How Artists See

Visual art is all about the artist and his/her interpretation of what he/she sees and is trying to depict. Drawing or painting requires that the artist fool the viewer into thinking that the viewer is seeing a three dimensional object, when in fact, it is a two dimensional representation. One of the most important elements of this is how the artist sees the object. Hiring a storyboard freelance artist is a good idea for small scale projects.

Seeing is three phase exercise for an artist. The first part is how the artist interprets what he/she sees. I studied anthropology when I went to college, and I was amazed to find out that there is a culture in the South Pacific, that can distinguish hundreds of colors of green. And did you know that people who live in the Arctic regions routinely distinguish many more forms of snow than do people who live in say the rest of Canada or the United States?

The reason for these differences is that we as human being are constantly receiving vast quantities of information about our environment from our senses, especially our eyes. For the most part, we create a generalized model of what it is we see, and compare what we are seeing with the model. If what we are seeing, basically matches the model, then we give what we see the label we gave the model, and move on. So people in the South Pacific, who see hundreds of shades of green, do so because it is important to their survival. Their models of the color green are much more sophisticated and varied than ours. The same holds true for people who live in the Arctic and need to be able to distinguish various kinds of snow. Their models of snow are more specific and varied than ours.

This modeling process often creates problems for beginner artists, though. When you ask a beginner, for instance, to draw an eye, you usually get their mental model of an eye. The eye is fairly simple, and has the major elements of an eye, but it really could be anyone’s eye. So, the beginner often draws his mental model of the object rather than the object as he sees it. This is why foreshortening is so difficult for the beginner. The beginner artist knows a leg is so long, and if viewed coming directly at him, the shape of the leg does not really match the mental model of its length, so the beginner is confounded, and tries to draw the leg the way his mental model represents it.

So to overcome drawing the mental model rather than what is in front of the artist, the beginner must learn to concentrate on what he/she is seeing, and not on what he/she thinks they are seeing. This is why beginners are given exercises like contour drawing, to teach them to see what it is they are looking at, and not what they think they are looking at. Of course, contour drawing teaches other skills as well, such as eye hand coordination, and feeling the object you are drawing.

Once phase one is mastered, and the student can reasonably draw the foreshortening, and different angles, mass starts to come more into play. Mass is represented by light and value in a drawing, and correctly addressing this requires an understanding of light sources and how light reflects off of an object. One thing that students usually do when they are first trying to master the concepts of mass, is to draw a smiley face on the paper where the light source is coming from. Once in my student days, I did this beautiful watercolor of a colonial soldier in the snow, only to have my teacher point out that I had the shadows going in two different directions. This was a disappointing lesson that I have never forgotten. Usually the best and easiest way to light a subject is with one light source. This produces less confusing images and stronger shadows, but often times there may be more than one light source, and this is more challenging.

In addition to the main light source, often there is light reflected off of surrounding objects. For instance, a white ball on a table, may have a light value on the side furthest from the light source. This light value would represent light that is being reflected from the table the ball is resting on. As well, the ball will have a very dark area that is furthest from the light source, and a highlight that is closest to the light source. Combine the play of light with the shape of the object, and you have mastered the second phase of seeing.

The third phase of seeing is the most interesting and most fun, but it requires mastery of the first two phases. In the third phase, the artist now creatively adjusts the lines and values to maximize the effect of the drawing. So in this phase, the artist draws what he creatively sees. For instance, the artist may not draw cast shadows if these shadows would confuse the viewer about the shape of the mass depicted. Or the artist may well create more than one light source if that will enhance the image.

Also line can be manipulated to heighten the impact of the image or to indicate mass. For instance, the artist may discontinue a line as it passes over a highlighted area to enhance the highlight, or make a line wide and dark to give a sense of weight.

This final phase is where the artist can ignore the reference and work just on the artwork. The purpose of this phase is to improve the image artistically, even if it starts to move away from the original reference. I remember once doing a portrait, and my friend saying to me that it wasn’t as important that the portrait was a slavish reproduction of the person, as it was that the artwork was as artistically excellent as I could make it. After all he said, the model is never there when the viewer is enjoying the art!

Keeping these phases in mind as you develop your art skills will help you learn one of the most valuable skills an artist possesses, his or her ability to see like an artist.

