I have a fully developed observer side to me. It’s an inherent trait I possess and it’s one of my qualities that made me a good reporter and also serves me now as an artist.
I’m keenly aware of details. How my children are doing when they come home from school each day, what color people are wearing or other outwardly ways they choose to express themselves. I notice body language. I notice facial expressions, like a slight down turned mouth or knitted eyebrows — both which tell me something about what’s going on inside the person. I always make a mental note to myself when teaching to be aware of micro expressions so I can look for clues as to what my students are experiencing and if I can possibly help them through any bumps in the class — emotional or technical. Art is an expression of one’s soul and, sometimes, it’s messy in there!
I also notice shapes and colors and oddities - natural or man made. I love to see shapes layered on top of each other, like the way leaves on a tree are all similar but still unique and the depth and dimension they have when the sunlight filters through them. While I have never had any formal training in drawing (yet!), I taught myself to sketch by breaking the whole into individual shapes and building from there. It’s the way I look at an art piece. I see the whole and then begin breaking it down to the details. Once I’ve seen every small mark and studied it. I zoom back to the whole picture so I can fully appreciate the work and thought that the artist has put into his or her work.
My husband says my brain never stops. It’s true. Life is just too interesting and there are too many details.
Recognizing this inherent trait has allowed me to hone it over the years. Like a muscle one builds. I want to keep my brain sharp, and I believe that noticing and remembering details is a way to accomplish this. I even do it with my children. Not so much my son any more because he’s not into my “pretending” games that we did when he was younger, but my little one is all for it. When she notices something in the store and says, “Mama, I like that lady’s pink shirt.” I respond with a question that makes her study further. “Do you like it because of the color, or is it the lace detail on the sleeves you like? What else do you see in this store that you like?”
I want her to see that color, shape, form and beauty are everywhere. When she grows up and people ask where she gets her inspiration, I hope she replies “everywhere.” It doesn’t matter if she chooses to be an artist or a teacher or truck driver or an at-home mommy. What I want her to understand is that happiness is found in the details.
I’m sure most of you can relate. Being an observer of life is not a unique trait to anyone who makes art. While it’s always been part of me, I sincerely believe it’s a skill, and a vital one at that if you work in a creative field. Being a good artist, or dancer or musician means doing your craft so well that micro details are executed so seamlessly that the big picture of your work is ultimately flawless. Not perfect, but flawless. Perfection is overrated. A technically perfect piece with no soul can leave one feeling as cold and flat inside as a three-day-old dead fish.
If this is a new concept for you, think about it. Try it on for size. On days that might be a bit slower, use the extra moments to flex your observation muscle. Take a new route home from work, try a little harder to notice your coworkers’ expressions. Take a few more minutes to be fully present in whatever mundane task you always perform and notice how expertly you’re executing the details. If you’re not already doing this, it will become second nature if you wish it to be. Soon, you’ll notice the integration of this into your art. Trust me, it’s a very cool thing!
I’m curious. Do you consider yourself an observer? What are your favorite things to notice?