August 11, 2017

A lot of businesses have a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQ)  page, in fact a lot of Facebook groups, schools, and shops have FAQ’s. So why not artists?  Instead of creating a slightly boring faq page on my website that nobody will ever find, I think it is more fun to use my blog to tackle some of the questions I frequently get asked. Perhaps you have a question for me too? Please ask away, either via the comments below, or via a private email.


Some questions concern my education or training, others are about my painting method, my daily life or my materials. I’ll start with a couple here today and will cover some of the others in future blog posts.

Let’s talk painting methods first.
A question I get asked a lot is

How long does it take you to finish a painting?

The answer is ‘it depends’. Some paintings are clear in my head before I begin and take less time than others. Sometimes I do not have a clear image in my head and need to spend time searching on the canvas, finding the right language. Sometimes things go wrong and I need to come up with solutions. A colour combination might not work, a hand position might read wrong and needs to be adjusted, a composition isn’t as exciting as I imagined.  Of course large paintings take longer to paint than small paintings do. Some small paintings take a few weeks; some large paintings take 6 months. The majority take something in between, so around a couple of months. And all of that is assuming I already have an idea worked out in my head – which can take months of simmering too! But the opposite happens too. I get an idea that is quick to setup, I paint it and it all goes swimmingly well – done within weeks.

Where do you get the patience to paint such detail?

Nowhere. I don’t have the patience. Ask anybody that knows me and they will tell you I am not a particularly patient person. But I can be very determined and when I see that beautiful piece of early lace I just HAVE to try and get it down on canvas. And I cannot stand it if I can’t get it right. It is just sheer pigheadedness that helps me get such detail down.

All that said, taking the right approach helps too in painting highly detailed work. A good brush with a fine point can be a great help if you want to get a smooth and thin line onto your painting.

Painting highly detailed paintings is a strain on your eyes. I do not use a magnifying glass but I do take regular breaks. I could not possibly paint a lace pattern all day long. After a couple of hours my eyes grow tired and I need to refocus and do something else. So highly detailed paintings are being done piece by piece, day by day, slowly but surely.

How do you get such detail into your work?

There are three ways to get tiny detail into a painting, as far as I know. One way is to use small materials: a tiny brush with brush hairs that don’t splay will give me the control I am after. There are lots of synthetic round brushes that can do that job, but a sable brush is really the best choice. A good sable has just the right spring and can contain enough paint to be able to work into great detail. My favourite brushes for detail work are the Series 7 Sable brush by Winsor & Newton but also the synthetic Acrylix brushes by Pro Arte.

Another way to get small details into a painting is to layer brush marks. If you layer a brush mark over a slightly larger brush mark, you will leave a small area of the lower mark visible. That area can become really tiny. This is a good way, for example to paint patterns in fabric and lace: you paint the negative shape into and over the fabric and leave the slimmest of threads visible.

A third way that helps towards great detail is to keep going and take your time. Spending a lot of time on a painting is vital if you want to paint lots of small detail. Detailed work is slow going and a strain on the eyes so take your time!  Spend your time improving tiny imperfections and layering extra depth and textures into your painting and realism and detail will appear.

Have you got any questions for future FAQ’s? Do let me know in a comment below or send me an email.  If you are an artist, how do you tackle small detail?

About the author 


Sophie is an art historian, artist, art tutor, and writer. She writes on art history and painting (oils and pastel). The 17th century is probably her favourite era, although the ancient Romans are currently fighting for the lead spot. She is currently researching lace in Tudor portraiture.

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