Rough vs. Polished
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    Rough vs. Polished

    Hi guys and girls,

    There's something I've been thinking about for a while, and it's a confusing issue for me since I'm hearing various things from various sources.

    I'm wondering what you guys think in terms of polish vs. "quick and dirty" for an artwork or image, especially the focal point. From what I remember, I've always heard that your focal point should be rendered and polished, because it's going to be viewed the most closely, or because it's this polish that's going to bring extra attention to the focal point. In my mind I've always linked this principle to the blurring of the background/foreground that occurs in our vision, and the fact that our eye generally looks at the lightest point in an image (the rest being darker, thus receiving less light for our eyes to discern the details, thus justifying the rougher brush/pencilwork).

    However, I've always experienced my rough sketches to be much stronger than the final, polished result, so I've always experienced this polishing and rendering to take out a lot of life and strength of the original idea, especially if I started touching up the focal point.

    To add to my personal experience, I've been receiving more personal critique due to working on my graduation, and the thing I've been hearing a lot is that polishing in general takes away attention and strength, and that I should keep things rough and loose. To give a few examples:

    When I was discussing rough work and polish with my teacher, he showed me this painting by Velasquez:



    The point was that even though the girl is the focal point, the brushstrokes are clearly visible, and through it, there is more life in her and she attracts attention. If I remember correctly, he even said that Velasquez then could spend the rest of his time rendering out the other elements in the painting, but the girl had been put there with just a few strokes and is much stronger because of it. I have to add that I always think that faces (for example) that are drawn in just a few quick strokes are very powerful.

    Now I'll blatantly post some of my own work and show what I'm doing with this rough/polished issue at the moment, since those might clarify my confusion:

    http://www.conceptart.org/forums/att...1&d=1331585336 (<= NSFW warning, naked lady)


    Some of the feedback I got from teachers on these included more remarks that, for example, the chandelier behind the woman in the 1800's getup attracts a lot more attention than the woman, simply because it's rough and not over-rendered (now I have to admit I'm not fond of the woman's face anyway, but that's beside the point).
    The same goes for the image of the black-haired woman. Even today I got remarks that her body is more interesting to look at because of the rough brushstrokes (however, a fellow student of mine remarked that he liked the confidence in her face and didn't like her body at all because of muddy colors and the rough brushstrokes, which didn't define a lot).

    This feedback is similar to what I get a lot from teachers and professionals that look at my work, pointing out that my rendered work is cramped and lifeless, and that my focal point should be kept rough.

    Now, to go back once more to the "polish the focal point" idea: I was reading through one of Tony Cliff's Tumblr posts, and I came across this when he was explaining doing value studies beforehand for comic panels:
    Additionally, since the value study would help to emphasize the focal point of the composition, I would know where to focus my time and effort in developing detail. ďThatís where the readerís supposed to be looking, so letís make sure itís rendered most fully.Ē
    Am I confusing detail with polish here? If so, how would you integrate more detail in a rougher drawing, since there's a lot of "detail" there already?

    I'm curious and thankful to hear any thoughts on this.

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    There is a difference between "rough" work that is final that which is simply not finished. In order for it to be looser and rougher but still work, you need to have more confidence in the strokes and make every stroke accurate and count for a lot. In those pieces you posted, those areas lack this, and therefore simply look unfinished--obviously an unfinished area will attract more attention. Your strokes in those areas are not confident, are low opacity, and simply messy...this isn't a problem if you plan on tightening those areas up and fixing it, but if you plan on leaving it like that it is a bit jarring.

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    Your problem, to be blunt, is that your rendering just isn't very good. So, if the choice is between lack of detail and bad detail, lack of detail will win. But that shouldn't be the choice.


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    You have looked at skin tones correct? It's not this "darker shade of a peach-ish color"

    Limit the amount of values you're going to use as well. You're going to end up making decisions based on limitations.

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    Seems to me you're confusing a few terms or simply lacking in awareness of others...rough, polished, detailed are all secondary, and unimportant when compared against "accurate". When something is "accurate" or well described, it is simply that...detail, polish, impressionistic, etc. don't matter.

    Having said that, in the case of figure or wildlife, detail and a highly polished, overly rendered treatment of the subject will often make it stiff and kill the sense of life of the subject. This is a subtle thing but when that happens it is because the artist has focused on something other than catching a sense of life or movement in the subject.

