Studio Mysteries

May 22, 2009

Permission to Be Boring

Filed under: Painting — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 4:02 am

One way to tell whether an absolute beginner designed a flyer is if it uses half a dozen fonts or more. The first thing graphic design students learn is to impose limits: on typeface choices, palettes, italics and bolding. It makes sense: if everything is bold, nothing stands out. It’s kind of like trying to hear a lecture on a crowded school bus where everyone is talking.

The same thing holds true for drawing and painting. The trick is not in articulation and detail, it is in making things shut up and sit back – so that other things can have the microphone. What makes a painting is not placing the perfect highlight, it’s orchestrating the rest of the painting so that the perfect highlight is a solo that can be heard above the other instruments.

A painting is not a democracy. Something has to be more important than something else, and the less important bits cannot be held back enough – most people put in infinitely more information than necessary, much more “too much” than “not enough”.

This, however, is wonderful news! Instead of rendering everything with the meticulousness and intensity of an out-of-control android, we can be vague! And plain! And smudgy!

Not explaining everything runs counter to our impulses, because, as Michael Siegel points out, we artists are forced to look at everything within the scene we are painting, whereas most people in their right minds would only look at the interesting parts and then go have a sandwich. And if we look at something intently, we want to draw it or paint it. But in fact, NOT drawing it is much easier.

“So what information should we paint, and what information should we leave out,” you might be asking. Good question! One that cannot be answered definitively and permanently! It all depends on what’s important in a particular picture, which is something that only you, the Benevolent Dictator of Every Inch of Your Canvas, can possibly decide! But: generally speaking, we can’t perceive things that are lit and things that are in shadow simultaneously. We are either focused on one or the other, unless we are experimenting with illegal substances, which would be illegal and morally wrong as well.

Common sense dictates that the bits of a painting that are really important should be lit, because if they are in shadow, you can’t see them very well. So the answer, insofar as one is possible, is to vague it up in the shadows and to reserve the detailed, articulated solos for the light.

Shadows: it’s where being lazy is the Right Thing. Don’t you love shadows just a little more now?


  1. It’s not easy to take a totalitarian approach – something I really struggle with.

    Comment by Splodge! — May 25, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

    • You can do it, Splodge! You don’t have to shoot people or anything – just suppress information. SUPPRESS IT! Or think of it as being an editor and toning down some TMI


      Comment by studiomysteries — May 25, 2009 @ 4:04 pm

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