Monday, December 10, 2018


"In fact, the hardest thing is to be simple," Sergei Bongart

Of late, I have been in that well-known, yet totally frustrating process of "trying too hard" on several commissions...aargh!   Ideally, I take a break, several deep breaths, and start anew with a BIG brush, thus forcing myself into a simple statement of large shapes.   The old maxim of Look Twice, Paint Once always applies.

Often, as we all know, a loose, unfinished oil sketch is more communicative of truth and life than a "finished" work.  YET... often it's true that we painters do the exact opposite (especially on commissions): less looking and consideration, accompanied by MORE slinging of paint in a frantic effort and vague hope that something/anything will magically work! 

After looking at some of my paintings, both recent and past, it's obvious that many of the ones I still respond to are the pieces where I threw out "trying too hard," and focused!

Focus means sharpening the idea: simplifying shadow shapes, unifying background color and detail, eliminating rendering and accessing the gesture and feeling.  

Third take on the model in live painting session (14 x 11).  
First two studies were "too too."

Quick demo sketch (12 x 9); 
sassy angles tell the tale.

Larger sketch (24 x 24) from photo of a favorite model, Annie.  
I stopped before getting "finished"!

Recent painting (20 x 20), has nice flow,
with little to no detail or background info. 

Portrait Study (18 x 18), 
zoomed in and reduced the triangle, popping the lights with dark background.

Painting of two friends on Provence trip (9 x 12),
zero detail on faces, but the girls are recognizable from shape alone.

Class Demo (16 x 8), 
sketchy but sassy essentials carry the energy.

Bye-bye! A recent start (30 x 30), unfinished.  I went on to "finish,"
and ended up losing the soft and simple feel, causing a paint-over!

Commission painting (18 x 14), 
I was able to keep it simple, yet true....woohoo!
No details of beach or ocean were included behind; also, figure cropping and 
 minor suggestion of clouds make this one stay sharp.

To be able to paint simply, the painter must first find clarity of thought.. Clarity is accessible when one is confident in drawing accuracy, and when one is freed from real or perceived outside expectations.  Just Do It -- Eliminate or paint out useless detail and information copied mindlessly from photographs.   Decide what is most important to say and say that ONE THING. 

Workshop update:

In just one month (January 10 and 11th), it will be time for a painting tune-up! And, here it is:  Simple Focus on Figure Workshop (Painting any subject from your heart) at a new and gorgeous venue north of Atlanta in Alpharetta, GA (Art on Main). 

Some spaces available -- YAY --  we will have fun, while creating dynamic and simple studies with life and energy -- no slaving over detail!

Check it out on my website,, or email

Class Demo Sketch, 20 x 16


  1. This is a timely post for me and great advice as I repeatedly fall into the trap of detailitis. Keeping it simple is indeed the toughest challenge and your comments here are encouraging in so much as they remind us that we are not alone in our frustration. Thanks for all that you share Nancy.

    1. Thanks for your heartfelt comments. We are all on the same path, and it is good to connect to fellow travelers because we truly understand these challenges! Love your word "detailitis!" Great one, Nancy

  2. Love the flowers , very bold , looks right at you . Want the simplicity and boldness in my own pictures , can’t wait to get at it .

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