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In Bill Vrscak’s paintings, the simplest statements mean the most.

By Stefanie Laufersweiler

Watercolor artist Bill Vrscak knows his Pittsburgh neighborhood so well that he could visually describe every porch and pole, but the more he leaves out when painting, the better his work gets. “A bold, simple statement respects the viewer’s intelligence,” he says. “Do your viewers a favor: Don’t bore them with extraneous detail. Make your point and get out.”

5 Things to Leave Behind to Make a Better Painting

“Simplification can occur during every step of creating a painting to make a scene more interesting and impactful than you found it,” Vrscak says. He suggests leaving the following behind:

1

Tiny shapes. Complex subjects contain many small, contrasting, hard-edged shapes that create confusion and destroy clarity in a painting. Create and connect areas of like values instead. 

2

Large darks. They can devour small lights. Instead, use middle values to lay a strong foundation for your painting and then place darks—and lights—sparingly and carefully to add sparkle and interest.

3

Insignificant information. Don’t clutter your painting with details that add little or nothing to the overall visual statement just because they’re in the subject. 

4

Surface details. They call attention to themselves and can weaken a form’s sense of volume. 

5

Perfection. Concentrate on the needs of the painting, not the subject. Be only as accurate as you need to be to make your statement understood. 

Germantown (watercolor on Arches oil paper, 18×24) 

Less Is More

Removing distracting buildings and extraneous elements led to simpler, more satisfying scenes in Behind the Playground, Can You Hear Me Now? and Going Down Arlington (all watercolor on paper, 18×24, below). See how each developed from photo to sketch to painting.

Behind the Playground

“I intensified the color to create a strong focus on the building, tree, and truck in the center of the painting’s composition,” Vrscak says.

Bill-Vrscak_Behind the Playground - Photo
Behind the Playground: Photo
Bill-Vrscak_Behind the Playground - Sketch
Behind the Playground: Sketch
Bill-Vrscak_Behind the Playground
Behind the Playground

Can You Hear Me Now?

“The figure completes the statement and adds a spot of color,” the artist says of the painting.

Bill-Vrscak_Can You Here Me Now - Photo
Can You Hear Me Now?: Photo
Bill-Vrscak_Can You Hear Me Now - Sketch
Can You Hear Me Now?: Sketch
Bill- Vrscak_Can you hear me now
Can You Hear Me Now?

Going Down Arlington

For this painting, Vrscak opened the path to the buildings in the center of interest by clearing out the foreground on the left.

Vrscak_Going Down Arlington - photo
Going Down Arlington: Photo
Vrscak_Going Down Artington - Sketch
Going Down Arlington: Sketch
Vrscak_Going down Arlington
Going Down Arlington

Meet the Artist

Bill Vrscak, of Pittsburgh, Penn., is a representational painter whose work reflects a strong sense of freshness and simplicity, consistent with his attitude that “the simplest statements make the most impact.” The award-winning artist is a Signature Member of the American Watercolor Society and a Member of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators, the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Watercolor Society.

Riley and Me


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