The Devil is in the detail
If you are a botanical artist or photo-realist, then detail is crucial. If we are not one of these two types of artists, and paint in a representative way, detail can be one of our biggest traps.
Usually, the trap is set to spring as we get closer to finishing a painting. When we start a work, the concern is about big shapes and tones, and often we can really like the result of this almost-relaxed stage. It can be surprisingly alluring, but we push on because it isn’t the vision we had at the beginning.
As we get even closer to what we think is the finish, something happens. Even without thinking we start looking for extra detail to add. Actually, the detail in the reference uses a megaphone to alert us to the fact that we have omitted certain things that will render the painting a failure without them.
I was caught out a few days ago while painting a pair of kats on a beach. Seeing that the canvas was biggish at 90x90cm, I had decided on a larger brush to do most of the work. The shadow and sunlit parts of the sails were the real focus of the painting – the broad sweeping brush seemed to work in getting the desired result.
Everything was broad, but as the work came closer to a conclusion, I decided it was time for smaller brushes. As soon as I picked up the small brush, I was looking for small things to add – I had one foot in the trap!
I picked up a delicate rigger and put in some rigging, after all, it was in the photo. This wasn’t so bad, but then I started painting the ribs in the sails with the same brush, yes, they were in the photo too.
The problem was, that after all the broad brush in the beginning, it has set the tone of the painting. Being broad for most of the painting and then fiddling with a rigger just wasn’t working. A better option would have been to imply the detail with a large brush and leave some stuff out altogether.
Issues like this needs constant attention, because when we don’t think about it, the default ‘let’s consult the photo for details’ – kicks in.
It’s amazing how well detail can be implied with a large brush, and all it takes is a bit of practice and being aware of falling in to the detail trap. Being broad is not every artists cup of tea, but chronic attention to detail is there to trap any of us at any time!