Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”-Anton Chekhov
Have you ever told a joke and the punchline was so clear that you couldn’t bear to say it, because if you did, the joke wouldn’t be half as funny?
Some things are better left unsaid!
Our brains get a thrill by filling in the gaps—the missing pieces of a puzzle. This is as true in comedy as it is in art, music, and just about every other creative form of expression.
With this in mind, take a moment and consider what makes the above watercolor painting by Joseph Zbukvic so intriguing.
This is a great example of leaving things unsaid. Notice how little of the buildings or cars is actually rendered in this painting; most of the work is left up to the viewer to imagine.
Aside from the excitement the mind gets from completing the visual story on its own, there is another motivation for leaving certain details out of a painting: Zbukvic’s work is a story about the atmosphere of a rainy Parisian day, not one about cars and buildings. We are not interested in how many bricks fill each facade or in reading the bumper stickers on a passing Peugeot. We want to experience the heavy air and play of light that defines such a specific time and place. By leaving out extraneous details, Zbukvic helps the viewer see what he wants us to see and experience a specific moment, and one can almost hear the muffled echos of traffic and wet pattering of tires along the road.
If you’ve ever struggled with elevating your own artwork to something more than a simple copy of your subject, consider omitting the details. Show only that which is relevant. What are the essentials? What parts of your subject strike you the most? Why did you want to depict it in the first place?
I’ll conclude with a few more examples of Zbukvic’s tactful omission—but the details, I’ll leave up to you…