What does this saying refer to?
Those who have been on my art workshops or have my ‘how to paint’ DVDs will have heard me say this often.

Very often we think that by painting every  detail in every part of the painting – we will have a better, more skillful painting. However, wisely choosing the amount of detail to suit the subject can allow us to paint a far more powerful painting.

We can use detail to draw attention to the main subject – but allow everything else to be simplistic and therefore become a foil that directs attention to our main subject. Our shining star!

Here is a good example: Nothing shines brighter than a shining star in the plain dark of the night sky.

Now compare the same star shining just as bright in – let’s say a sky in the day time – surrounded by tufts of clouds, birds flying, interesting changes in the blues of the sky.

Oil on Belgian Linen
Size: 22″ x 16″
560 mm x 410 mm

As you can imagine, the star will have lost much of it radiance because the contrasts in tonal value (light to dark), color, color temperature, intensity and edges will all be so much more narrow in the day sky – compared to the simple dark night sky.

Our attention will be divided amongst all there is to see.

Now imagine this scenario: A dark sky full of bright stars – our star would be lost amongst the numerous other stars – all shining brightly.
Now let’s just go back to our ‘one bright shining star’.

This is our main subject.

By reducing the surrounding detail down to the dark sky with one bright star, our painting will be more powerful, our message will be more succinct and a great deal less time consuming to paint.

If we want our viewers to focus on this beautiful brilliant star against the dark of the night sky, we would be wise to let it stand alone, glowing brightly. Adding more detail such as additional stars will reduce the power and apparent brilliance of our shining star.

We have choice. The lesson here is we can use simplicity to lead the attention and the viewer’s eye to our main subject.

We can create a less dramatic painting by adding the beauty of many stars in the night sky. This would be a different painting – just  as valid – but the message would be different.

When I want to have a strong voice in my painting – I keep my supporting areas simplistic. Hence my one of my often heard sayings: “Simplicity has force”!

Each painting subject and composition needs to be thought through. Knowledge allows us to understand the powerful tools we have to create our narrative within our paintings. Let your subject and your message speak through your choice of the right ‘tool’ for the right subject and story. You are a story-teller!

My painting titled ‘Faraway’ draws the viewer passed the window with condensation – you hardly notice it as you are drawn toward the girl and her faraway thoughts.

Compare this painting with my oil painting ‘La Confidente’. I have used the power of detail spread throughout this painting. I have goverened how much detail in the surrounding areas to allow the viewers to subltly be drawn to my main subject which is of course the tet ta tet between the two women.

This painting is several paintings in one. The counter top has numerous still life studies, glasses glistening in the muted light, stacks of plates catching the warm glow of the candelabra, the metal jugs reflecting the glow in the room.

Each of these paintings are compelling, they both draw us in – as we become lost within the scene.

Understanding the power we artists have to create paintings that tell our story,  will open a whole new world of possibilities.


The power is in your hands!

Happy Painting Everyone!

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