I just read a blog post from Nancy Van Blaricom and she brought up an interesting question. What does it mean to learn to see like an artist?
I can remember when I started doing this because it wasn’t really that long ago. I didn’t start drawing and painting until late in life and started with Bob Ross, like a lot of others. Love him or hate him he put brushes into the hands of a lot of people and showed them the joy of painting.
One of the things he tried to get across to those watching him was to see the trees and mountains and clouds for more than we usually do. If you ask the average person, “what color is that tree?” they will say it is green and brown. If you handed your average eight-year-old a box of 64 crayons and told them to draw that tree they would probably pull out two crayons.
I can remember sitting on my patio one summer day and looking at the trees and realizing that they were a lot more than just green and brown. Sure, if I walked up to a tree and pulled a leaf off and looked at it, it would mostly likely be green in my hand. But, sitting there with the late afternoon sun about an hour or so away from sunset, that tree had multitudes of different greens and it had various shades of yellow where the sun was hitting it the strongest. There was even some very dark green, bordering on black deep down inside the tree when the sun was forbidden to go.
The trunk, itself was a range of colors from almost white in the direct sun to a dark chocolate brown on the backside and up into the tree.
These are the things that an artist starts to see when they look at the world around them, even without a pencil or paintbrush in sight.
How many remember the time they stood outside and looked at the mountains in the distance, seeing three or four different ranges going away from you and seeing the receding or lightening values as the mountains go further away? Do you remember the purple mountain’s majesty and how it started quite bold and luscious in the nearest mountain range and how the farthest mountains turned into a nice pastel?
Learning to see like an artist doesn’t just confine itself the great outdoors either. You can set up a still life in your studio and see things differently than the average person. Think of how the average person would see an apple and how they would draw or paint it. Then think about how you would see it, as an artist, and how you would draw or paint it. I’m sure these two pieces of art would look vastly different.
So, the next time you sit down with a pencil or brush in your hands, take a few minutes to just stop and look at what it is that you are planning to represent. Don’t just glance at it. Look at how the light hits your subject and how the shadows are created. Look at how the colors change as you shift your gaze from the lightest part of your subject to the darkest part.
Learning to see like an artist is the first step to creating the masterpieces that you feel you have inside you. Learning to see like an artist means looking into that box of 64 crayons and realizing that you have so much more at your fingertips that just a couple of crayons. It might even get you to realize that it’s time to step up and buy that 120 crayon box.