Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Eighty / Twenty

Just finished up another 3-day workshop last weekend. I thank all those who attended. As I was thinking about all the topics we covered, one that stands out in my mind is the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of a painting is unimportant and 20 percent is. It’s not to say that the 80 percent doesn’t matter, quite the contrary. This large portion is the foundation of a painting, your supporting cast that backs up the focal points and main interest. We can’t have every element matter, some areas are quiet and others command attention. By following this rule, I find that I can keep my paintings from “getting away from me”, with too much detail or being overly busy.

In “Fish Stories”, the painting above, that was my goal. Only the main white areas of the boat matter. Everything else was minimized by painting the values close and the edges soft. This large dark mass supports my focus, yet if you look close there is plenty going on, it just doesn’t overstate my main interest. 

I’ve always enjoyed paintings that reward you upon closer inspection. When you first see this painting, you only see the boat, but when you look into it further, then you see the guys working, the ropes and junk that make up a fishing dock. Just like a free dessert, unexpected but always welcomed! Enjoy.


  1. I would have really enjoyed seeing you paint this! There is a lot of information in this and it would have been great to hear your decision making process as you went along. You have a strong focal point and then there are lots of interesting details that make me believe that you were actually there. How did you decide what details to put in like the little odds and ends on top of the roof or the umbrellas off to the left? Most teachers say "simplify" but if you had over-simplified this particular painting it wouldn't hold my interest. What I see that makes this work so well was your decision to mute all the colors behind the boat. Did you make that choice as you were painting or before you began?

    Sorry about the long comment...I'm just doing my usual impression of a sponge.

  2. Hi Kim
    Thanks for your note. The decision to mute all of the background was conscious from the very beginning, in fact, that was the whole reason to paint this one. Most of the stuff was there, I just toned it down if it was a higher value. As far as what to add or delete, it just depends. I try to be true to the scene unless I find an object distracting. For instance, on the roof some of those item were put there or moved to break the very long horizontal of the top edge.

    The way I decide to approach this one was to paint the entire background and most of the water before I ever touched the boat. That way I could monitor the low key value and keep it harmonious. Then the boat was painted and figures added last to give it some human interest. (They weren't there originally!) Greg

  3. Thanks again Greg. Kim covered my questions and totally love hearing the answers. You are a wonderful teacher and artist...those don't always go hand in hand.

  4. I have to thank Kim for asking that question and as they say 'good answer'. Thanks for doing this blog Greg, next best thing to being there...