Two modes of looking

6 Nov

While trying to find a productive way to draw a circle freehand, I found these two modes of looking at an object, which may be handy to know about if you are a visual artist.

The human eye has many properties, but two of those are particularly important to artists who tries to do a sketch from memory or use imagination to change an existing image into something else (so when you’re not drawing from life and are mainly looking at your artwork). Those are focus and peripheral vision. Focus is mainly concerned with detail and has no real concept of an overall look. Peripheral vision is all about overall look and has a blurry concept of detail, at best.

Now, an experienced artist will quickly switch between these modes while sketching, and will probably not be aware of them. However, if you don’t yet have years of experience under your belt, knowing that these two modes exist and that you can train them separately, might be a tremendous shortcut in improving the quality of your artwork, or at least, make your sketch have better proportions and look more like what you had in mind (during the previsualization).

Mind you, I’m not an expert on perception and the human visual system by any means. I’m just sharing what I have found to be useful.

Try this experiment:
Draw a spiral in one go, keeping your pencil or marker on the paper, and…
1) only concentrate on the gap between the concentric lines (the whitespace)
2) only concentrate on the outer borders of the shape your drawing

For (2) you probably will need to relax your focus (as if you were looking at a distance object), so your peripheral vision takes over. The idea is to let go of detail in favor of overall shape.

Two modes of looking

Note: I’ve tried to do this in the image above, and used a drawing program and Wacom tablet. The lag between my hand movement and when it appeared as pixels on the screen was too long to feel comfortable. It was perhaps only a few tenths of a second, but long enough to spoil my concentration. This is one of the reasons I don’t feel comfortable using a computer in the sketching phase, when I’m still exploring a shape.

Mind you, if you doing life drawing, your eyes should be mainly on the subject and only be on the drawing to make sure your pencil, marker or piece of charcoal is still where you imagined it was on the drawing surface. In that drawing mode, your drawing utensil is just registering what your eyes receive.

For some people, this is the only drawing mode they know of and will ever find enjoyable. However, there is also a drawing mode in which the object of your attention is solely in your imagination, and where you only use photos, drawings and even life individuals as a remote image to spark your imagination, and not as an icon you should copy literally (or resembling as closely as your drawing skills are allowing you).

It is this latter group of draftspersons my advice could be useful for.

That is all.

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