The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. - Marcel Proust

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How to Simplify Landscapes

"You rarely get into trouble by simplifying too much but you can easily get into trouble by not simplifying enough." Mitchell Albala

What do you do when you tend to add too much detail? You get frustrated. Well, at least I do. Sometimes it's hard to stop painting leaves! I've found I don't care for paintings detailing lots of leaves but I can't seem to stop painting them. ;-) Deciding what to leave in and what to take out is something I struggle with, as you may have noticed.

One reason I like -- or undertook -- painting quick studies is that it makes you decide quickly what is important. As Craig Nelson points out in his 60 minutes to Better Painting book --
In a quick study, if something is not essential to capture the subject, then it can be left out. When painting in this abbreviated style, you must leave out unnecessary details. The best way to approach this is to think of your strokes as rapid indications of shapes, values, and colors -- not details.
I also like what Charles Sovek said in his book (forgive the long quote, but it's exactly what I mean):
I've always been amazed how certain paintings, when viewed from a distance, appear to be loaded with a wealth of detail. Surfaces like water, wood and stone take on a richness of texture and sheen. Faces come alive with expressive character and trees have the appearance of sprouting thousands of leaves. Stepping closer, however, an entirely different visual character reveals itself. What was once a rich tapestry of lifelike effects now appears as no more than crude slashes, dashes, and daubs of thick paint positioned in seemingly formless patches of tone and color. Where before stood a majestic oak in full leaf now emerges a mad quiltwork of unrecognizable swatches and dots lying on top of washes dripping with reckless abandon.
He's talking, of course, about harnessing the power of suggestion in your painting. Some people say that a painting needs an air of mystery so the viewer can engage by filling in the missing details with the mind's eye. Here's a great example in Dan Young's "Rain":

So how do you decide how to simplify? How do you decide what is essential in a landscape and what is not? And how do you express that with blobs of paint? Finding the answer to that has become my new mission. Stay tuned.

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