    On the practical side with your work, Elwell has identified what is likely the main issue, and why I addressed the idea of accuracy. It is unfortunate that your instructors are choosing to sort of misdirect the problem and talk about rough/polish rather than just accurate drawing.

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    Jeff is bang on.
    Rough and smooth are just properties and have no value relative to each other or anything else. One is no better than the other as absolute properties.
    But accurate is a condition of potency of statement. Its opposite is vague, a condition of weakness.

    Hence the Velasquez is a marvel of accurate marks. Accurate because they connect with one another, feed each other, scratch each other's backs into sentences and paragraphs of plastic meaning written in the visual handwriting of comprehensible shape relationships, one following another and another and another. On and on and on, so that they all stick together in one meaningful, plastic whole, all riffing on the same plastic intention to produce Las Meninas.

    Talking about rough and smooth is utterly beside the point.
    That said.
    I know where you are coming from.
    I had exactly the same wonderings when I was a student.
    And had exactly the same ignorant, dumb ass, glib explanations given to me by 95% of my so called 'teachers'.

    From Gegarin's point of view
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    Thanks a bunch, especially Chris Bennett and and Jeff! These were exactly the types of insights I was looking for =)

    Arshes Nei, Elwell, Andrew, thank you for your insight on my work. I was especially looking for a more general insight as explained by Benett and Jeff (Though Andrew's reply also contained some of this), but your comments were very useful to me as well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rengin View Post
    the fact that our eye generally looks at the lightest point in an image (the rest being darker, thus receiving less light for our eyes to discern the details, thus justifying the rougher brush/pencilwork).
    I believe it is more about contrast than about highest absolute value.

    Some of the feedback I got from teachers on these included more remarks that, for example, the chandelier behind the woman in the 1800's getup attracts a lot more attention than the woman, simply because it's rough and not over-rendered (now I have to admit I'm not fond of the woman's face anyway, but that's beside the point).
    The same goes for the image of the black-haired woman.
    They attract the eye because of their high contrast.

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    Its all relative, the choice of how you use your edges when rendering will fall down on what questions you make to yourself , as in any design problem. The answer to those questions comes with practice and observation, more effective every time.

    Thereīs the factor of which kind of surface are you rendering, how smooth is it? whats the specularity of it? is tha material reflective, refractive, is it bumpy/textured? is your light direct, difuse? how far away is it? is there more than one?

    I think first and foremost it depends on what effect are you looking for, whats your center of action and focal point/s? Whats in your foreground and your background? which is more important? how are you denoting such? whats leading the eye ? to where? why?

    Is about finding the right questions more so than the right answers sometimes

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    I'd like to add (in regards to the Velasquez) that the intended viewing distance of the work has a part to play. With a very large painting people will generally stand further back to see it all, they will then not see the brushstrokes. It's only rough if you are standing close.

    Those people that the guards are shooing away from standing too close are the artists trying to puzzle it all out and not most of the other viewers

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    Rough generally means bold and unobscured brush strokes while smooth means that the artist tried to hide their strokes. In general I find the rough style much more interesting because I think it tends to show more emotion than the smooth style. Also it can really be a delight to see the optical illusion of something that looks like something but yet is clearly paint. It's like seeing a face in a tree trunk, you know? I love it...

    One of the most famous painters of the smooth style is Bouguereau:



    And Rembrandt is a good example of the rough style:



    I think Bouguereau does it well and I'm a fan of his work but there are times when painters blend soooooo much that it strips away all of the life in their paintings and really looks bad. A lot of the early American upper-class artists had that feel and I hate it.

    Here's an example:



    There are also smooth and rough digital painters IE those that try to show their marks and those that try to hide them.

    Craig Mullins is very much a rough painter:



    Dave Rapoza on the other hand is very smooth:



    I would say most of my work tends to be towards the rough side.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Craig D View Post
    Those people that the guards are shooing away from standing too close are the artists trying to puzzle it all out and not most of the other viewers
    It's so easy to spot who is who in any museum or gallery.
    You have ..

    1)The tourists- They are reading the card next to the painting ."Honey, come over and see this, the card says It's important..we should buy a postcard to send to Joan.." They may never look at the actual work.

    2)The enthusiasts / students on a field trip- general wandering, sometimes pausing in front of something that caught their eye.

