Just look at this gorgeous little plein air at Les Jardin du Tulieres and the Louvre by cousin Cheryl Peddie who is in France painting! Cheryl does NOT have detailitis, what she has a is a great painting. She tells me it's not yet totally finished but close. Notice all the detail in the top photo and look at her lovely painting beneath it. Cheryl has carefully ignored what is not necessary to the painting and paints the big shapes first which will be the bones on top of which she can add further detail if she wants. However, I know her work and doubt that she will add a whole lot more to it. This painting holds on it's own without detail and she has captured what is really important the atmosphere, the light and how it falls on the building.
Over focussing on details can cause an artist to neglect the important elements of big shapes, drawing, colour, value and temperature and how they relate to one another. The making of a painting is not found in the details, it’s found in the big shapes and the major values.
It’s not that detail itself is bad, in fact some paintings are full of delicious goodies inviting the viewer to really savour the banquet. But when artists leap into the details without first painting the big shapes/masses, those critical structures that hold the painting together like an armature, they find that their painting often has a scattered and fragmented appearance. Like I said in Artsnip 7, keep it SIMPLE at the start of your painting, ignoring all those little shapes and details like individual leaves, grasses, boards on buildings etc. for the time being. Loosely block in big SHAPES/MASSES as if the little shapes within them do not exist. This applies to all subject matter. And when you have the big stuff on like Cheryl has in her painting above, ask yourself if you really need all that detail.
Details are like the dressing on salad. You make the salad first, then you add the dressing. The dressing on it’s own does not make a salad. Unless you like to eat blue cheese dressing by the spoonful but that’s a whole new story.