Painting a Face: More or Less Detail?

Painting a Face: More or Less Detail?

Painting a face can be involved.  With that said, how do you decide how much detail to put in a face?  Does it depend on its size, or the degree of finish desired, or on style?

Every Painting is Based on a Visual Idea

The size of the figure is part of that idea. If you want to do an in-depth study of a model’s face, then the size of the head should be larger. If the face is part of an all over interior design (as in this example of David A Leffel’s painting, “Claudia” as the featured image), a detailed face isn’t needed.

The size of the head determines how much detail you need to satisfy your idea. An artist uses detail and value contrast to draw the viewer’s attention. If you are painting a small portrait–as in this example– keep it simple by using less detail.

David A Leffel/ "Claudia" / Oil on canvas/

David A Leffel “Claudia” / Oil on canvas/ 25″ x 30″

In the next example, “Fernanda,” one of David’s most compelling oil portraits, he uses detail to study this classic face. Since the entire painting is about the subject, more detail is needed. Notice that he uses almost no detail in the hair and has left the red cloth over her head very sketchy, but in order to draw the viewer’s eye to the face, he has painted the features in great detail.

David A Leffel/ "Fernanda"/ Oil on canvas/

David A Leffel/ “Fernanda”/ Oil on canvas/ 17″ x 14”

David A Leffel/ "Fernanda"/ Oil on canvas/ Detail

Detail of “Fernanda”

In both paintings, the values  are kept simple within the shape of light. This makes that area read more easily from a distance. A small form looks weaker if it has too much detail or value variation, whereas a larger shape can handle more information and still read well from a distance. 

You can learn by practice and discover your potential of what works for you as an artist.

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