Virtual Art Academy

Less Is More: Suggesting Details Makes Your Painting Stronger

Suggestion is much more powerful than detailed rendering. More sophisticated paintings suggest detail without actually rendering it. This increases the viewer’s involvement and interest in the painting by making viewers exercise their own imagination, which is almost limitless.

See how the figures here are not really defined but just suggested.

This is a small painting, only a few inches in size.

No longer are you just showing the viewer what you, the artist, is thinking about, but you are stimulating them to contribute their own thoughts and images to the work. In this way, the viewer becomes a participant in the experience.

If you depict everything as does a camera, you leave nothing up to the imagination of the viewer, who becomes just a spectator of the work, rather than a participant in it. 

still life painting of wild flowers

Look at the flowers in the above painting. They aren’t defined in any details, but suggested using a few (fairly accurate) dabs of color. The leaves in the back of the still life again are just suggested. In this case by painting some color then scraping it off with a palette knife to leave just a trace of green color.

I also like this as an abstract composition:

Here is another painting from my recent plein air painting trip in Morocco showing the same principle.

And another painting below (much earlier than the above work), in which you can see the same suggestive detail in the windows of the old buildings in an old village in southern Tuscany in Italy.

To learn more about how you can use brushwork to increase the viewer’s involvement and interest in the painting by making them exercise their own imagination through use of suggestion, see workshop L of the Virtual Art Academy® Apprentice Program.

Thank You

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to share it with friends. If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, take a look at my online painting classes.

Happy painting!

Barry John Raybould
Virtual Art Academy

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