I’ve been interested in perception and observation for a long time. The first time I wrote about it was in 1974 when I was teaching several photography classes. My handout on composition included a section on “seeing” where I wrote: “Learn to observe and analyze. See with your mind as well as your eyes. Try to differentiate between “what’s there” and “what you see”. In a scene do you see a tree on a hill? Do you see the branches of the tree? Do you see the leaves or the sun reflecting through the leaves? Do you see the bird sitting in the tree? Do you see the shape the tree makes against the sky? Do you see the cool shade of the tree? Do you see the fruit of the tree? Do you see a place to sit in and relax or do you see a tall foreboding place to fall out of? Do you see summer? Do you see loneliness. Do you see life and oxygen? Wisdom? Old age? Photosynthesis? Roots? It’s all there, but what of whats there is important to you? The same subject will generate many different photographs depending on what the photographer sees”.
Also, about two years ago I did a greenhouse sketch where I took my glasses off to see the major shapes, colors, and values.
At the time I wrote: “We tend to believe that everyone sees the world as we do, but I’m beginning to realize that people’s perceptions are different. We have individual physical differences – things like pupilary distance, eyeball size and shape, lens flexbility, number of rods and cones in the retina, etc. – but we have also learned to notice different things. I use the central part of my vision. I look at individual objects and detail. It’s hard for me to take in a whole scene. Luckily I’m extremely nearsighted so when I take my glasses off, I can’t see objects or detail. It makes it easier for me to notice major shapes, values, and colors. Now I need to practice seeing those things with my glasses on. It helps to focus in mid air a foot or two in front of or behind an object. It’s hard (but not impossible) to break old habits of seeing”.
This week I did the two activities and a project of my own. The first activity was to draw a piece of toast.
This was a good first exercise. It reminded me to look closely and draw the detail as you see it, to take your time, and get in the zone.
The next activity was called “Fast & Slow”. The directions were to first draw a one minute sketch with watercolor and a large brush and then (after it’s dried) to spend an hour drawing in ink on top of the watercolor sketch.
I chose the vacuum cleaner because it was close at hand and had a fair amount of detailed complexity. I set a timer for one minute, took my glasses off and painted a very quick sketch with gray watercolor using a #10 round brush on a Bee heavyweight paper 8.5×5.5 spiral bound notebook. I put my glasses back on and spent the next hour drawing with a Platinum Carbon Desk pen and Platinum Carbon Black ink. I was surprised that my quick sketch was actually quite accurate proportionally. I pretty much followed the shapes I created with the watercolor as I drew with the pen.
My project this week had to do with observation from a single location. I asked myself “What caught my eye”? I was doing tai chi on the back porch taking everything in and my eye kept landing on several objects. Later I took a panorama with my iPod Touch and close-ups of each object.
Why did I notice these things? My eye is drawn to contrast – the bright fireweed against the dark window and the white roses against the dark leaves. I look at highly saturated colors – the nasturtiums. I also look at objects which are novel. The two bird feeders are new and clouds are always new and interesting. I wonder what else draws my attention?
Today I sketched the six subjects using a variety of media and techniques. I started with the fireweed.
I did this fast and loose with pen and watercolor and made the mistake of trying to fill in the black window after I drew and painted the fireweed.
Next I drew one of the bird feeders. I painted with brown watercolor first and then added ink.
This (though a simple drawing) was a little more successful. While it was still wet I turned my notebook over and painted the second bird feeder. Again watercolor first and then ink.
I didn’t get the proportions right but I like the strong red shapes.
I did these first three drawings standing. I sat down in the shade and sketched the nasturtiums with Neocolor II watersoluble crayons and a Micron 02 waterproof pen. The technique I used was to first draw with the Neocolor and then blend the color with water on a #6 round brush. After it dried I went back in and added line with the Micron 02 pen.
At this point I took a lunch break. After lunch I drew the white roses.
These particular roses were no longer there. So, I sat inside at the kitchen table and painted them from a reference photo on my iPad. I first did a light pencil sketch and then used a Pentel Brush pen to block in the dark background. I slowly layered in watercolor with a Kuretaki Mini waterbrush. I pulled color from the tips of Neocolor II crayons and I also used a little Lucas tube watercolor. I added ink from a Micron 02 pen after the watercolor had dried. I really like this one
Finally, I drew a little sketch of the summer sky using Neocolor II, water on a #6 round brush, and a Pentel Brush pen. Again I drew at the kitchen table and used the photo I took as a reference on my iPad.
The more I sketched the more closely I observed and the better I got at representing what I saw.