Keep It Simple, Sweetheart


That word has been one of my life’s mottos — if a single word can be a motto, that is. I have a natural tendency to over-do things, to make everything more complicated than it needs to be, and to go to unnecessary extremes.


I must remind myself of this often in my daily life, and I’m learning to apply that principle to my art as well. It’s a comforting idea, really, one that lends itself to many different subjects in drawing and painting.

Matt Fussell from The Virtual Instructor spoke of simplifying the scene during a watercolor lesson for this cityscape:

Framed Cityscape
Yes, I know the smokestack is leaning. I’ll do better next time.

The original photo reference used in the project included many other details. We don’t have to put in everything we see, I learned. We can sometimes simplify a scene to create a stronger composition.

I also used the idea of simplification when I did my colored pencil drawing of “Ol’ Rusty”.

I left out many details in this scene so I could focus on the old truck itself.
I left out many details in this scene so I could focus on the old truck itself.

I could probably have added a little more to the drawing, but I wanted to keep it simple, not so much for making a better composition but because of my limited drawing skills. I wanted to focus on what I could do and leave out elements I probably couldn’t do properly — more trees, an old building, a fence. The truck itself was the main focus in the drawing, so I added in only a few trees and a bit of grass. As a result, I enjoyed the project and I came away with something to show for my time.

Is it too simple? Probably so, but it was what I needed to do. I’ve come to realize that I can make the best progress on this art journey by alternately pushing myself and then pulling back. I push with challenges, attempting projects a bit beyond my ability, and then before the frustration can overwhelm me, I pull back with something easier, something simple. Something that for me is do-able.

Recently I shared a few thoughts on drawing from nature. Again the question arises about details, or those “fussy little bits” as artist and author Kate Berry calls them. I would love to draw beautiful blooms in exquisite detail, but right now, I still find flowers overwhelming. I’ve spent a lot of time studying different flowers, examining the plant structure, counting petals, noting colors — and putting all the information down in my watercolor journal. Yet when it comes to drawing them, I’m not ready to add in all those details. I capture as many as I can and keep the rest simple.

That’s especially true with painting. I aspire to someday paint realistic floral watercolors, but I have to accept that I don’t have the skill to do it yet. I know because I’ve tried. I was pleased with the orchid painting I did, but other attempts have been far less successful.

I used both watercolor and watercolor pencils for this painting of orchids.

In fact, some of my watercolor flowers — most of my watercolor flowers — have turned into disasters. After the last attempt, I knew it was time to simplify things again. I wanted to paint a lovely bouquet to honor the arrival of spring, and I wanted to make it easy enough that I could succeed.

Spring Bouquet
I drew this simple arrangement, went over the contours with ink, and then painted the flowers with watercolor.

By keeping the drawing simple, I was able to focus more on the painting. Without the need to worry too much about details, I was able to do a little color-mixing on the petals. I gave a nod to accuracy by making sure that the flowers had the correct number of petals, that the colors were true to nature, and that the stems and leaves were correctly drawn. I worked very slowly on the project and came away feeling I’d accomplished my goal. I’d created a simple drawing with colors I love as a way of celebrating the season.

Do I wish I could do more? Of course. For now though, it’s going to be a push-and-pull process. Drawing and painting skills are developed over time. Keeping things simple is one principle we can use to make the long journey as enjoyable as possible.



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