The Illusion Of Detail

2014 Artwork illusion of detail sketch

If you’re not careful, you can waste hours drawing or painting extremely detailed backgrounds in your picture, when you really don’t need to.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re making a very large picture, then lots of detail is important – it gives your audience something new to look for every time they see your picture.

In large pictures, lots of background detail can be a very good thing – except, of course, if the picture is intended to be viewed at a fraction of it’s original size. In which case, you’re wasting your time.

But, at the same time, you can’t just leave the background blank. In most pictures, people expect a background (and if you really can’t think of a good idea for one – check out this other article I wrote ). So, if you have an idea for a background, how can you draw it without wasting hours on every tiny detail?

Simple. All you need to do is to create the illusion of detail.

I’ve mentioned this a few times before and you can probably see it in most of my art, but never underestimate the fact that your audience’s imaginations will “fill in the gaps”.

Your audience will look at your picture and, if something looks vaguely right in the general context of your picture, they’ll work out what it is almost instantly. The human brain is an amazing thing.

And, since it is in the background, your audience probably won’t initially pay as much attention to it as they do to the foreground (or whatever is the focal point of your picture).

Plus, remember, even if someone has perfect 20-20 vision, they are not going to be able to see every tiny detail on something very far away from them without a pair of binoculars. So, make your foreground detailed and make your background as undetailed as it can be.

So, the further away something is from the foreground, the less detailed it should be. Not only will this save you unnecessary time and effort, it will also make your picture look more realistic too.

Ok, so how do you do this? Here’s an example from my own work:

It just looks like a few squiggly lines, doesn't it?

It just looks like a few squiggly lines, doesn’t it?

Now, let’s zoom out a bit:

See where it came from..

See where it came from..

Trust me, when it comes to drawing things in the background (especially the distant background), you’d be amazed how often you can just draw a random collection of squiggly lines (that look vaguely like what you’re trying to draw) and still have a fairly decent background.

Not only that, don’t be afraid to simplify other background details too – eg: a few straight lines to stand in for writing on a piece of paper or a book cover, a square and a few squiggles to signify a window on a computer screen etc….

Remember, as long as it looks at least vaguely right in the context of your picture, your audience’s imaginations will fill in the gaps.


Sorry for such a short article today, but I hope that this it was useful 🙂

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