A question of detail

19 June 2019

People often ask about my process – how do I go about a painting – and because I do still life paintings that are ‘realistic’, the assumption seems to be that I am painting in detail but I don’t feel as if I am.

I got asked at the RI Private View last year if I used an 000 brush (tiny) which I found shocking as I hardly ever use anything under a size 6 and often use quite large brushes. But that comment was thankfully counteracted by a fellow artist coming up and saying, “Do you know Lillias, I always thought that your work was highly detailed, but I’ve just been up to your nest painting and it’s not is it !” 

So why do those two comments stand out to me?  Well, I paint with ‘the whole’ in mind. I never feel as if I home in on details.  In other words, the details you think you see have evolved from initial broad washes and slowly building up the object by continually standing back to take the whole thing in and making decisions so that things hang together all along the way.  But all that freedom in building up the painting can only be acted on following careful thought and planning (where are the lights, where should the eye be drawn to, juxtapositions etc.) and those decisions evolve along the way.

Once I have got initial things set out in my mind and on paper, I feel I have the freedom and confidence to get going. Even at the end when I seem to have got that ‘detailed’ look through building up tone etc., I may emphasise a section with a wash of colour or do a wash over the whole lot to tone it down and subdue the details – all so it works together. 

So I never work ‘from the off’ in detail – I never move along a painting completing one section before moving on to another – it just slowly develops and the art is to stop when it can be seen as a whole in the way I want which is never obsessively finicky and photographic. 

So next time you see a painting of mine please look at it as a whole and then take a closer look if you want.