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I've been painting for a few years now, but I feel like I'm only beginning to grasp the importance of this concept.  I'll quote Robert Henri (1865-1929) from his book, The Art Spirit, which is packed full of such profound wisdom.
Robert Henri stresses this point:

"Insist on the beauty of form and color to be obtained from the composition of the largest masses, the four or five large masses which cover your canvas. Let these above all things have fine shapes, have fine colors. Let them be as meaningful of your subject as they possibly can be. It is wonderful how much real finish can be obtained through them, how much of gesture and modeling can be obtained through their contours, what satisfactions can be obtained from the fine measures in area, color and value. Most students and most painters in fact rush over this; they are in a hurry to get on to other matters, minor matters."

"The beauty of the larger mass is primary to and essential to the lesser mass."

"Permit no hurrying on to the lesser masses before all has been done that is possible with the larger masses"

This is such a simple concept, and yet so difficult to fully adhere to.  Especially when drawing from imagination, it is tempting to skip on to the lesser details of an image. Sometimes I have to backtrack from a more detailed rendering, and re-establish the underlying form. It is so crucial to the strength of the painting.  
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VolomonArt Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2014  Student General Artist
Sorry, I don't quite get it. Some explain in layman terms?
Wildweasel339 Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2014  Professional Digital Artist

You may be familiar with the concept of working from "general to specific." This is basically saying the same thing.  Focus on the big (general) shapes, before worrying about the smaller (specific) details.

The big shapes can make or break a painting, whereas the smaller details are less important. 
VolomonArt Featured By Owner Apr 26, 2014  Student General Artist
Thank you. So it's better to draw the basic/large colours and shapes, then slowly go into the intricate parts.
Why is that. Surely it the little things people notice and enjoy the most.
Wildweasel339 Featured By Owner Apr 26, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Good question. There are a few reasons, although as with all things in art, their value may be subjective. 

Small details, such as facial features, are where the viewer will focus. However, it is the big shape of the face that is the foundation for those small details. If the foundation is not solid, those small details will fall apart.  If the head is in the wrong perspective, then the nose will be as well.

Also, while small details may be the focal point, is is the job of all the big shapes to frame them such that they have as much impact as possible.  For example, big lines and shapes can lead the viewer's eye to your focal point.

From a more practical standpoint; It would be counter intuitive to work from small to large, as that would require a lot of constant reworking of details when things like anatomy don't fit together as they should.  I've fallen into this trap countless times.
VolomonArt Featured By Owner May 3, 2014  Student General Artist
That makes sense. When drawing facial features; I'm okay. However, when it came to bigger objects like anatomy, then a suffered. It always looked ill proportioned.
I notice on DA as well that people with created the perfect fact, but the rest of the image is vague.
Creating detail like they did in the 17/18 early 1900's is really difficult. I guess they less distraction then we do now; which helped them.
VolomonArt Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2014  Student General Artist
*someone :D
LucasParolin Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
thank you!
KevinBrownArt Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2014
Words of wisdom! Thanks for this post!
Peatchoune Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
your journals are always a good opportunity to learn something! Thank you!
ChristopherWillmot Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks (a) for the reminder, (b) the thought you put into choosing the examples and (c) for evidently caring enough to make a first class journal entry.
Grieverjoe Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014
Thanks for this. I struggle with simplifying things; I tend to think too much about details.
Thanks again. :)
Bluewyrm Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2014

It's really validating to see this from someone online XD People just... don't seem to get it, a lot of the time?

I've really been working on this and also not using too many different colors for my blocks in one composition.

memod Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2014  Professional
Thanks for that post, it's always good to be reminded of the importance of the large shapes. I forget it all too often, or at least don't pay as much attention as I should...
MidnightWabbit Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Wow, I'll definitely be getting this book. Excellent...excellent.
ravingroshie Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
thankyou for posting this :)
nondev Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2013   General Artist
This is an interesting and useful lesson. I'm very curious to read that book. 
I've only started to paint (digitally and traditionally) a year ago so I'm definitely a newbie, but I've been trying to synthesize shapes as much as possible when studying from reference pictures, hoping that would help me gain a better grasp on the basics and not get lost in the details. 
Reading this was a relief - I'll definitely practice more on focusing on what is essential. 
Thanks for sharing! 
TuesdayNightCompany Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2013
'S true.  This is part of the painting program I attended, the attention to masses.  Parts of "The Art Spirit" were required reading.
cronevald Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you for this.  Sometimes a reminder of the simplest concepts can be like a lightning bolt to brain.
Seyorrol Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2013
Loved the post (and just realized I can favorite journals)
I've been hearing a lot about The Art Spirit lately, and I've been reading through and looking for art books, so I might have to go pick this one up.
justjingles Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
great advice!
gabrielegabba Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Fantastic journal as always :)
Ardinaryas Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2013  Professional Filmographer
I always thought that is the best way to draw, but it's so hard to resist to draw the details hahaha
does this technique something like fat over lean??
ChocolateSun Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2013
This is a great reminder. Thanks for sharing with us.
abalina Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2013
Gorgeous and so difficult to do! I always have trouble with this!!!
Exile386 Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2013  Professional Photographer
Thank you ....!!!
Turisas Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2013
This journal is a great reminder, and you're great for posting it.
agapetos Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
Very good blog post! As an aspiring artist I marvel at profound knowledge of old masters and feel humbled by their achievements. There is so much to be learned from old art books. Because form is so important, I see great value in loose preliminary sketches.
gapowicz Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Hmm...Good reflection about detail and colour spots...
AirMonstrosity Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013
wow awesome and inspiring (reading this made me regret not going to my studio today)
Taylor-payton Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
So glad to see this on the Front page of DA. Immensely wise words and fundamentals, I thank you kindly for sharing them.

I too have only been painting less than 5 years, but this is the kind of philosophy and mental framework that allows fledgling painters to ascend closer to mastery. Great examples as well.
daermi Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013
Excellent tutorial! I hadn't heard of this concept before, but now it just seems so obvious. :)
EliotAlexander Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thanks for sharing!
Mitch-el Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013
A very important concept that is often overlooked, indeed, and the beautiful compositions you have selected to accompany such wise words only help to solidify the quoted statement(s). I, along with many others, I am sure, tend to jump too soon into the pool of details without first establishing a base for my structure, and it's so often the reason why the finished product collapses in on itself.
Air-KC Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013  Student General Artist
this is a very good advice  thank u for sharing.
Spikings Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
This is something I've only started to understand in the last few months of painting, and my environment painting in particular has improved greatly for that, although I still find it hard to do for people right now. Awesome journal, thanks for putting this out there! :)
Gomaars Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Really good advice! It serves me well at this moment.
2tall4yall Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013   Digital Artist
Thanks for sharing!
Finnguala Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist

Thanks for sharing this insight!
NitelyHallow Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
thank you so much for sharing:) quite useful!

pauscorpi Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013
yes, it is so hard to sink in, and so easy to get overwhelmed but unimportant considerations. the little time that i did have a tutor he insisted that if there were one thing i was to take away from his lessons is to have a solid foundation for the simple masses before i do anything else. i memorised that but it took time to actually understand it, it only recently began to happen ^^
safva Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Amazing... this is so insightful. Thank you for sharing it!!
Silverstar3 Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I'll have to pick up "The Art Spirit." I've been reading James Gurney's book about color and light and now I can add this to my list. Thanks for sharing :)
BiwerVincent Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
i struggle with this al the time. Beautiful reminder. thanks
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December 3, 2013


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