Twentieth century illustrators have used the term “confetti” to describe the small, colorful paint strokes that resolve into suggestive detail in the viewer’s eye.
Dean Cornwell sprinkled confetti-like strokes throughout his painting of an eastern procession. On the left is the full composition; on the right is a detail showing the riot of floating shapes behind the camel’s back leg.
Another master of confetti is the contemporary science fiction illustrator John Berkey. A detail of one of his spacecraft improvisations appears next to the full composition. Dots, squares, and dashes hover by themselves or in clusters.
Berkey’s approach to confetti balances two-dimensional abstraction with three-dimensional plausibility. The strokes are always arranged in perspective, with attention to lighting.
Contemporary photorealists like Richard Estes (detail, above) create miniature abstract compositions in the midst of their realistic canvases.
Before the impressionist and abstract movements offered realist painters the impetus to think of strokes as having their own existence as pure shapes, detail areas usually tended to resolve into recognizable forms. Here’s a bustling crowd scene by Beraud.
As we zoom in on one small section of the picture, we can make out what’s going on with each of the tiny figures. It’s as if the smallest atom of a picture is always representational, rather than abstract.
Even Canaletto (detail above), whose paintings are a bustle of activity up close, always keeps his strokes tied to intelligible forms: here a head, there a jacket, there an oar.
Personally, even though I’m a realistic painter, I welcome the contribution that abstract painting has made to our pictorial toolset, and I indulge in a sort of confetti, though my own preference is to stop short of strokes that draw too much attention to themselves. Of course, this is a matter of individual taste, and there’s room for a wide range of handwriting.
Here’s a detail of the crowd in the distance in Dinosaur Parade. The figures were blocked in with a square bristle brush. The detail is handled a bit like a mosaic.
To finish up, one last detail from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara: a scene of a festival in Jorotongo. In the closeup, you can see how I sketched in the singers in terms of simple confetti-like shapes.
Related GJ post: Clustering
More images by John Berkey, Jean Beraud, Dean Cornwell