Painters are often perceived as a category of people which possesses an intrinsic ability to see better and more than other people. And because they can see more and better, they are often seen as those who can show us beauty where we haven’t noticed it before.
Indeed, in their work, painters often reveal in a unique way and masterfully capture magic in simple things, variety in seemingly repetitive shapes, intricate play of light and shadow on their subject matter and, in general, the magnificence of nature that surrounds us – all of which might have previously gone unobserved.
From this steams the common belief that painters see things differently than others. Now, the question is: Do they really?
I would agree with those who claim that they do. But to clarify, I would add that visual artists see things differently not on some elusive metaphysical level, but in a very real way. And this in turn is the result of their artistic training.
Based on my experience so far, I can testify that artistic training is more about learning how to see than anything else. And, sure enough, as painters gradually train their eye to see differently, they become more proficient in capturing the subtleties of shapes, forms, tones, colors and values in the world around them. In that regard, learning how to see is the most important and most demanding aspect of artistic education.
Since seeing all one needs to see in order to draw and paint well is not easy, I would like to share with you some valuable advice I got along the way. These tips and tricks proved vital in enabling me to be a better observer and, consequently, to see and correct mistakes that I otherwise would not have noticed.
So, here they are:
- Squint! – I know this sounds counterintuitive, but having your eyes wide open is actually not inductive to seeing and painting better. In fact, it can have quite the opposite effect, especially on a lay eye, because it will make you focus on details instead of the whole. Squinting in turn allows you to see the overall shapes, masses and tones more accurately. Most importantly, it allows you to see the compressed value range that you can reproduce in your drawing or painting. That’s why it’s often referred to as “the magic squint”.
- Throw your eyes out of focus. – This is a trick used by artists for exactly the same purpose as squinting. Namely, having your eye unfocused can actually help you focus on the bigger picture and important elements, rather than the particulars. I should add that both squinting and throwing your eyes out of focus are especially important in the preliminary stages of your drawing/painting – when you are laying in the big shapes, delineating light from shadow and blocking the colors in.
- Flick you eye back and forth (between your work of art and your subject matter). – In other words, compare all the time. If you strive towards accuracy in drawing and painting, this advice will be essential. This little trick, which should be repeated frequently and throughout the work process, allows you to see flaws in your drawing/painting, making it a lot easier to correct them.
- Use a mirror. – When your eyes get tired, everything will start appearing to be fine with your work of art. The truth is, it’s probably far from it. For a reality check, use a small mirror, which will make the yet unnoticed problems with your drawing/painting jump right at you. Here’s my husband, Marc Dalessio, explaining how to do it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEArczFBPgk
- Take breaks! – When I start painting or drawing, I tend to get completely consumed by it and forget about my basic needs. This is bad not only because one needs to drink, eat, rest and use the restroom from time to time in order to survive, but also because by working non-stop, without breaks, you will tire your eyes to the point where you can barely see anything anymore and you’ll start making mistakes. We all know that by working too hard for extended periods of time, both our productivity and the quality of work deteriorate. The same applies in painting. So by all means, do not repeat my mistake and do take frequent breaks. It will refresh your eyesight and help you produce better work.
I now leave you with a few examples of beautiful works of art, which depict seemingly ordinary scenes from life. I find they illustrate so well the ability of painters to see and portray the world around them in a unique way.