On a recent trip to France we stumbled upon a stunning window by Mark Chagall in a restored chapel in the town of Sarrebourg. Peace, his extravagant bouquet of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, takes your breath away when you first walk into the room. Although the impact is almost overwhelming, as with most things, the power of the piece lies in the detail…
This Madonna and Child is tucked away somewhere at the bottom of the composition and when you study it, you see how few strokes of colour (and yes, genius) are needed to create an image of Mary cradling the baby Jesus – a line here, the darkening of a shade there – and the job is done.
That’s not to underestimate the talent and skill of the artist. Quite the contrary, it demonstrates an absolute understanding of what is needed to engage the imagination of the viewer.
The same is true when you are depicting characters in fiction. Flashes of insight – a telling observation, a revealing line of dialogue – can do more work than whole paragraphs of overwrought description. Work with a light touch, suggest rather than prescribe, and the chances are you will end up with figures as luminous as the simple yet powerful ones in Chagall’s beautiful window.