The question rises when you are in that stage of image developing and you tell yourself that the image works by itself now, things are starting to look promising, even if it's in a stage of a sketch, you've laid down most of the most important elements of light, shape language and composition. If I look the image from far away it definitely looks good. But the real problem lies with the amount of detail you need to put in order to finish the image. When is it enough? could I just keep on painting forever? Is it more the better? If I don't like more detail does that make me a lazy artist?
I've had that question so many times, it collides with the sense of self value, the image that you give to yourself as an artist somehow depends on this decision.
Am I creating a product for a client? Or am I developing as an original artist that people could recognize. It's very easy to do the first one. Check it by doing whatever you're told with enough precision and you're there, doesn't take an incredible amount of creativity, since you are following a laid down map on style, the challenge might relay on the skill and intelligence to convey the image rather in a deeper sense of self worth. There's a science behind this, it's not very emotional and you can get it right every time. And by all this I don't mean to say that people that do solely client work are less then those who give their life to personal work. It's just different, if not alternate.
What is detail to a client?
Generally clients love detail. The more detail the better. People value more the overwhelming feeling of quantity than quality. And I say this trying to recognize that these type of clients confuse quality with the amount of detail. Because detail is quantifiable, you can see it and almost measure it with numbers. As quality and mastery is relative to a sense of appreciation, it involves the level of knowledge of the person that's appreciating the artwork and has the ability to recognize objectives and judges if those objectives were met with efficiency and efficacy. Way more complex than looking at a painting and valuing by the amount of detail. But detail could count as part of the artistic development if it has a direct use to the image. Most of the times Sometimes clients might not think that way...
Detail because detail?
It should be detail because "necessity". Not because "want". The amount of detail should always be strictly related to the objective of the image, the impact of the vision you're trying to portrait. It should be a means to an end, not the end of it all. Otherwise you'll get nothing but a hard shell with an empty core.
In order to understand the "concept" of detail we have to acknowledge those who have a hand of it and have developed a style to their work that's uniform and defines their image as illustrators.
Justin Sweet, Thomas Scholes, Darek Zabrocki, Donato Giancola, Chase Stone, I could keep on naming people but we can see a clear distinction in between all of these artists by referring to their attention to "detail" on a painting that is related to their "style" of work.
Justin Sweet is one of my favorite artists out there and what I most like about his way of painting is that he seems to appreciate the simplicity of shape and value at such a level that he's capable of creating epic dynamic images with what seems not much effort. What I love about all of this is that creates this sense of awe without any "huge" amount of detail. His main distinguishable trait seems to be precision. Accuracy of the brush stroke. Movement. Life and dynamism is interpreted in shapes by the human eye, but what is really being captured is a bunch of blurs that are evaluated and processed by our brain into shapes that are recognizable. This brings to us a powerful appreciation of the focal point and a great impact of the scene that not only envelops, but develops and strengthens it with action and context.
Thomas Scholes is another artist that I follow and that I take in great consideration when the discussion is about detail. Thomas gives us this detail and information through the smart placement of predesigned objects and sections that he develops outside of the painting. Each one making no sense or purpose by themselves as a piece of art, but more of design. A tile.
His way of doing things isn't about overloading the image, as many would think, but of composing it in a smart way by choosing what is best for it. The overloading of information doesn't exists in Thomas paintings even though they're filled with detail, every nook and corner of it. He manages to assemble this puzzles by handling value delicately and giving us the right amount of shape language and patterns that guides us through out the piece smartly, without making any noise whatsoever.
The attention to detail here is not as any person would initially suggest or be amazed by at the end, instead he shows us that the detail, of the many environments he creates, are not related to the part and section, but to everything working as a whole harmonically.
