Posts Tagged ‘seeing like an artist’

Just a Pile of Rocks

April 20, 2013


Somewhere in Between
pastel on paper, 9 x9,  ©Marianne Post 2013

Today’s sudio painting is from a field sketch and photo reference of a pile of rocks. But there’s more to the story.

This week I had the incredible opportunity to offer a workshop to a group of talented, professional artists. There is nothing more intimidating than having thirteen of my peers standing behind their easels poised to explore, paint and listen to what I had to share with them. Our subject was color, how to see and paint it.

In covering the basics I felt like I was preaching to the choir. But the setups I had prepared opened their eyes to the phenomenons of simultaneous contrast, the effects of variable light sources and the color of ambient light. We saw how even a few inches of space effects color, and that white can be as dark as black and green can really appear as red. We experienced that context is everything.

During our lunch break I shared with the group Beau Lotto’s TED presentation on how the mind perceives color. We wrapped up the day working with big color masses gradually broken down into color spots to create form and space.

The discussions and questions were the icing on the cake for me. We talked about finding beauty in the mundane, and how values and color can elevate the simplest of subjects into something to be admired. So with that in mind, today I just painted rocks.


Sensitivity in Seeing

January 11, 2011

contour drawingsThis week as part of a challenge to draw as much as possible, I have picked up some of  my favorite drawing books and revisited techniques that I seemed to have shelved over time. In Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing he starts out with what I remember as being a challenging exercise, but also one of the most fun. Contour drawing was something that I once thought I had sporadic success. One day everything I would attempt to draw without looking at the paper and only the subject would end up being a jumble of lines. And then on another day the end result would astonish me. I am not sure if on those latter occasions I was just in the zone or if my right brain decided to kick into gear.

But then I realized the end result was not the goal. The point of contour drawing is to draw what you see not what you know. We all have preconceived ideas or mental images of what something should look like. Contour drawing forces us to really see what we are looking at. The bottom line is that it doesn’t really matter what the end result looks like, its the process and the development of visual awareness along with hand and eye coordination that are the names of this game.

Following the contours of the subject and at the same speed I draw the line seems to frustrate me. I do remember a very helpful hint that artist, and author Robert Dvorak shared with me. He suggested that one should visualize their pencil/pen tracing over the edge of the subject. Most of time that seems to work. He suggested stopping at some interval to take a look at the paper. This gives you a chance to regroup if necessary. But he also adamantly said that when you look at the paper the pencil must stop. Never draw while looking at the paper, because if you do at that point you are drawing what you think it looks like and not what it does look like. One of Roberts books, Experiential Drawing is a fun creative reference for transcending the “rules” of drawing into a creative enperience.

Contour drawing requires observation and sensitivity to form. We develop the skills to see the whole and details at the same time. Have some fun, start your day with a contour drawing. I even tried some using my non-dominate lefthand.

Does anyone have a favorite drawing book they would like to share with us?

An Artist with a Suitcase

March 4, 2010

Writer, traveller, creative coach, Cynthia Morris recently started a new blog, Original Impulse, dedicated to life as a creative adventure. Having just come back from what was primarily a business trip, I was reminded by Cynthia’s latest post that to travel as an artist brings its own unique experience to a trip. Having been a designer/illustrator/artist for most of my professional life inspiration is to be found everywhere we go. Being aware of textures, patterns, the play of light, the clothes people wear, the way food is presented on a plate are all fodder for creative expression and inspiration. Take a look at Cynthia’s blog to awaken the creative experience in your next trip.

And for bloggers she has a free download, What to Write, a guide to generating ideas for topics so you are never for a loss of words. Check it out.

Look Familiar, I Don’t Think So!

February 25, 2010

Red Poppies, soft pastel on panel
© 2009 Marianne Post

You often hear artist’s say that they enjoy the creativity of making the ordinary extraordinary. I like to describe my artistic journey as making the familiar, unfamiliar. That is, painting everyday things with a twist; opening the eyes of those who view my painting so they see things in a new way. Lately I have been revisiting former subjects seeing them with fresh eyes myself. Red Poppies is similar to a painting I sold about three years ago. And while it is a familiar subject, this time around instead of focusing on the nuances of their colors I really enjoyed capturing the way they dance in the breeze. A carefree feeling of airiness and dance is what I am after here. Hope you feel it too!

Nature at the Easel

November 5, 2009

This past Tuesday I was flying from Portland, OR back to Sacramento, CA. It was night, the plane was full and I had one of the last available seats on the plane, a window seat.

We were about 30 minutes out from landing and starting our descent. It was night and I hadn’t really bothered to look out the window until then. Though it was dark, the sky was cloudless. A full moon was waning but not by much. It was like a search light in the sky. But what was happening on the ground was what caught my attention. The light from the moon was casting its reflection on the waters of the Sacramento River.

