Monday, 8 November 2010

How good are you at visualising?

Do you visualise your finished artwork before you begin?

A few words in a friend’s email the other day sparked my curiosity – but it was something I’d been wondering about for a long time as it had often come up in conversations with an old friend who, sadly, died a couple of years ago.

The phrase was, ‘I had an image in mind...’

My old friend regularly insisted that I must have an image of my finished paintings in my mind before I began. And I had protested vehemently that I don’t and she had found this impossible to understand. So I’m curious to know whether other artists have an ‘image in mind’ when they begin a piece of work?

The fact is that I find it extremely difficult to hold any image in my mind! This makes anything that requires me to ‘visualise’ very frustrating! You know the sort of thing – ‘Imagine a golden light...’ ‘Imagine the person you are afraid of as a baby...’ ‘Imagine yourself beside a stream in a wood...’ Impossible! I can conjure up the associated feelings and ideas but definitely not an image!

This ‘deficit’ of mine became abundantly and embarrassingly clear when I tried out a Neuro Linguistic Programming technique for learning spellings on one of my older pupils who found learning the relationships between letters and sounds, for spelling purposes, too ‘baby-ish’. Although I feel sure that the Synthetic Phonics ('sounds') method of learning to read and spell is by far the best one, I was amazed at what this boy told his mother about how he imagined shelves in his head and stored the words he wanted to remember on these shelves!
Another younger boy who was still at the ‘cat, sat, fat, big, pig...’ stage of learning the ‘sounds’ was able to look at the word ‘urgency’ for a few seconds, close his eyes, visualise the word and spell it out to me correctly! He was also able to ‘make the letters bigger’, ‘change their colour’, and tell me the letters backwards in the correct order! All of which helped my pupils’ self-esteem because they were able to do easily something that their teacher could not!

That is not to say that I never visualise anything. Images do come into my mind involuntarily but they are no more than a fleeting flicker and if I try to hang on to them to analyse or describe them, they are gone! People have suggested that this is very strange in someone whose work is decidedly ‘visual’! But I wonder whether it is or not?

Of course there is no need for visualisation if I’m painting from a model or a photograph. The image is right there in front of me. But I am puzzled about how I draw ‘from imagination’. I don’t have an ‘image in mind’ that I am aware of. And yet, as I draw, I do know whether what I’m working on is right first time or whether it needs alterations but it’s a kind of ‘inner sensing’ rather than comparing what I’ve done with an image that I could ‘see’ in my mind’s eye.

Maybe it’s that ‘naughty pencil’ of mine that has a secret pair of 'eyes'?


Ulla Hennig said...

This is very interesting, Judy!
I usually have something in mind before I begin to draw. It could be just an idea (I want to draw somebody who moves) or an image (I want to paint a face on a tree, looking to the right, kind of gnome etc.). It might be even the fact that that image doesn't go out of my head until I paint or draw.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Ulla - I'm wondering, do you mean that you actually 'see' the image in your head in such a way that you could describe it before you start to paint it?

Ulla Hennig said...

Sometimes I do, yes. I "saw" the tree before my eyes, and how the face popped out, a very old face. I did not see the red eye, however, I did that while painting it.

Michele said...

Yes I do have an image in my mind, literally a picture, but it changes as I go along, so the finished work usually bears little resemblance to the original brain picture!

Sarah said...

I usually start out with a sort of vague, loosely formed image in my head that gets more detailed as I work. It's very hard for me to hold an image too though. A few months ago I had an idea for a design that I had to keep visually "repeating" in my mind until I could get to my pad and put it down.

Judy Adamson said...

Michele and Sarah - thank you very much for taking the time to comment on this. So far it seems that I'm well and truly in the minority!

I had an experience a bit like Sarah's a while back. I was standing at a crossing waiting for the lights to turn green and a young lad was waiting on the opposite pavement who struck me as being exactly the model I needed for a greeting card design. The difference with me was that I had to keep muttering to myself all the way home, luckily not too far, to remember all the details, eg purple t-shirt, baggy shorts, necklace, black socks and shoes...I managed quite well but it would have been much easier if I could have kept the image in my mind!

Country Mouse Studio said...

Hi Judy,interesting to think about.
I am the same as you, I cannot hold an image and usually have no idea before I draw what the end result will be. It's why I don't try to learn from other artists because if I had to map it all out first , I'd never start.
If I get an idea for a painting somewhere else by the time I arrive home, it's changed. Even if I take a photo by the time I actually work on it, it has become something different. Writers say that in their stories if the writing is going well, the characters come alive to them and it's almost the same for me, the bird or animal takes on a character and I just follow along with my brush. So I guess my brush has a secret pair of eyes too. :O)

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Carole - what a relief to find that I'm not the only person who can't hold an image in my mind! Not that I feel disadvantaged in any way as far as my art's concerned but it's nice to know I'm not utterly peculiar! And it can be exciting when something unexpected emerges. But I do wonder where they come from!