Darek is one of those young artists that started into a very honest direction and kept at it by (apparently) having fun with the brush stroke. His way of doing things has always seemed to me to convey image the fastest and most honest natural way. Since I've known his work in the beginning of Level Up I've seen a rapid development towards a painterly feel that centers in the blur of the brush and the conveyance of detail by letting the eye do it's work. There's a lot of texture in Darek's paintings always, and in my appreciation this is what makes his paintings work with the simplicity of the brush work. Very similar to Justin Sweet, they center in creating action and making the scene and the composition do it's work for them. No more detail is necessary then what they give. At the end it always becomes into a game of "whit how much can I go without and still make it work the best". This kind of painting makes me think of great efficiency and precision, and it's fun to squint your eyes and see how the roughness blends and develops into a scene that seems almost real.
Considered by many as one of the best sci-fi and fantasy illustrators out there. Donato is a traditional painter that seems to give an extra effort to put and mix as many colors as he can into his images. His edges are saturated with different hues and the mix and play of this colors to one another is what gives to his paintings a real life feeling to them that is so attractive to everybody. But at the contrary as the popular audience might consider, and under all that minutious work with tiny brushes to convey a bolt or the edge of a shoe, the detail that makes Donato's work great, as I pointed before, is the ability to mix brush strokes of color to one another. He distributes color gradually all over the image to create a sense of realism and unity. Just by taking a look at the edges of every part makes you realize that he makes your mind blend the colors for him, therefore conveying these lifelike images that pop out of the canvas with explosive and vibrant colors that make everyone treat the painting as a sweet dessert, without forgetting to appreciate the amount of precision work he puts in his shapes.
Donato seems to want you to get closer to the image and figure out what you're looking at, to show you explicitly what you're seeing is there and it exists in this world now. Through masterful composition and an exquisite control on light and color, his purpose with the images he shows it's always to depict and define how things are and should be in this plane of reality.
Lifelike. Digital painting taken to an extreme is always a fun thing to watch. It's like a constant fight and quarrel between artists and computer programs to get to that edge and point with reality without loosing touch with the feeling of painting. Their sole objective, to create new worlds and exhibit them in the most epic, fantastic and lifelike way possible. Chase Stone by definition succeeds and excels in this area. Every image he puts out provokes gasps of wonder and curses and "wtf's" in most of the fellow artists.
Here is detail. Here is the extreme. Chase Stone is one of those few artists that still remain out there where I ask myself "how". And believe me, I'm very sure the answer is "practice". But there's something about the cinematographic way he has to create fantasy into reality that leaves everyone puzzled and completely amazed. No one judging if he did this with a photo over-paint, or a complex 3D mash up with predesigned assets. No one cares, because the composition, the position of the elements, shape language and design, the manage of light and the choice in realistic toned down color palettes with tiny hints of saturation that are so exquisitely well positioned here and there that is just so overwhelmingly well done, that even, in an alternate reality, if he didn't paint any of it, it would still be an art by itself and still be considered painting. This is in my most honest opinion, a huge amount of "detail", with a purpose. The sole purpose to sell reality. To convey life. Bring fantastic scenes into this plane of existence. And the impact of that feat, its reward, is a mouth open audience. But as you notice, as the same as the rest of the previous artists, the amount of detail is not overwhelming. But the contrary, it's smooth, harmonic and tells a story that goes around the focal point. There's an objective, not a desire to give you millimetric work where you can zoom in forever for the sake of it. It presents you with a powerful scene, and everything around it solely working towards it.
Let's try to talk about precision, and not detail. Detail is far much a broader concept. Because is precision what makes a great painter manage detail in such a way in order to convey the goal they seek with the image. Wether is centering themselves on the explosive action of the scene with roughness and color, to give the raw sense of a feeling, or to showcase new worlds as real and vividly they can. The idea of every image becomes what the artists want to focus on, and the rest are just tools and elements available to be used as fit and necessary. It's a constant give and pull, and is strictly related to the artists purposes and taste. We will never know if more is more or less is more. But those who create have their answer for themselves and their work.