Paintings Aren’t Real

So a painting is two dimensional. It can’t be three dimensional. So how do some paintings seem to jump off the canvas? Even a really high resolution photograph doesn’t seem so lifelike. This is likely part of the reason why people fall in love with a painting and pay exorbitant amounts of money for it. As an artist; I love people with money.

I believe the reality illusion is caused by one part of our brain knowing the image is not real and another part being confused because it is seeing something that appears real. There has been a great deal of research done on how we see and it’s complex, a camera is simple in comparison. I’m not referring to our eyes (simple cameras really), it’s our perception and interpretation that creates the illusion. So how do I go about getting the illusion in a painting?

  1. I paint the detail that I can see. There is more detail than I need in any picture that I am painting. Zoom in on a photograph and there is more detail. I’m not disheartened because I don’t have to paint all the detail.
  2. Decide where the attention centre is in the image. There are many names for this but I think of it as the point where my eye is first drawn to. This is where I add most of the detail. I keep on adding detail until the painting starts to look lifelike. This lifelike appearance is a complete illusion. My eyes are looking at something that my mind is telling me looks real but the surrounding area is obviously not real. This dichotomy is where I believe the illusion starts.
  3. I can continue this process in other parts of the image because our vision and attention bounces around an image. I reach a point that I have added enough detail to enough areas of the canvas that the image jumps (I don’t have a better description of it).
  4. STOP! This is the most difficult part. I can continue adding detail until people label me as a realist or I can stop sometime before this. I stop when I’m really bored with the painting or when I can’t think of anything more to do to it.


A caveat.

If you are one of those rare artists who create this illusion of reality with a few deft strokes then disregard all of the above. You don’t need it. And I am jealous.