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Eliminating Detail From Your Painting | Rocky Road Ice Cream

Rocks can be overwhelming. Especially if there is a whole river full of them. Eliminating detail from your painting can help.

Think of your rock scene like a movie. Edit out all the scenes that don’t directly pertain to the movie. If there are too many rocks, you will need to cut out some of the small players or actors. These guys can be dead-weight. Your movie budget only allows for three main actors and you need to pay these three well so you get the best performance from each. Think of it this way - if you have to pay each and every actor in your movie you’ll be broke before the initial credits have gone by. Edit edit edit. You only need three rocks for the scene to make sense. All the rest will fall into place. Eliminating detail from your painting will be less stressful and bring more interest.

  • Squint and/or use tracing paper to eliminate all the fussy details. This will help get rid of any unnecessary players. Start by placing three main rocks. I like to think in terms of large, medium, and small. Like a movie cast, all the actors are not listed at the top of the credits, or on the poster, only the stars. Start with a Meryl Steep, a Nicholas Cage (haha, that's a movie I’d see!) and also starring, Tina Fey… in a smaller part, but she’s really funny...

  • With your three main characters strategically placed, begin with the darks in your shadows. Remember to not go too dark with these. Keep a reserve for your darkest accents.

"The lightest dark will never be lighter than the darkest light.”

(Ouch....that always makes my mind hurt)

  • Place a few of your lighter lights. This is just to gain a sense of your overall value families.

  • Again don’t go too high key in your lights because you need to reserve for your light accents.

  • Place your mid-tone values and soften the edges between both the darks and the lights. Midtones are brighter than the shadow colours and not as washed out as the highlights, therefore mid-tones will carry the most colour.

  • Use a square-edged flat brush. Unlike clouds, rocks are hard. No fluffy edges here. Rocks are jagged and sharp compared to clouds. Even round-y river rocks have sharper edges than clouds. Use lots of paint here too. Don’t be stingy - if you dab on your paint on your rocks you will be dead in the water as your rocks will not look rocky. Instead, they will look like cotton candy rocks, soft and mushy!

  • Hard edges on the outsides of the rocks and soft edges on the insides.

  • Don’t paint one rock at a time. Paint the overall rocks simultaneously. I know that each rock can have its own unique colour, but try to paint your rocks with mostly the same colours. This will bring harmony to your rockscape.

  • Look at the surrounding colours that live next to your rocks. These are the fun and funky colours you can put in your other main colour families (light, mid-tones and darks ) to liven things up.

  • Reflected lights are really important. Look at what might be causing the reflected lights, like ground planes, sky colours, and surrounding trees. Remember your reflected light shouldn’t be as light as your half-tone, just a bit darker and also a bit warmer, this will bring a real sense of reality to the work.

  • If your painting has cracks in your rocks, again, don’t put in every crack. Three cracks, large, medium and small.

Lastly… Place all your bit players. Remember guilt by association. These rocks just need to emulate the three main rocks but do not need exacting standards. Keep in mind they do need some similarities, the same colours, the same light direction, and some pattern on them for linear perspective.

One is good, Two is awesome, Three is fun, and Thirty is a disaster. Don’t overdo your movie extras.

Here is a Mark Boedges rock painting:

A big rock on a river with trees in the background.

A big rock on a river with red lines showing light and shadow points.

#1 - light side #2 - mid-tone #3 - shadow #4 - reflected light

#5 - dark accents

#6 - cast shadow

Here is a photo and the fixed photo showing the elimination of the unnecessary actors.

A shallow river with rocks everywhere.

In this first photo, the rocks are creating a wall and not allowing the viewer in. It’s a bit of a maze and tough to navigate through.

A river with blurred out rocks showing what not to put in your painting.

Here in the second photo, some of the rocks have been rearranged so to make the scene more accessible. There has the added touch of the sky (sky holes) to give the feeling of more depth.

A river with blurred out lines showing what not to put in your painting.

Depending on your movie’s budget, you may need to remove even more players. This is an even simpler scene. Your skill level will also determine how many rocks you need.

Hope this helps!

Keep those brushes swinging!

Your friend in art,


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