Some Thoughts About Art Styles And Detail Levels – A Ramble

2016 Artwork detail and art styles article sketch

Although this is an article about drawing and painting, I’m going to have to start by talking about films (Blade Runner” again, no less!) for quite a while. As usual, there’s sort of a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Anyway, when I was working on one painting in my cyberpunk series, I decided to get in the mood by watching some of the special features on the DVD boxset of “Blade Runner” (what else?) that I got for my birthday quite a few years ago.

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I’m a massive fan of this film. In fact, I consider it to be the best film ever made and I’ve seen it at least five or six times. Anyway, since I wanted to get into an artistic mood – I started by watching the features about the graphic design for the film (and, later, features about the costume and poster design too).

This basically contained lots of photos of numerous small specially-created background details (eg: keycards, magazines, street signs etc…) and interviews with one of the people who designed all of this stuff. The most interesting part of this feature was when one of the designers pointed out that most of the stuff that he made isn’t even really particularly visible in the film. A lot of it was apparently “deep background”.

My first reaction to this was something along the lines of “what a lot of wasted effort! Why is all this cool-looking stuff being hidden in some obscure corner of the background?

As regular readers of this site know, I don’t tend to include that much detail in my artwork. Yes, I have a few tricks that I use to give the impression that my artwork is more detailed than it actually is. But, since I make small paintings (formerly 18x 19cm, but now 18 x 18cm sometimes) in a relatively short period of time (eg: 30mins – 2 hours), I usually have to be fairly economical when it comes to small details.

Still, after watching some of the special features about how much effort and thought went into every tiny detail in “Blade Runner”, I looked at the cyberpunk painting that I was working on and it seemed barren, empty and simplistic by comparison:

"Cityship Bridge" By C. A. Brown

“Cityship Bridge” By C. A. Brown

So, for my next painting, I decided to make something a bit more detailed. I decided to draw and paint an original cyberpunk street scene that had a level of detail that was at least vaguely close to the level of detail in even a single frame from “Blade Runner”.

The painting that I made took about two hours to make and it was surprisingly fun to try to cram as much detail as I could into it. I went online to translate Japanese text for one of the posters in the background, I added lots of small flyers to a lamppost in the foreground, I filled the picture with several times as many people as usual, I added small details through one of the windows etc…

Here’s the painting that I made:

"City Noise" By C. A. Brown

“City Noise” By C. A. Brown

But, the funny thing about it was that it didn’t look that different from some of my “undetailed” paintings and I think that I know why. My art tends to be fairly gloomy – I mostly make gloomy art in order to make the lighting stand out more and because it feels kind of weird to make any other type of art . It’s pretty much an integral part of my art style.

However, one side-effect of making gloomy art is that it leaves a lot of detail shrouded in darkness and left to the audience’s imaginations. This is great for covering up less detailed parts of paintings (and making them seem more detailed than they actually are) but it also means that more detailed paintings can look less detailed than they actually are.

To show you what I mean, here is the “work in progress” line art for both paintings that I included earlier in this article. As you can see, one of them is significantly more detailed than the other – even though both of the finished paintings look as detailed as each other.

"City Noise (Lineart)" By C. A. Brown

“City Noise (Lineart)” By C. A. Brown

"Cityship Bridge (Lineart)" By C. A. Brown

“Cityship Bridge (Lineart)” By C. A. Brown

I’d never really thought about this much before, but it’s surprising how much impact that an art style can have on the level of detail that we see in a painting.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂


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