In the book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”, Dr. Betty Edwards discusses how artists see the world. She states: “Drawing is a curious process, so intertwined with seeing that the two can hardly be separated. The ability to draw depends on one’s ability to see the way an artist sees. This kind of seeing, for most people, requires teaching because the artist’s way of seeing is very specific and very different from the way we ordinarily use vision to navigate our lives.”
These words puzzled me when I first read them over thirty years ago. I couldn’t understand how an artist’s view of the world differed from my own. I had lunch, some time after reading Dr. Edward’s book, with a talented fourteen-year-old artist. I mentioned the passage to him. He agreed with the statement and proceeded to tell me what he was seeing at the moment. He told me how he saw my face as areas of light and shadow and sharp and soft edges. I guess my left brain just wouldn’t let go because I still couldn’t understand the whole idea.
“Aldergrove” was Bill’s art colony. In his autobiography, Bill relates how he often took students into the surrounding mountains. He would only allow them to take a sketchbook for making notes. He wanted to teach them to observe his beloved Mother Nature. He taught them to see nature as an artist saw it. They would sit on the edge of a cliff and look out over expansive areas of forests, fields, and streams. Bill would call attention to images he wanted them to remember. He would point out how the sun lit the side of a mountain. He would distinguish the different shades of color in the trees. The students brought those observations back to the studio and transferred them to the canvas.
Why is this idea of seeing so important? Perhaps, to make your artwork stand out? Perhaps, to help others to see? You can show viewers something they never saw before. You can inspire your viewers to go out and see the “real” world.
Beginning shortly before the Renaissance, artists began to change how they portrayed the world.
Leonardo da Vinci worked as an apprentice for Andrea del Verrocchio. Leonardo assisted his master in the painting, “The Baptism of Christ. ”
This was, perhaps, the first ‘public’ painting by Leonardo. Look at the two angels in the lower part of the painting. Leonardo painted the angel on the left. Another of Verrocchio’s apprentices, perhaps Lorenzo di Credi, painted the other. Notice the difference between the two angels. More startling is the difference between Leonardo’s angel and Verrocchio’s staid central characters. Leonardo saw the world in a way that neither his fellow student nor his master experienced. We can’t underestimate the importance of this event. We’ll be writing more in future articles about Leonardo’s Angel. Your journey as an artist will begin when you see the world in a new way, as did Leonardo.
A different world
When I started painting I began to see the world as Betty said I would. Now, I experience it in a different way. It’s a world of beauty – just like Bill told us it was. It’s a world of joy – just like Bill told us it could be. And it’s a world of love, just like Bill wanted it to be.