    3)The painters /illustrators / serious students- The ones who make the security nervous. They mean no harm, they're just trying to see how fine the weave actually is on that canvas and wondering how long that impasto would take to dry..

    If you had come to Earth recently from some other dimension and had no knowledge of our strange Earth culture ,you would still be able to identify the best paintings in a gallery by the number of type 3s hovering around them..

    Slight tangent..

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    And the #3's are usually irritated by the #1's getting in the way...

    I've actually seen tourists taking pictures of the wall labels. Without ever looking at the painting.

    There's also the #1A variant, the Loafers. They usually came to the museum because they thought it would be a nice sophisticated setting for a casual lunch date. They can generally be found standing directly in front of paintings with their back to the art, chatting volubly to a friend about anything completely unrelated to art. They often have a #3 hovering nearby, glaring and waiting for them to move away from the art...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flake View Post
    3)The painters /illustrators / serious students- The ones who make the security nervous. They mean no harm, they're just trying to see how fine the weave actually is on that canvas and wondering how long that impasto would take to dry..
    Years ago a went to a Michelangelo exhibition, where most drawings were protected by a sheet of glass, mounted about 20cm before the art. Every now and then you heard a loud thud followed by a muffled &^%&^%^%%$^(@, when your Type 3 bent forward to take a closer look, banging their nose into the glass. From the right angle, you could see an interesting configuration of nose prints on the glass...

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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    They often have a #3 hovering nearby, glaring and waiting for them to move away from the art...
    At six five and 250lbs I don't wait...they just move.

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    Late to the game and don't have much time to explain, but another way of looking at this problem is the idea of spatial frequency. High frequency (detail) only really happens in the center of our vision and things relatively close to us. Most everything else is perceived as low frequency, which is imprecise and "soft". Hence, the technique of leaving most of an image in low frequency with a few key spots with higher detail.

    The catch is that you still need to be accurate in the lower frequency areas, as Jeff mentioned. The low frequency read is not just messiness or half-assedness, it's a blurred (for lack of a better word) version of the subject. People tend to think that accuracy means more detail, but really the detail doesn't matter if it's not on a solid foundation underneath. And that accuracy comes by making sure that when you squint at the subject it looks the same as when you squint at your painting (or look at it from a distance, or in your peripheral vision). It's tough because it's not as nicely measurable as, say, the distance between the eyebrows.

    Sorry I can't explain more right now, but I hope someone will be intrigued enough to figure out what the heck I'm talking about (I can't imagine it makes the least bit of sense). It's not painting mumbo jumbo, but actually part of how our visual system works. A brief demonstration is explained here, using the Mona Lisa as an example:

    http://discovermagazine.com/2003/jun/breakmona

    Last edited by dose; April 16th, 2012 at 10:16 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dose View Post
    I can't imagine it makes the least bit of sense). It's not painting mumbo jumbo, but actually part of how our visual system works.
    Makes total sense, it's just a bit of a weird floaty concept until your brain accepts it.

    Robert Henri described it as "Painting the background while staring at the head" or something like that. (don't have the book handy..)

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    Thanks for bringing this issue of yours up Rengin. The responses are what you need to hear. (Even the tough love remarks).

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    Excellent observations in this thread...

    A pet peeve of mine is when people confuse "rough" and "sloppy". One can work rough but still true to form; what is less obvious that one can work smooth but still miss the form by a mile. Roughness is not really a matter of form or spatial frequency or precision; it's just a technical thing or a stylistic affectation.

    "Ruining" the sketch with rendering happens to many, many people. Partly it is because the sketch is unfinished: the brain "adds" the missing parts and forgives the imprecision, so the sketch looks fine. Then you add more definition to it, and suddenly all the mistakes in the sketch stand out... along with the ones you added while rendering. I think it was Degas' complaint that "it's easy to make a painting vibrant in six hours' work, but try to keep it vibrant after sixty..."

    One way to make it work all the time is making every mark matter. At every stage, the painting should "work" as a cohesive whole. Of course, there are moments when you have to cover so much of the ground that it will look incomplete for a while; but overall, strive for it being cohesive and true at all times. Work from big to small, from general to detail; but even your roughest block-in should be readable and true. Then the end result will be true too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flake View Post
    Makes total sense, it's just a bit of a weird floaty concept until your brain accepts it.

