Thursday, October 13, 2011

Do You Exercise Your Eyes?

(Due to Kim's busy schedule this week I'm writing this one from my own experience as an artist - Cheryl)


With all the visual stimulation we get from the moment we wake up in the morning until we close our eyes to sleep at night, you would think that your eyes get plenty of exercise. Unfortunately, they may not be getting the kind of exercise that helps you as an artist. As a matter of fact, our eyes sometimes become desensitized to the subtle beauty that is around us all the time simply because there is too much too take in.

In the same way that information overload can make us want to stop reading or listening, visual overload can cause us to subconsciously stop looking. This state of being could be called artist block, when we lose inspiration about what to draw, paint or create. You might think the solution is to close your eyes, but it's not. On the contrary, taking some focused time to observe more carefully can give you quite a lot of inspiration.

In my early art days I made a habit of taking a sketch pad & pencils with me everywhere. This was not to sketch everything I saw or catch an inspiration, but to remind myself to exercise my eyes every day. If I had to wait for an appointment, felt bored in a class, or otherwise had a few spare minutes, I would look at the outlines of shapes and negative spaces and do simple line drawings of these. It's an easy way to continuously train your eye to see beyond the literal objects in the environment, to the way these objects relate in space to form the lines and shapes we create on the two dimensional plain. Sometimes if I didn't have pencil & paper I would simply observe and trace object outlines with my eyes.

Another use for my sketch pad & pencils was to record patterns & textures. There are patterns everywhere, for example the weave of a wicker chair or a basket, the leaf patterns of a plant, or wood grain, flooring, tiles, fences, fabric designs, etc. Patterns and textures can be fascinating to observe but quite tricky or tedious to copy. Once again, my purpose was not to imitate exactly what I saw but to train my eye to focus on subtleties and interesting details and figure out how to represent those on paper.

As a photographer I found myself more naturally focused on composition, but I would do similar exercises to train my eyes to notice a good composition quickly. By holding my thumbs & fingers in the shape of a rectangle I would observe the possibilities for compositions all around me. Sometimes I would use a small pre-cut mat as a sort of window to frame my views of the world. Even while carrying a camera sometimes I would just practice composing in the viewfinder without taking the photograph. This kind of practice allows the subconscious to take over the work of composing while you consciously note the other factors like light & shadow, color, focus, etc.

It becomes a habit after awhile, these exercises, so that every moment becomes an opportunity to notice shape, form, texture, line, pattern & composition. In this way the world becomes filled with artistic inspiration and never ending possibilities. Every person is unique and feels inspired by different things. For some people going to art shows or museums will get their creative juices flowing, for others it is nature, and for some it's taking classes. However all artists need training & practice as we strive to improve our skills. I hope these ideas stimulate your own thoughts or help you find new methods for artistic practice.

1 comment:

corabeth said...

New Follower from Finding New Friends Blog Hop. Hoping you will follow back! =0)
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