Details in painting are always a varied preference to the artist-when is it too much, when is the painting overworked or left unfinished? They can often be overwhelming and cause the eye to lose its focus. With teaching painting I have recently learned several ways to help a student get over the hurdle of details without wanting to discard painting all together.
The simplest option is finding shapes in the painting and isolating the areas. The student creates shapes and fills in the detail of each shape and the focus can be on the shape and its content instead of the whole image with all of its detail at once. The good thing about this technique is that the shapes create interest and the creation of the detail is more deliberate and distance and changes in value can be easily formed through the creation and separation of the individual shapes. When I first started painting, I used to get a technique of texture down and would overuse it, losing depth and interest, this technique helps to avoid this obstacle.
Another option is to cut a circle out of a cardboard piece and cover the picture that you are using for reference. This technique allows the student to concentrate on a smaller image of details and the work is faster and less intense. When the student finishes a small area of the painting the mask is moved to another area.
Details can be an overwhelming part of painting and often we lose focus of the overall painting when we concentrate too much on a small area of texture or extreme detail. It is challenge enough deciphering details for the artist in their own work but when you need to help a student get past handling detail it's good to have some techniques that can help the process.