Timmow writes: Hello Lisa,

My question for you is:
How do you decide how much details do you add to the area(s) that you do not want your viewers’ attention to be? and how do you balance the details if you also have to pay attention to every part of your artwork?

Thank you very much for being the artist you are. 

So much of this is going to be up to the artist. For me, I generally will focus the majority of my detail around the face of my subject. If I put too much detail in the background, it pulls the viewer away.

You do want to pay attention to every single are of your work though. Just because something is not your focus, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to do just as good of a job on it as you did on the subject. This is something we see a lot in colored pencil. The artist will put SO much work into the subject but get bored/lazy about the background. If that background is not as great as the subject, it pulls the entire piece down! Every inch of your paper or canvas should have the same amount of attention given to it. That doesn’t mean that every bit will have the same amount of detail, just that you want to make sure it’s just right for your piece without rushing over it.

What it is that you want your piece to say to the viewer will dictate how much detail or what kind of background you want. A woman standing against a solid background is going to have a much different impact on the viewer than a woman standing on  a street. If she was on the street I would be adding more detail around her, but softening my edges the further back into the piece I went.

I remember seeing an artist who had painted a landscape and put the exact amount of detail in her trees off in the distance as she did the blades of grass up close. Her response was “but that’s what the photo looked like”. We are artists. We get to take that photo and make it more impactful. If you were out in a forest and looking at a tree up close. The trees in the distance would be out of focus unless you looked directly at them. When you look at those trees in the distance, the ones up close would be out of focus. That is really all we are trying to do with art. Figure out where you want the viewer focused and soften the rest slightly.

The amount that I soften would just depend on what I was doing. If it were a still life, most of the subjects would be in sharp focus and the background would be softer. If it were a landscape I would have far more soft details around my subject.