How to see more Deeply

How to see more Deeply

If it is true that we are what we eat, then in artistic terms, the successful art student is what he sees. To find the unusual in the ordinary, is really what sets individual achievement apart.

To the unseeing, a tree is brown and green, it has a lollipop shape in the summer and is bare and brown in the winter.

This is true but as we know, there is more!

To help simplify things, lets stay with the theme of trees. By looking at a collection of tree compositions from different artists we can hopefully see that each experience is unique. Thankfully, the process of passing through the mind of the artist gives an added dimension to the subject.

You should lay great emphasis on looking at the work of other artists because they can show us the way forward, but you must combine this with looking for yourself.

Let us look for example at the artist Georgia O'Keeffe.

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An early composition of hers called Drawing XIII 1915 is thought to have been inspired from a black and white photograph of Vincent Van Gogh's painting, called Cypresses 1889.

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O'Keeffe has not copied what she has seen, but drawn out her own ideas and expressed them in a different way. Van Gogh's painting is of a landscape as we would expect to see it, for example, sky, ground, trees. The colours conform to the landscape, even though he has applied the paint in great strokes, giving the painting a highly textured and lively feel.

O'Keeffe has produced the shapes to an almost geometric simplicity. Her work is very orderly and controlled and it has something of a three-dimensional feel. She took her inspiration from Van Gogh and produced her own outcome.

O'Keeffe became famous for her delicate flower studies; she drew her inspiration from the landscapes where she lived in the American west. Here, the light was intense and the landscape - sometimes unforgiving.

In Dark Trees Trunks 1946, she captures a great feeling of three-dimensional form.

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With her clean lines and even toned shading, she effectively creates her massive trunk structures. We can see that these trees are not willowy and weak; they rise from the earth with such strength and purpose. They stand like massive sky scrapers would in an urban setting. O'Keeffe uses light to emphasise the solidity of these trunks and the simple background ensures that they are the focus of her composition.

O'Keeffe understands her subject matter well - she has probably made many studies of them.

Your task is always to know your subject matter, to look carefully:

  • Study its detail.
  • Understand its colour, texture, shape, and form.
  • Look at the environment in which it is set.
  • Make sense of its scale and proportion.
  • When you have this information, you can move forward.

Giacometti copied from everything - tracing lines with his fingers when he had no pen or pencil. For him, copying was a way of making clear the knowledge about what he was seeing. Look how he interprets Agesander Athenodoras and Polydoras of Rhodes, 150BC:

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He does not meticulously outline the shapes - which is often our first instinct - but he scribbles energetically, often without lifting his pen from one point to another. He achieves a real feeling of form and rhythm, and although his marks are loose, he achieves control.