Don’t Just Look – SEE!

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

When I think about Twain’s quote I think of at least 2  ways that we, as artists, often fail to see correctly when we create our art.

Undoubtedly, the greatest challenge in becoming technically better in art is that of turning off the messages that our brain sends us about what we might be seeing—and rather actually seeing what is there.  This is especially true when drawing faces.  For some reason, our brain has convinced us that our eyes are in the top of our heads—not far below the upper, frontal hairline.  It is only after we re-train our brain to recognize that the eyes are about midway down on the face, that we begin to draw people and not some type of frog person or alien being,  Often, when we look at these “off” facial drawings, we cannot even detect what we need to correct.  We just know that SOMETHING isn’t right.  Our brains continue to kid us.  Until we can convincingly override our brain’s shortcut signals, we need to find other ways to look at subject matter.  When you draw a face, don’t even think of it as a face.  Think of it as a series of shapes placed here and there.  Place the shapes—not the eyes, nose, mouth, etc.

However, Twain wasn’t actually talking about an artist’s need to be a more technical and/or critical viewer.  He was talking about our needs to see what is within our subject matters.  If we have no feeling whatsoever about our subject matters, we should simply find something else to paint.

I am a child of the 60’s—the psychedelic, Woodstock, hippie, flower-power generation.  Janis Joplin was a poster child of that era.  When I did the watercolor of Janis, I really didn’t even use a single photo of her as subject matter–I used several.  In fact, I watched  Janis on Youtube for hours; and I joined her as she CRYYYYYYYYED Baby–and joined her in asking:  “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.”

I did feel that my painting needed to capture a BIT of the reality of her actual appearance, but my painting of Janis Joplin is how I perceive the spirit of this magical part of my history.

That is the difference between just looking and seeing.

Day 1 Challenge [of the 30-Day Fast Track: Become Your Artist Within] Find Ways to SEE! Don’t settle for a glance — or even a look.  Actually SEE!


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