Friday 3 September 2010

The Devil is in the Detail

Peter and Trista. Photo by Rick vd Meiden

When adding details in order to paint a scene, there are two ways to do it. One is to add lots of surface detail, the other is to add less but to go into more detail about them. The latter is by far the more interesting, especially when combined with adding personal information.

For example, Kurt has been taken into Herbert's library, and is being shown around...

"Here is a book on King Arthur; there's one here on throwing stones; another on the history of inside leg measurement; Mr Brown's Turnip Catalogue; Golf for Loose Women; and How I Ate a Panda for Breakfast."

This is all very delightfully free associative (if that's the expression) and quite amusing, but is it as interesting as...

"This book is 'Gardening Amongst the Gnomes.' It has a date on the first page and a tear on the corner near the back."

This is more interesting, and makes this book seem important, compared to all the ones merely listed above. The importance becomes monumental when when the details are made personal...

"This is my favourite book: 'Gardening Amongst the Gnomes.' This was the first book my father gave to me. It has a date on the first page – my 10th birthday – and tear on the corner near the back from a fight with my brother."

Now we know acres about Herbert. Obviously, we don't want this scene to be about the father or brother, but they were clearly important in Herbert's life and even if we don't see them later, they are embodied in this book. This information and this object will surely affect the scene and the relationship between the Herbert and Kurt. It certainly affects the relationship between Herbert and the book, and the library.

My point is that it is more interesting to paint in one detail than to lightly sketch the whole location. And if it's personal, well that's downright fascinating.

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