My name is Jim Genovese and I have a passion for drawing and painting, and like to draw using a variety of mediums. My primary focus is on classical figure and portrait drawing and painting, but I sketch everything I can see, or imagine. I am always asking myself the question “If I am not drawing, what am I doing that is more important?” I teach drawing at a local college. For more information please visit my website at [http://www.CheatedAngelStudio.com] and my blog at http://myartistpath.blogspot.com, or follow me on Twitter (ArtistGenovese).

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Autistic Artists And The Art Business

I’ve been thinking about this one for a while and is a topic which is particularly concerning for me as an artist trying to get my work out there and seen. I am not diagnosed as autistic officially although I do have a great deal of trouble dealing with social situations and meeting new people (quite terrifying and exhausting). My daughter has high functioning autism and a lot of her behaviour is similar to mine, so maybe I’m a high functioning autistic person, maybe not, maybe I’m just crap as talking the talk and being around new people. The problem however is that in the art world there is an expectation that you socialise, you attend art previews, you get to know people, you network and approach galleries and people in the business in order to sell yourself. What if you don’t have those skills due to autism? Is the art business missing out of a huge chunk of untapped creativity because that creativity isn’t good at marketing itself? This is a question that a lot of shy or introverted people have to deal with, but what about the autistic artist? If I’m at a social gathering with lots of new people I find that I have to go for a ‘time out’ walk or sit in a quiet corner after an hour (sometimes earlier). Sensory overload I suppose. The art helps because it ‘gets it out’ as I like to say. It provides hours and hours of focus alone where I can think and become lost in the action of making my picture. It would be nice if others appreciate my work but if they don’t, fine it’s for me primarily anyway. This leads me to another question or problem with the autistic artist making it in the art business. Often artists receive commissions or alter the style of work that they submit to an open exhibition or prize so that they appeal to the judges’ taste. The autistic artist has no concept of pleasing the tastes of another, the art is about what is in their mind and expressing it. That isn’t to say that artists who are not autistic don’t produce art that comes as a true expression of themselves (that is what art is about), it’s that some artists know how to please the audience. Concept artist play an important role in the development of video games.

Another difficulty for the aspiring autistic artist is that they often have a favourite tool to express what is in their mind (although other artists have favourite tools they do seem to mix in other media). My favourite tool is charcoal pencil. I realise that I will have to expand on that so I’ll stretch it to some paintings later this year, however I’m not massively experimental in terms of materials and techniques used such as fabrics, printing etc. Many well known artists seem to have quite a wide repertoire of techniques which I would feel overwhelmed by if I were to incorporate it suddenly in my work. It makes my head spin thinking about it. I attended art college for a year and for the most part hated it because the pressure was on to play around with various media. That isn’t to say it is wrong, of course not, art college is about experimentation. I could probably manage an introduction to printing, learn everything about it, spend hours with it and perfect it and then move on to another technique (but leave the printing out). Lots of techniques introduced in a short space of time is very worrying for myself. I love working out of my comfort zone (that’s where you learn) but I can’t handle lots of new materials being introduced in a short period of time and being expected to work with them. I’m unsure if this is an autistic artist problem or not but I do notice that many autistic artists out there seem to have a favourite form of expression that persists more with their work than I see with other artists.

I think that maybe the expectation of the art business for artists is sometimes very difficult for those with any form of autism (or learning disability). The expectation of networking, socialising, presenting art to galleries, pleasing the audience with commissions may seem easy or even fun to many aspiring artists (or for introverted people they can learn skills to overcome their problems), however the autistic artist will struggle with the ‘small talk’ needed in networking, they will struggle with gauging what people are looking for and they will be oblivious in many instances of art fashions. Are these good or bad things? Maybe bad if you are autistic and trying to make a career in the art business however very good for producing original art (but you might have to accept that you won’t get much notice off the public). There is a significant area of art that has identified the difficulties that I have highlighted above. This is outsider art. Some dislike the term, however it is for ease of simplicity a way of describing the many artists who have a need or necessity to make their art outside the mainstream art business. Some artists have profound learning disabilities, some have mental illness, some just don’t like the mainstream art world, some just want to create their art individually without influence from what is fashionable or what is popular.

For those of you that wish to find out more about outsider art see http://www.scenesbydean.com/

To summarise, the mainstream art world is a scary and difficult place for an aspiring autistic artist. There are many barriers although there are some projects for young adults who wish to get their art seen however this excludes adults over the age of 25. What about them?

To see some examples of my work my blog is http://janesprostonart.blogspot.co.uk/

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