The ART Of Misdirection (And How To Use It)

2014 Artwork Misdirection Article Sketch

Before I wrote yesterday’s article, I watched a few interesting Youtube videos and one of them was a fascinating (and slightly creepy) talk by Apollo Robbins titled “The Art Of Misdirection” where he talked about the power of misdirection and, in particular, how pickpockets use this to their advantage.

After this, I watched a couple of videos about stage magic (one of someone performing magic tricks and another video by someone else explaining one of these tricks) and – once again – misdirection featured pretty heavily in both videos.

In case you’re not sure what misdirection is, it means distracting people with something so that they don’t notice something else. Apparently, both magicians and pickpockets use this all the time.

But, can artists use it too?


In case you don’t believe me, let’s take another look at the rather cheesy picture from yesterday’s article:

"Abracadabra" By C. A. Brown

“Abracadabra” By C. A. Brown

Misdirection can be a very clever way of covering up mistakes in your drawings and paintings without actually covering them up. This works best for small mistakes, but you can disguise some pretty large errors this way too.

When we look at a picture, we try to make sense of it and get a general idea of what is happening in it.

As long as a picture gives a general sense of something happening in it, then we don’t tend to look at every tiny detail. We tend to miss a lot of stuff.

For example, the drawing I showed you earlier is absolutely terrible on a technical level. Why? Because the magician has freakishly long arms.

If you don’t believe me, then just take a look at what his right arm would look like if someone wasn’t standing in front of it:

Wow! He's Slenderman's long-lost brother!

Wow! He’s Slenderman’s long-lost brother!

Now, since both of his arms are folded and one of them is partially hidden behind someone else, this probably isn’t particularly noticeable at first glance.

Not only that, the magician’s arm isn’t really the focal point of the picture either – it’s just a small detail in a picture which is focused on a very stylised magician and a member of the audience.

Plus, since he’s holding things in both of his hands (a wand and some cards – hardly the most imaginative things in the world, I know) the audience’s attention is more likely to be drawn to these things rather than to the unnaturally long arms that his hands are attached to.

So, how can you use misdirection in your art to cover up mistakes?

Here are three basic tips….

1) Focal Points: I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s a good idea to think about what the main focus of your picture is (eg: what people will notice first when they see your picture). Usually this is pretty obvious, but common focal points for pictures can include people’s faces, things that people are holding, strange objects, windows etc…

If your mistake isn’t part of any of these main focal points, then you’re already using misdirection without knowing it. Yes, people might notice your mistake if they look at your picture closely or for more than a few seconds, but they probably won’t notice it instantly.

However, if you’ve made a mistake in one of the focal points of your picture then you either need to add a new focal point and/or find some way to turn your badly-drawn focal point into something which isn’t a focal point any more.

2) Action: If something interesting or dramatic is happening in your picture, then you’re already using misdirection. Generally, your audience will probably be a lot more interested in the story that your picture is telling than in the technical details of it, so they are less likely to notice any small mistakes that you’ve made.

3) Lighting: Going back to my picture of the magician, did you notice how badly-drawn his right hand was? Let’s take a closer look:

Art misdirection 2

Apart from the fact that this is a detail from an obscure corner of my drawing and that the main focal point of this small detail is the magician’s wand, another thing that helps to cover up the magician’s badly-drawn hand is the fact that it is placed in a darker part of the picture.

Generally speaking, people tend to notice brighter areas before they notice darker areas. Use this to your advantage. If a part of your picture is badly-drawn or badly-painted then make it (and the surrounding area) gloomier.

But, at the same time, make sure that the lighting in your picture stays at least vaguely realistic too. Nothing stands out more than a shadow that is obviously in the wrong place!


Sorry that this article is so basic, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

3 comments on “The ART Of Misdirection (And How To Use It)

  1. […] real trick, of course, is knowing exactly what to zoom in on. To borrow a term from my article about misdirection, you should zoom in on the “focal point” of your picture – the part of your […]

  2. […] “Abracadabra” here that I haven’t already said in the two articles (here and here) that I’ve written about painting […]

  3. […] You Try To Be Controversial?” – “Keep Going – It All Builds Up” – “The ART of Misdirection (And How To Use It)” – “Test Your Creativity – Salvage Something” – “The Artistic Gamble” […]

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