View Full Version : Details, Details

Bill Foehringer
11-03-2005, 10:30 AM
The amount and location of 'detail' in a painting is very important. More detail brings an area forward, less detail pushes an area back into the picture. More detail draws attention to an area, less detail allows the eye to skip over an area.
What is it about details that give them this power?
Edges. Details, by their very nature, must be edgey. A detail is a specific stroke that sharply delineates one area from another. The sharp strokes say, "Here I am! Look at me!" So our eyes obligingly do so. It is these sharp edges that capture the eye. Details can be collections of sharp edges or single strokes. Details are also relative. We can have details in other areas of a painting but they must be fewer and weaker than the number of details near the center of interest.
So then the discussion of details turns into a discussion of edges. What are edges? In details edges are usually sharp and sudden often composed of contrasting values and/or colors. To deemphasize a detail we can draw it with a softer edge so that it makes it's presence known in support of the main subject but doesn't compete for attention.
When we squint for value shapes at the beginning of a painting or while selecting a subject we should also note which details disappear first and which ones blur out last. If we record what is before us then those strong edgey details that disappear last will either need to be near the center of attention or ignored if the center of attention is to be elsewhere in the painting. Remember we are in control of what we put down on the painting surface.
Details, like values, color and edges must be kept under control and must be judged in relation to one another.
Another main component of details is drawing. Accurate drawing. If a detail is going to call attention to itself then it had better look good. This could refer to accurate perspective or it could refer to a single lyrical stroke of brush or pastel. In either case accuracy of shape is essential the closer to the center of interest or the more important the stroke is to the feeling the artist is trying to convey to the viewer with this painting.
Color is another aspect of details that reinforces the shout for attention. The only bright red in an otherwise green painting will draw the eye immediately. When the eye arrives it had better find the center of interest close by.
This brings me to another use of details as it relates to color.
To use a color only once in a painting is not a mistake but if colors are echoed in other areas of a painting then the painting can become more harmonious and cohesive. So a little splash of color detail away from the main area of interest is a useful method to remember. This color detail does not have to be the exact same hue as elsewhere but can also be an echo distorted by its interaction with the other colors nearby.
But I stray into the subject of color. See how easily one aspect of painting blends and blurs into another? Understanding and controlling this interaction and seeing these interactions in the subject brings great satisfaction to an artist.
So those are my thoughts on details which began with the sudden realization that details are really just edges. I felt that I needed to write these thoughts out to clarify them in my mind.
Anyone else have some thoughts about details?
Is it possible for a soft edge to be a detail and center of interest?
Particularly how details can be used to convey feeling? BillF

Deborah Secor
11-03-2005, 12:50 PM
Is it possible for a soft edge to be a detail and center of interest?

Yep--if the whole page is equally detailed all over and the ONLY spot that is in contrast is a soft edge or blur, it becomes attractive to the eye.

Great topic, Bill, and I have some thoughts to add but no time to type now. I'll be back, as they say!


11-03-2005, 03:34 PM
Hi Bill,

Great thread to makes think before starting or even composing a painting.
I would just like to point out that the soft edges can be very important, not only to draw the attention to other part of the painting, but also to make a painting more realistic. For insteance to depict out of focus.