“That’s been one of my mantras – focus & simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex, you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” -Steve Jobs

Today’s demonstration closely follows the idea of focus from my previous demonstration painting where I proposed that focusing on the bigger picture is what matters – namely establishing a pattern of shapes and values and working on the painting in its entirety. Today I would like to expand on the idea of focus by tying it to the concept of simplicity. Establishing a correct focus is the first step. Simplicity then naturally follows. When we focus on the bigger picture, we look for shortcuts, ways to reach our goal most effectively and efficiently. To explain our idea simply is to strip away all that’s unnecessary. That is what we paint, after all: ideas. We are not painting things or we wouldn’t be artists. Our focus should allow us to clear our mind and strip it from all that’s not vital to our idea.

This attitude then reflects in the painting process as well. One of my favorite ways to simplify the painting process it is to begin my painting with a wet into wet wash. This wash has several functions: it allows me to easily reserve my whites by establishing a midtone over the whole painting, and since I paint wet into wet, it is a single midtone, varied in color, yet connected throughout, tying the whole painting together. When this first wash is dry, definition can be introduced by applying a dark midtone. Calligraphy can also be introduced at this stage. Final touches of darkest darks are painted last.

Introducing this process already during the planning stages can be very helpful. Sketch out your shapes, decide on your reserved whites, tie everything together by putting down a midtone with a soft pencil over the whole sketch, disregarding your shapes and objects they represent. Then further define them by adding a dark midtone where necessary. Avoid details. Simplify.


Click here to watch this video directly on YouTube.


  1. Sheri May 1, 2017 at 08:56

    Hi Daniel, I’m reading the Notan book you recommended and can see these principles in action in this video. The careful placement of shapes, the interaction of light and dark and the overall balance in the composition. There’s a slight sense of Japanese sumi-e in your finished painting. This video is also a useful exercise in noticing how the spaces and the shapes move my eyes around the painting. I’m a fan of simplicity in design and painting and agree it can be difficult to achieve. However, it can produce strong results. I visited the Hockney exhibition last week at Tate Britain, a couple of paintings appealed to me for their powerful simplicity, placement of shapes and balance, ‘Rubber ring floating in a swimming pool’ and ‘Breakfast at Malibu’. Think I’ll have a go at the painting process you mention above. Thanks for your helpful video.

    1. Daniel Novotny May 1, 2017 at 17:05

      Hi Sheri,
      Visiting Tate and seeing Hockney’s exhibition must have been a wonderful experience!
      I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying the book. Thanks for the update.


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