Monday, June 7, 2021

Paint What You See, Or What You Think You See?

On YouTube, Grisaille asks: Should you "paint what you see, not what you think you see,... or Paint what you think you see, not what you see?"

When I was first learning to draw I found the phrase very helpful: "Draw what you see, not what you think you see." That was the stage where I was realizing, for example, that I had to draw an ellipse even though my brain was telling me a given wheel was circular.

Artists with more experience might reframe that question to ask if we should draw what we actually see, or consciously alter it to suit our aesthetic or narrative impulses?

In that case, it depends what you want to accomplish. Most of the time when I'm painting on location I enjoy the challenge of getting beyond artistic habits and trying to paint something without making any changes or "improvements." If something is awkward, so be it.

But there are times I want to visualize a mental image or preconception. I might want to exaggerate the clutter of a kitchen or make a person look especially tired. In that case I allow the mental image to guide my choices, and I regard the scene as a source of raw materials. I don't feel accountable to painting what I see but I paint what I wish I was seeing.

There may be a synthesis between these two apparently contradictory impulses. Try to be clear in your mind about what feeling or idea attracted you to a subject, and focus on conveying that emotion as you paint, as much as possible without consciously altering anything that you see.  

Anyway, getting your thinking straight before you start painting is at least as important as your paint and brushes, because those initial choices determine all the other choices.  

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