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I am UmberDove.

And by that, I mean an artist.  One who hears stories in the wind, who paints because it is what her soul tells her to do, who smiths because the muse moves through her fingertips, who loves nothing more than the promise of an unexplored trail, the sound of the ocean in her ears, and scent of a serious cup of coffee.

Week 3 - Visual Vocabulary

Modes of Looking

Kelly Clark

“Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it?” - Picasso

As we really begin laying down our thoughts, ideas and observations in our sketchbooks, building up our visual vocabulary, I'd like to discuss the topic of drawing as a means of recording.  There are as many different ways to draw and sketch as there are hands on the planet, and truly no "right" way to create an image on paper.  Some of us fall into the category of highly detailed renderings, some of us into abstracted forms, and some into the "just don't do a lot of drawing" category.  And each of those is perfectly alright!   

 ("Childhood Truths" - work in progress)

 ("Childhood Truths" - work in progress)

There are various modes of looking and translating an object into the drawn/painted/sculpted/etc. form.  Some of the work we've been doing has begun with observing a physical, tangible object.  I had you begin with something you could pick up, hold, look at from different angles and this was no random beginning BUT observing a thing in real life is just one way to LOOK.  

Working from Real Life

When we are in physical proximity to the thing we're drawing, our brains register the three dimensionality of it.  Every time we shift our own position, the exact angles and lines change due to the fact that is IS a dimensional form.  That constant shift can add a huge amount of life to our drawings because we are studying the fullness of a form; we are developing an awareness and knowledge of it's full shape.  This is true even if we don't see it immediately in our drawings, it's true even if our drawings are not meant to be a precise recognizable image.  We still begin seeing in fullness and that fullness informs the way we recreate it.

Working from Photographs

In my own work I often desire to create a recognizable form but do not have access to sit that "thing" down nicely in front of me while I create copious sketches (wild jackrabbits and barn owls don't like to play that way).  Photographs open up a whole world of visual inspirations, from the sights we can not see on our own (like a satellite view of North America), for the things that won't hold still (like a galloping herd of mustangs) to the that which we can not even see with the naked eye (hello mitochondria!).  When we work with photographs, not only do we have an endless plethora of sources to view, we have the ability to find the exact position we wish to study, and really study it in detail.

Working from Memory

While I work extensively with both real life and photographs, I may love working with memory the most.  When we work with an image or a "thing" from memory, there is a fascinating morphing that happens based on the particular details our minds recorded.  We don't have the object in front of us to make small corrections or to record lines too carefully.  Instead, we have the ability to hone in on the parts we remember - and in that there can be a huge amount of freedom from "perfection" and looseness in our hands.  Let's say we were drawing seed pods from memory.  We studied them, looked closely, and and then walked away from the plant to create them in the studio.  The most important parts would stand out: I might remember the funny little collar below the bulb, the starburst pattern above, the rounded ballooning form.  Now this might not correspond with the exact real shape and layout of a seed pod, BUT in drawing what we remember, in drawing how the pieces fit in our minds, we create something that is entirely unique and honest to us.  Memory expands certain details, it lets go of others, it pulls in associations we may not have recognized when studying an object in person or from photographs.  

Each of these modes of looking has strong benefits.  I like to think of drawing from real life as corresponding to the hands (tangible), drawing from photograph as corresponding to the eye (observing) and drawing from memory as corresponding to the heart (intuition).  Each can be utilized completely on their own, but when we recognize how to make each one work for us, they can dance together to create deeply rounded artwork. 

To illustrate how these three different modes of looking can be combined in one piece, I'd like to share with you a painting currently in progress in my studio.


This piece began with an intuitive vision, a spark from a waking dream.   The background became an exercise in working from memory - how the setting sunlight falls through the evergreen trees, how the light forms glowing orbs in the background bokeh of a photograph.  The hand is my own, working from real life, holding it up (I'm left handed, so it had to be my right), turning in the light, looking for the color under my skin, in the folds and shadows.  The butterfly, not surprisingly, is being worked from a photograph - in this case it was important to me that it was a Western Swallowtail and I want to render some correct species details.  And in case you were wondering, that certainly is a halo in encircling the two. ;)  


For today, as we continue to compile new inspirations, revisit old themes and ideas, collect objects from our surroundings, while sketching and taking notes on them all, I'd like for you to keep these three modes of looking at the forefront of your mind.  Try on all three:  Close your eyes and feel out if there is something on your lists or in your mind that you can create from memory, a.k.a. intuition - keeping in mind that memory gives us total freedom to interpret.  Find one thing on your list of inspirations that might not be available for drawing in person and either take or find a photograph that embodies it, a.k.a. observation.  Hold one of your found goodies, a.k.a. the tangible, in hand, study it from various angles and record what you see.  Again, every time we try on these various modes, we're adding to that grand tool chest, deepening and enriching our personal visual vocabulary!  And how exciting is that!

With butterfly wings dancing above my head, 

- K