Virtual Art Academy

Less Is More: Suggest Don’t Render All The Details


Learning to suggest the details in your painting 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.

suggest figures

See how I just suggest the shape of the figures here.

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

Why you should suggest the shapes in your paintings

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. 

suggest wild flowers and leaves

Look at the flowers in the above painting. They aren’t defined in any details, but suggest them by using a few (fairly accurate) dabs of color. I do the same to suggest the leaves in the back of the still life. 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 where I suggest the scene.

And another painting below (much earlier than the above work), in which you can see where I suggest the 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. If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, and want to learn more about my Visual Music & Poetry® model, take a look at my online painting classes.

Happy painting!

Barry John Raybould
Virtual Art Academy

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