The river was like a stream of kerosene lit by a match. As the plane moved through the sky, the moonlight raced along the waterway, darting into darkness behind tree lines and foothills to magical reappear and continue its course. I had my camera, but it was useless in this instance and ditto for my sketchbook. With my tray table in its upright position all I could do sit back and enjoy an incredible light show. Nature was in charge of capturing the fleeting light this time ’round.

The Simple Things

October 19, 2009


Not Just Pomegranates, pastel on Pastelbord, 11 x 14″
© 2009 Marianne Post

Fall is definitely in the air. The days are shorter, the leaves are falling, there are hints of color in the trees, and I can smell wood burning fires in the air. I love it! Crisp apples bulge over their bins at the produce stand, there are squashes I have never heard of, and the corn stalk mazes a”maze” me.

I came across a painting I did four, maybe five years ago when I was studying at the School of Light and Color. A bowl of pomegranates. Yep, It’s a fall thing and I love them! And maybe that’s why I have hung onto it. I enjoy standing over the kitchen sink devouring the seeds and juice of this awkward fruit. I once heard that the real way to enjoy it is to roll it around on a counter to release the juices, puncture a hole in the flesh, stick in a straw and suck out the nectar. On the web there are more ways to tackle this challenging fruit.

It not only speaks of a season I love, but the impact that studying under the tutelage of Susan Sarback had on my career as an artist. I love the colors she taught me to see. Each orb, at first glance, looked the same. Further study revealed the difference in their chroma, values and hue. I learned to see a plain wooden bowl reveal its beauty.

This is definitely not a landscape but a “tablescape” that speaks to me in more ways than one. I sometimes revisit paintings I have done and decide whether to “repurpose” the substrate and paint over them. Not every painting is a keeper. This was a studio study piece. It didn’t even have a title until just now. It is not a great piece of art and its not going anywhere. But it holds a special meaning for me because it reminds me of where I have been, what I have learned, and where I am now, fall ’09. Sometimes the simple things are more complex than we think. Maybe that’s why they deserve our attention.

Sketchbook Thursday No.8

July 9, 2009

sketchbook066aMy sketchbooks are filled with hundreds of small black and white schematics. They might look to someone like Rorschach ink blot tests. But they are there for a reason.

Upon entering a gallery I immediately take a broad sweep of art to get a feel of what I am about to encounter. And no matter whether the art is representational, expressionistic, or abstract there is always something that catches my eye immediately. Why is that? Maybe it is a subject that doesn’t even resonant with me, yet I am captivated by it.

It usually is the underlying value structure of the painting that my eye is attracted to. When we are born our sight perception develops in an interesting way. We first recognize light and dark, we then see shapes, and lastly we see color. Artists can use this same progression to develop a successful work of art.

Try making compositional studies using two, three or four values to explore different arrangements of your subject matter. I find it more efficient to do a few value mass thumbnails first to explore the overall painting structure before going into too much elaborate composition planning. I think you will find that exciting shapes make the most interesting paintings. If you are faced with depicting reality or choosing interesting shapes, always choose the shape.

The Refinement of Perception

June 1, 2009


Just last week a woman walked into the School of Light & Color. She was inquiring about class offerings. She wanted to learn to see light and color, She wanted to learn to paint in oils.

In the course of our conversation she admitted that her drawing skills were not great. But she was certain that her lack of drawing experience would not hold her back. After all, she wanted to paint light.

In many ways she might be right. In other ways she was mistaken. As an instructor, I have had students of all levels in my classes, beginners as well as professional artists. And no matter where they were in their exploration of art, the students who took the time to acquire the skill to render shapes, who became sensitive to the relationship between lines and form, and who learned linear perspective had a significant edge over those who hadn’t expended the effort.


It is not necessarily the act of drawing, but what the act of drawing leads one to: the ability to see as an artist. Robert Ruskin in his notable book continually published since 1904, The Elements of Drawing,  expresses this beautifully:

I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love nature, than teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw.

Funny thing is, one can learn to draw almost effortlessly. And in the process, we learn to really see. The most important activity I can encourage my students to do is contour drawing. This activity is the most forgiving and the most rewarding. After all, you don’t even look at the paper on which you are drawing.  You can do it anywhere if you have paper and pencil handy. At the start, the results can be awkward or they can be surprisingly quite good. But the pressure is off. It is what it is. But as one continues, surprising things happen. More often than not the ability to render what we see as we trace the contours of the edges becomes increasingly easier. We learn to see as our hand to eye coordination becomes fine-tuned. We begin to acquire the refinement of perception.