N.C. Wyeth once said: “Every illustration or painting that I have made in the last thirty years has been done from the imagination or the memory.”
Wyeth quoted a teacher of his, Charles Reed of Boston in advising him: “the faculty of memory has become a lost function among American artists. He (Reed) blamed much of the lack of mood and imagination in their work to this fact.”
American illustrator John Gannam was also a great believer in memory training. He took six months off his busy illustration career to study from nature. But he preferred to observe a scene, jot down written notes or describe it to a friend, and then paint it back in the studio from memory. Gannam claimed “that observation is more searching when it is acting for the memory than when used for immediate transcription.”
In a sense, every observational drawing is a memory drawing. Even when you’re looking at a model, you have to look for some fact and remember it for a split second while you reconstruct that fact on the drawing.
Some subjects require that the observer hold an image a little longer in memory. Moving animals, ocean waves, or sporting events change so fast that you have to study the action in the fleeting moment. Moonlight scenes are usually painted from memory just because in such limited light, accurate color judgments are impossible.
Tomorrow I’ll give you a fun exercise to test your observational memory.
Part 1: Art and Memory
Part 2: Memory Game
Part 3: Remembering a Face