Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Art of Seeing

When first learning watercolor, I started by painting what I saw.  I now realize this process is teaching me to see things differently.

I paint landscapes in en plain air sessions where we stand for several hours painting a picture based on what we see around us.  The longer I look at the scenery, the more amazed I am at how much there is to comprehend. I  feel I need a simpler way to look at things.

The scenery changes before my eyes. Clouds, wind, light, texture, reflections shift continuously. Ocean waves appear and disappear, only lasting for a second, Lake waves lap quietly on the shore and then are no more. A dog runs in front of us, heading home. A bird flies by.

As I stand there taking in the scenery, my observations are also moving about, shifting and changing. What I see in the beginning is not what I see after spending an afternoon looking at it. My perception of what I see changes.

Colors and shading merge then disappear and reappear with new highlights Shapes erode into broad patterns of light and dark. I note new reflections bouncing off water and sky.

I move the horizon on my paper to consider how much of the universe I feel like including in my painting. Geometric patterns of buildings or objects are adjusted as I become increasingly aware of how angles, light and color affect my rendition of them.

The more I paint, the more I realize that I need more time to fully open up and visualize what I see. I need time to let the scenery seep into my mind and to learn to hold it as an impression. I need to recognize the myriad of patterns, colors and shapes shifting in front of me, offering various perspectives on how I might represent them, to reflect how I feel about seeing them.

While doing all this, I often come to some sense of how I want to paint my picture. Then, for several hours I am lost, completely lost in my painting. Time stops.

Seeking to better comprehend what happens in art, I attended some lectures given by Ruth Armitage at the Oregon Society of Artists. In her talks, she encourages us to look more deeply into ourselves for art inspiration and to also explore the work of other artists for ideas about techniques of expression.

At the same time, she encourages us to to express our own points of view more freely, without the preconceived notions and limitations of other's prescribed reality.

Under her tutelage, I am at first shy and can't figure out what to do with the canvas and my paint brush in order to express my supposed inner self artistically that I am still seeking to find. With time, I manage to begin to play with the lines and shapes, to magnify the colors, to soften the degree of detail that sometimes interrupt the painting's underlying thought. 

Ocean Holiday

We are learning the pleasure of experimenting with perspective.  This is just a beginning and I hope to continue exploring art this way.


Sargy Mann, a well known British artist who successfully painted even after becoming blind, spoke about the importance of perception in art.

He said, “I have come to the conclusion that drawing and painting could be almost like a sixth sense.” I believe the activity of art is a way of learning about this sixth sense.

Sargy Mann's last interview before he died in 2015 is  inspirational and provocative and is HERE for others to enjoy.