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Landscape Painting: When is Detail Too Much?

The reference photo for the birch tree painting in progress has a tangled mess of grasses, weeds, small trees and shrubs that appear to suffocate the ground amidst the birch forest. The challenge is to refrain from adding a lot of detail in the foreground of the painting, so that the viewer is not distracted and focuses instead on the main subjects, namely the birch trees.

Here is the current state of my work in progress, "Birch Ballet."

Notice that the detailed grasses on the lower left do not distract the viewer. They add a pleasing level of depth in the forest floor. So far, the area in the middle and to the right, in the lower third of the painting, is rather hazy and not detailed. Although I plan to add vegetation in this area, my goal will be to keep it rather subdued (perhaps a lower value will do the trick).

I will add warmer, somewhat sunlit areas in the grasses from the lower left and bouncing diagonally to the middle right of the painting. This will help guide the viewer's eye into the field of birch trees and away from the tangled mess down below.

Often the impression of detail can be conveyed with simple blocks of color and value with the occasional streak of color in the opposite direction of the vegetation. In my painting "Lazy Susan Morning" below, you can see that the detail in the foreground defines the flowers but as we move toward the distant tree line, the flowers are represented by blotches of yellow, purples and mauve.

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