    Robert Henri described it as "Painting the background while staring at the head" or something like that. (don't have the book handy..)
    The point is that it's a physical phenomenon that happens with our visual system, not an abstract concept in our mind. Time for me to trot out my trusty Marilyn/Einstein illusion:



    At first you see Einstein, but if you squint, look in your peripheral vision, or from a distance you see Marilyn Monroe. This is because Marilyn Monroe has a low frequency appearance that is recognizable as her. We have to be able to paint this low frequency appearance, then add high frequency detail that doesn't turn your beautiful woman into an ugly old man.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dose View Post
    At first you see Einstein, but if you squint, look in your peripheral vision, or from a distance you see Marilyn Monroe. This is because Marilyn Monroe has a low frequency appearance that is recognizable as her. We have to be able to paint this low frequency appearance, then add high frequency detail that doesn't turn your beautiful woman into an ugly old man.
    Woooah, that's pretty cool!

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    @Dose Thanks for posting that. I've seen that picture before and I've spent some time trying to rationalize the phenomenon. That is a very good explanation!

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    At six five and 250lbs I don't wait...they just move.
    The big fat white Moby Dick is here! LOL

    If a painting is recognizable when viewed close but turns into unrecognizable mess when viewed from much further, it's considered a bad painting? I'm trying to impose this rule on myself.

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    I like that I only have to take off my glasses to see Marilyn Monroe.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Xeon_OND View Post
    If a painting is recognizable when viewed close but turns into unrecognizable mess when viewed from much further, it's considered a bad painting? I'm trying to impose this rule on myself.
    It depends on what your motives are. For modeled representational painting, the answer is generally yes, though I would prefer the term "unsuccessful".

    Don't forget to squint and use your peripheral vision as well. I tend to alternate between these and stepping back, but squinting and peripheral vision are quicker. A mirror is also useful- it effectively doubles your distance and provides the flip at the same time. If you're working digitally you can zoom way out frequently, or just keep a duplicate view of the image open that's zoomed out and make sure you're looking at it often.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Xeon_OND View Post
    The big fat white Moby Dick is here! LOL

    Don't piss off the wookie; he'll pull your arms off and beat you with them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by eezacque@xs4all.nl View Post
    I believe it is more about contrast than about highest absolute value.
    You're absolutely right, I guess I should have rephrased it =)

    Jacob Kobryn Your examples were very helpful, thank you =)
    dose I second Flake, that's a great way to explain it, combined with the Mona Lisa and Einstein/Monroe image!

    Quote Originally Posted by Xeon_OND View Post
    If a painting is recognizable when viewed close but turns into unrecognizable mess when viewed from much further, it's considered a bad painting? I'm trying to impose this rule on myself.
    I actually usually have that the other way round (I guess that's the effect messy, inaccurate marks have), my thumbnails look fine and have more movement, depth and structure to them, but when I zoom in and look at it at the size I'd present it on the web, some, if not a lot of this effect is lost on me.

    Again, thank you all for your replies. This has helped me form more of a plan on how to go about this than I have been able to in the past 6 months =)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rengin View Post
    I actually usually have that the other way round (I guess that's the effect messy, inaccurate marks have), my thumbnails look fine and have more movement, depth and structure to them, but when I zoom in and look at it at the size I'd present it on the web, some, if not a lot of this effect is lost on me.
    I'm glad my explanation was helpful.

    The higher and lower frequencies are interrelated. Making a very small mark in the high frequency end (for example a small dot) will often have an effect on the low frequency read if the contrast is large enough. Broad marks made on the low frequency side may produce texture that has major consequences on the high frequency read. Looking through your sketchbook I see the latter fairly often- the hard brush is creating a lot of edges that have significance in the higher frequency ranges. This isn't to say you should stop using the hard brush, just to be aware of the marks it's making.

    The trick is to be aware that most marks you make will affect both high and low frequency, and to study how this happens so you can control it and use it to your advantage. In your case, I'd recommend examining edges as part of your studies. Edges are very much related to spatial frequency. Elwell has an excellent tutorial linked in his signature.

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  52. #29
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    I always prefer rough simply because digital art appears to be the same as the smooth one. It gives me the feel that my artwork is a real painting.

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  53. #30
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    I just wanted to say thank you everyone for this thread, it's incredibly informative!

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