Thinking About Art: Simplification

Mongol Wrestler oil 12x12" 900
“Mongol Wrestler” oil 12×12″ $950 (Salmagundi Club Summer Exhibition, Certificate of Merit)

I’ve always remembered one of the first things my Illustration II teacher at the Academy of Art told us, which is that “the simpler statement is the stronger statement”. Easy to say, surprisingly hard to do. It’s easy to just accept what’s in front of you and put it in your painting or drawing, whether it’s individual the leaves on a tree or every hair of a coat of fur. It’s much more challenging (and ultimately rewarding) to edit and leave things out. That, however, is a judgement call and the possibility exists that one will make the wrong choice. Scary! Actually, it’s inevitable. But that’s ok as long as one is honest about it and is willing to keep trying. While a good teacher or experienced artist friend can help, ultimately you have to decide what to do based on your vision (you DO have a vision of where you want to end up, right?) of where and how to simplify. In future posts I’ll be discussing a variety of ways to approach simplifying your image.

Example: here’s a 12×12″ oil I did of a Mongolian wrestler. I started by deciding that the painting would be about his pose and the light/shadow pattern. Also the positive shape of the pose and the negative shapes that were then created in the background. I cropped the figure VERY carefully, taking into account the overlap of the frame. When I shot the reference photo kinds of stuff were going on around him on the event field, none of which I needed and which would just get in the way. The gutsy move for me was the golden yellow background. I had to control both color and value so that the subject would still pop out, but keep that sun-drenched feeling. It worked. But if it hadn’t I would have painted over it with something else, most likely still letting a bit of it show through. “Mongol Wrestler” was awarded a Certificate of Merit in the Salmagundi Club’s Members Show in 2017.

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