOUR Tattoo Design Process

final design tattooed on client

“No one has ever solved a problem by complicating things, or adding complexity. You only solve things by simplifying. and , thumbnailing is the perfect tool to simplify your problems”

- Jake Meeks

Thumbnailing simplifies the design process, ensuring that the basic shapes and values are effective before adding details. This approach prevents wasted time on complex, ineffective designs and helps artists create tattoos that stand the test of time. By repeatedly refining thumbnails, artists can achieve the best possible composition, leading to more successful and visually appealing tattoos.

“If it doesn’t work dumbed down, if that arrangement of shapes you choose isn’t pleasing to the eye you will not fix it by adding fancy stuff. You will not ice that cake and make it good, you’ll just waste a lot of time making a mediocre tattoo”

- Jake Meeks

Hope this was helpful! We’ve provided a link in the box below to our “Tattooer’s Toolkit” which has our Simplify Course, plus a 3 month trial for the Inside Fireside Tattoo Club, and The Tattoo Transformer Worksheet. 

In the first couple modules of Simplify, it takes a deeper dive into the topic of thumbnailing along with Jake’s process for how he designs for larger spots on the body, like full legs and arms. Also, here’s a link to the “Tattoo Design Thumbnails” so you can try this method on your own!

Thanks for reading! 



Want more tattoo education and resources?

Check out ourDrawing For Tattooers catalog HERE!


The Fireside Tattoo Network is home to the Fireside podcast, Fireside Technique video series and our Fireside Weekly blog.

The Fireside Tattoo podcast is hosted by veteran tattooer Jake Meeks, check out our episodes where we discuss, argue and wax philosophical, from tips for all levels of artists to trends in the tattoo world. Many guest artists have sat down for interviews and in-depth conversations and many more are planned…check back often!

Our Fireside Tattoo Overview video series offers informative, short, and detailed videos geared towards helping artists understand the science and nuances of tattoos and make more informed decisions to improve their work. We often take some of our more technical topics from our Fireside podcast and film an in-depth, narrated, time-lapse video showing exactly how Jake or our featured artists handle certain issues.

Support us while buying the stuff you need at the links below!

Drawing for Tattoo Design

Your tattoo designs starting to feel stagnant? Feel like you’re not progressing? Drawing is the single most important piece of the tattoo process. No level of technical tattoo skill can overcome bad composition and draftsmanship.

Fireside Tattoo Network simplifies the tattoo design process with the Fireside Method. By focusing on the principles of Shape, Value, Edge and Color, we help you identify and solve your biggest challenges early in the design process.

The Fireside Method:

Check out some of our podcast episodes as well!

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