The other day my sweetheart Cam said to me, “Come sit here. I want you to see the sunlight on the tablecloth and how vibrant it looks.” Then he paused and said, “But I guess you see that all the time.” And I sat and I looked and I said, “Yes, yes I do.” And I asked him why he called me over to look and he said, “Because I’d never consciously seen that scene before.” And this really got me thinking about how lucky we are as artists to see with an artist’s eye. We really do see the world differently and in so doing, experience it differently too. And we tend to do it all unconsciously.
We often forget that we see differently because, well, it’s just normal for us. We’re visually sensitive to the world around us in a way that’s unique to artists. Rather than simply seeing objects, we see colours and shapes, pattern and repetition, relationships and connections.
We delight in the way a glass of water distorts what’s behind it. We revel at the colour bouncing from the red petunias onto the white wall behind them. We exclaim at how purple the road suddenly appears. We count the number of colours we see in the white of the snow. We study the delicacy of a lacy backlit curtain. We notice the repeated patterns made by light and shadows.
We “see” what others don’t and we’re open always to the possibilities for a painting. We take time to observe with full attention. We’re curious about and want to understand how to portray something – we look at angles, colour relationships, and light/dark relativity. We investigate with an artist’s eye.
This is why an artist can create a beautiful painting from something usually seen as ugly like a jumble of garbage bins, or something as mundane as laundry on a line.
Everybody marvels at and is affected by a glorious sunset at the beach but the eyes of an artist will search further, trying to determine the colour and lightness of the sky reflected in the sea, or the way the sky itself graduates in colour from blue through orange, or how the cloud is coloured with pink, mauve, and beige. When something catches our eye, we’re usually thinking, How can I paint that?
Let me take you through an example.
With COVID-19 shutting down the gym, many of us went online to keep dancing together. One day, I observed one of the dancers putting up her hair in preparation to dance. I loved the shape her arms made against the turquoise wall and also how her shirt echoed the colour. It was a painting waiting to happen and I snapped a screenshot. I couldn’t wait to interpret it in pastel!
First I did a couple of thumbnails to work out the value decisions, the format, and the design. (I’m not going to include the reference to protect Shiela’s privacy.)
The world is an extraordinary place and as artists, we interpret and reinterpret what we see. Our art reflects back our unique vision of the world. In this way, those who don’t see the world with an artist’s eye may also have a similar encounter and often with what may be an unexpected awareness of something beyond the ordinary.
Most people look but it takes an artist’s eye to “see”. And developing that eye and that ability to see the world as an artist can enrich your life. In seeing, you’re fully in the present moment, connected in a deep way to what you are seeing.
Spend time with non-artists and share with them what you are seeing. Show them how to pause and look to see so much more than a named object.
As visual artists, we’re incredibly lucky. I feel so grateful to have the gift of an artist’s eye!
What about you? Do you look at the world with an artist’s eye? If you’re an artist, what are some of the odd or unexpected subjects you’ve painted (or photographed)? I’d LOVE to hear from you so please do leave a comment!
Until next time!
PS. To see a full video with voiceover of this piece (hearing my thoughts and seeing my process), then join us in the IGNITE! art-making membership – an awesome monthly programme where you’ll learn how to perfect your painting skills and develop into a confident, fearless, and roaringly successful artist! We only open the doors twice a year so join the Waitlist to be the first to know when it’s time to join!!