Monday, August 3

Learn to See - Improve Your Art Through Observation

Today’ Image
See the Forest for the Trees
Photo Courtesy of Microsoft

Today’s Image represents the topic of today’s blog—observing the details to improve your art. A year or so ago I spent a couple of blogs talking about drawing, learning to draw, and referenced some of the work of Betty Edwards. In her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, she discusses, among other things, how one must first learn to see before one can learn to draw. That got me to thinking about observation and how it has the power to change your artwork.

Think about that for a minute.

Observing, seeing—call it what you like—is not just any habit you and your body fall into. If you have some level of eyesight, you have the ability to see. However, I’m not talking about the physiological ability to see; I’ll leave that to the opthamologists, who, I’m sure, will applaud that.

I’m talking about actually seeing and observing—not simply looking, viewing or watching. “What’s the difference?” you ask.

Well, it’s the difference between walking and traveling, between talking and conversing, and between writing and communicating--do you understand what that means?

If you are, or even think you are, in an art “rut,” and I sincerely hope that is not the case, perhaps one way to get out of that “rut” is by the power of observation.

It means learning or re-learning to take time to observe the details of everyday life. That is easy to say (or write) and difficult to practice consistently because of the pace of life in the 21st century. I’m certainly guilty of it. You can even ‘follow me on Twitter’ it says over there in the right-hand column of the blog. Need I say more about the pace of life?

As artists, however, we simply must take or make the time for observation. Our artistic life depends on it, much the same way a musician depends on his ears and the ability to hear. I can’t say (or write) it any more plainly.

I go for walks as much for the mental rewards as for the physical. It’s when I do some of my best thinking and observing. It doesn’t have to be a walk or even anything physical, but you must allow time for your mind and your eyes to wander and observe in detail what’s going on around you every day. It doesn’t have to be outdoors, but there’s so much going on out there in nature.

Observe the outdoors. Observe dawn or dusk or high noon. Observe the individual leaves on trees and shrubs. Observe the different types and shapes of trees. Observe the different greens of the leaves and grasses. Observe the shadows of the leaves and trees and how the color of the shadows really looks. Observe the turn of the petals on a flower. Observe the different blues in the sky at different times of day. Observe the different types and shapes of clouds and the color of the clouds. Observe the water in a creek or in the street and how it moves and reflects the light. Observe a distant hill and how the light changes the color.

Observe indoors. Observe the apple in the bowl—is it red all over? Observe the light as it streams in the windows and the different kinds of shadows it makes. Observe your perspective where the ceiling meets the wall. Observe the glass and how it curves and catches the light. Observe a stairway and all its angles. At the art museum, take time to observe the paintings up close for the technique and brushstrokes.

Observe life. Remember it’s in the details. Then use it to improve your drawing, painting, sculpting, and your life.


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