One of the key questions present when I paint is how to maintain the right balance between detail and free expression? I love it when I’m at the earlier stages of finding my way to a final composition, when brush strokes are naturally freer and easier. But as I get closer to the final composition my painterly preferences, that constitute and produce my recognisable ‘style’, prompt me to work towards a more settled ‘realistic’ final image and dig into details of faces, clothes, leaves etc. Until this is done, for me the painting remains unfinished aka ‘my style’.
The question then is ‘how to avoid the devil in the detail’ (slight shift in how this expression is usually used) e.g. getting too tight in my brushstrokes, or layering on so much paint that the ‘life’ of the painting vanishes. One way I dig into the detail of faces (bearing in mind this is usually done from memory and imagination) is by working bottom up from the bone structure of the face. So, in the two faces below you can see one where I have just begun this process, and another where the face is nearly there. Think the latter probably appears more agreeable 🙂
Pretty sure I was never taught this approach, and know it is not the one I always use, but suspect it emerges from both my study of anatomy at art school, and my seeing oil painting as a process of gradual layering. I also know that whatever the approach used I am constantly alert to the risk of stifling the dynamic of the painting. Of course, with oil painting one can scrape off layers, or remove them with white spirit, but these are not techniques I resort too very often. I prefer to keep a balance on the tightrope as I proceed.
How else have I layered and dug into detail in my ongoing composition discussed in my last post (Painting in Coronavirus lockdown?
- feathered up mapgies and given them a branch to perch on
- made all the sky bluer and lighter
- begun to shape up hands and feet
- made all middle section ‘grass’
Still very much ongoing, and there is a niggling wondering about how I could have kept a bit of the purple beneath the ‘grass’ more present, but I’m trusting to my inner compass to guide me forward.