Never trust your eyes! This is true for the artist perhaps more so than anyone else. Why? It’s a funny thing but eyes tend to be constantly playing tricks with us. An obvious example is optical illusion images. Why is it that I immediately see a shape of a vase instead of the two profiles facing one another? I’ll leave the answer to that to the scientists. For the artist it’s enough to know that you shouldn’t trust your eyes…ever. Of course, most artists already know this but we do have a habit of forgetting it. Others often seem to be in a better position to see what’s in our painting (and the mistakes) much quicker than we are. The other day my wife remarked that the foreground in the landscape I was painting looked like water at the edge of a lake. It was supposed to be an area of field!
If only we could view our work with the eyes of others.
There are some ways to rectify this (and I’m not talking about an eye transplant).
For “viewing with the eyes of others” perhaps I mean “viewing from a different viewpoint.”
Here are a 3 ways, which allow you to look at your work “differently.”
Upside down: simply turn your painting round, stand a good distance away and look at it: Is there anything unbalanced about the painting now? Do any areas or colours jump out at you? Does anything you intended to look straight now look crooked? Think about your painting and also make a mental note about where your eyes focus. You don’t want people focusing on the corner of the picture and forgetting the rest, do you?
The mirror: this is especially useful if you’re painting faces. By reversing the symmetry of the work you can quickly see misalignments and imbalance. I’ve used this to identify mistakes when drawing eyes or seeing that one eye was far more pronounced than the other.
Photos: digital photography is wonderful. It allows you to quickly photograph and see the work in another format. Also by photographing your work in black and white you can get a clearer picture of whether the tones in the painting are working together correctly.
Use one or other of these methods during the painting process and it will ensure that you won’t go off track. It does seem very basic but believe me, if there is something which doesn’t belong in your painting, or which your painting needs, and you miss it, it will undermine the power of the painting and undo all the good work you managed to get right. This is true for all genres, whether it be realism or landscape as my former tutor used to say, “there is only good painting or bad painting.”
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