Simplification in Art (And How to Achieve It)

Dan Miller is the featured artist in the April 2020 issue of CP Magic, and is a great writer as well as artist. So I invited him to write about an art topic close to his art (and heart.) He responded with this article about simplification in art. I know you’ll enjoy hearing his thoughts on this important topic.

Simplification in Art

Simplification in Art

By Dan Miller – www.ImpressionEvergreen.com

Evergreen, Colorado is that magical place situated over the rainbow. Upon arriving 22 years ago, we discovered a land of silvery aspen where bluebirds fly, red foxes hide and each morning begins with a golden sunrise. Away from the confusion of suburbia, I found more time to simplify my work. The true essence of nature became obvious.

To simplify is difficult.

I like to choose a motif and use all of my senses in a thorough examination. Observe the subject intensely and memorize the attractive, essential features. My camera is an indispensable tool in the process. It’s a digital eye that freezes a fleeting moment in time.

I have deep reverence for nature so when I wander alone into a remote wilderness, it’s a spiritual experience transporting me closer to heaven. In order to create an honest representation of the image fixed in my mind, the scenery is simplified while using bold contours and coloring. My drawings are heartfelt expressions depicting the grandeur of the American West.

Spectacular landscapes are much harder to break down because in my enthusiasm to replicate the scene, the inclination is to include every detail. Unfortunately when that happens, the soul of a place becomes lost and the expression becomes complicated and troublesome to grasp.

When drawing a tree, I try not to reproduce every branch and needle. I employ techniques in regards to pencil pressure and color blending while at the same time stylizing the essence of a solitary pine. I break the tree’s complicated shape down into its basic elements, exaggerate the color and capture its personality in an effort to create a more expressive piece of art.

Simplification in Art
Loveland Pass Lakes

Contrast and Color

If I’m lucky, I’ll dream about a work in progress. Then it’s almost as if the simplification becomes interwoven into the subconscious. In technical terms, the art theory is surprisingly simple. More contrast and colors equals complex, while less contrast and colors equals simple.

I’ve learned much from a deep appreciation of art history. The first cave paintings are sophisticated simplifications that exhibit a graceful elegance. Creating beautiful abstractions by eliminating unnecessary details while preserving the spirit of the whole is something artists have been striving to achieve ever since.

Gore Rage Wildflowers

Stay True to Your Personal Style

The temptation to emulate my artistic heroes is irresistible but my artist-father preached from the pulpit of originality. He urged me to stay true to myself and not be influenced by what others are doing. I was challenged to develop interpretations unspoiled by imitation, criticism and greed.

My approach is not formulaic. It’s been a matter of accepting and embracing my natural style while resisting the ever-changing, fashionable trends. An eternal mystery to me is how an emotion conceived in the heart emanates into an eager left hand where it’s delivered by pencil point for all to see.

Spending many years painting commercially to please a fickle audience, caught me up in the competitive affectations of photorealism. A fascinating movement but if executed improperly yields cold and lifeless results. I chose to follow my heart and returned to a little box of wooden crayons.

Evergreen Lake Fall

Learning from Nature as well as Art History

I’ve spent the past couple of decades laboring to uncover a nice middle ground between photo-realism and abstraction. In order to achieve this, I’ve spent countless hours studying nature, art history, science and religion but mostly I’ve worked on drawings. I’ve experimented with different compositions, color schemes and paper, hoping to arrive at a more personal interpretation.

I began listening to the old masters from the past. Albrecht Durer admitted, “As I grew older, I realized that it was much better to insist on the genuine forms of nature, for simplicity is the greatest adornment of art.”

Hans Hoffman instructed, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

Vincent Van Gogh revealed, “How difficult it is to be simple!”

The simplification of my style has been a gradual, uncalculated transformation. An arduous process chocked full of confusion, doubt and failure but in the end it’s worth it. For a humble truthseeker like me, it’s been a revelation to discover that the simplest things in life are often the truest.

Zion Canyon

How Does Simplification in Art Look?

So how does Dan’s work compare with his source material? Here’s the reference photo he used for his CP Magic tutorial.

Animas Forks. This is the reference photo for Dan’s CP Magic tutorial. A beautiful, but complex scene.

And here’s the finished artwork.

Simplification in art demonstrated in Dan Miller's artwork.
Dan’s finished piece, Animas Forks, demonstrates his unique way of simplifying the complex and creating artwork the embodies the character and spirit of place without drawing every detail.

My thanks to Dan for sharing his thoughts on the importance of simplification in art, and staying true to personal style.

Hopefully you’ve found some encouragement from Dan if you’ve been thinking about simplifying your own work.

Dan is the featured artist in the April issue of CP Magic, where you can read about his artistic journey, life experiences, and see how he creates his beautiful work.

4 Replies to “Simplification in Art (And How to Achieve It)”

  1. Love his simplified style, especially on the Loveland Pass Lakes, where I have been. Sometimes I think I try to be too detail oriented and that maybe my artwork would look better a bit more simplified. When I draw it out in pencil. it looks pretty good. But after I color it in with colored pencils, a lot of detail gets covered up anyway leaving me feel like ‘why did I do so much detail drawing this out?’

  2. So refreshing! Being a purebred perfectionist every hair, shadow and color has to be exactly as a photo…… and I love artists who can do this….. but it does become heavy and overwhelming for me….. simplification must be more relaxing and yet bring satisfaction to someone like me….. must give it a try. Thanks for this excellent article.

  3. Thank you. Very interesting. I like simplification of art work and very often prefer the unfinished, more painterly, stages of my dog portraits to the finished.

  4. I love to learn new things with colored pencil. You certainly give
    a lot of hints that are rewarding when using my colored pencil.
    Thank you for your tireless work!

    Audrey

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