Art Takes Different Eyes

It seemed like a good idea when I signed up for two art classes this semester. I work at the Mesa Art Center and want to get to know the other instructors. My spouse is 2,500 miles away, and I am setting up a new business–having a built-in art break sounded like a stroke of genius.

watercolor brushesI signed up for watercolor and basic drawing. While I’m an artist, I’m not an illustrator, and wanted to learn some illustration skills for the visual journaling class I teach. There were two different equipments lists, and I ran around two different art supply stores getting what I needed. At least both classes has a drawing board and pencils in common.

That was the last thing they had in common. Drawing is all about seeing the detail and proportion and getting it exactly right. Watercolor is about seeing the heart of the idea and capturing it in the fewest possible lines. My drawing teacher walked past, and showed me how to use a pencil to get the angle between two pieces right. My watercolor instructor walked past, looked at my attempt to get the colors exactly right and said, “So, who’s winning?” Sadly, the answer was “nobody.”images-3.jpeg

Drawing is about watching carefully, seeing exactly so you can get the same thing on paper. Watercolor is about watching carefully, seeing exactly, so you don’t put it on paper, but give the viewer enough hints to get your meaning.

Impossible, I thought. If only things were more like writing, I’d bet better at being an illustrator. But, in fact, drawing is exactly like writing. If you don’t get the dialog down precisely, your story will sound flat and uninteresting.

images-12.jpegIf you spell out every detail you will bore the reader.  Skip an important detail and you will lose the reader. Like a watercolor artist, a good writer will know the bones of the story and get them down. The rest is up to the reader’s imagination. A right balance of imagination and good writing makes a book come alive and echo through the decades as powerful writing.

So I swing back and forth, being exact, being clear, painting, drawing and writing down life to make it come alive for others. And to make some meaning for myself.

–Quinn McDonald is an exhausted art student, writer, and certified creativity coach. She also runs seminars in journal writing, business writing, and presentations. In her spare time, she prays that the mattress for her bed shows up soon, as sleeping on the bed slats does nothing for her sense of perspective. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Image: writing sample:

6 thoughts on “Art Takes Different Eyes

  1. Cool. Quinn is doing some mighty mental muscle building by taking both classes at the same time!

    (I was going to say muscle “making” but couldn’t stand any more alliteration.)

    –Awww, go with the alliteration! I am using all sorts of muscles that haven’t had a decent work out in a while! If only it helped me fit in smaller jeans! –Q

  2. Always a treat to hear of your new adventures. As for watercolor, try this. Mix up a BUNCH of a color you like and have some torn bits of sponge and paper towels on hand. Lay the color on the paper without fussing about too much, you want a good concentrated color. Now, use your sponges and towels to dab, stroke, wipe and generally remove color to create a representative painting (like a still life of flowers) or an abstract. This exercise gets the painter away from “pencilitis” and moving toward colors and shapes, light and shadow, and that wonderfully sparkly look that only watercolor can give. When everything is dry, you can go back in and add details — the painting will tell you where to do this — really! But if you find yourself stooping over the painting, tongue caught in teeth, and frowning, well, you’ve probably gone too far. Just wipe it all off (use good paper) and start again!

    —I LOVE this suggestion! I’m spending WAAAAAY too much time “drawing the painting” and not enough doing the water part of watercolor. I’m also finding that I’m in a class in which most of the people have previous watercolor experience and I do not. The instructor also does photorealistic work, and that makes a big influence on his class. He’s very, very good, but I may take another beginner class. I’m learning that painters have a huge variety of techniques. He has taught about good paper, and I’m amazed at how you can get paint on and off 140 pound cold press watercolor paper! -Q

  3. Sounds numbingly exhausting! Both workshops sound delightful to me, but not at the same time. You’ll wear out that yoga mat trying to get your head balanced after each class. But then, I’m having a new experience here with carving an eraser carving for a clay artist. I’ve dealt with the differences in negative and postive space before in design; and the struggles of trying to get into a different artist’s head to see what he wants when he cannot draw what he wants, but this is the first time I’ve had to carve something where the area that I remove has to be the part that is critically cut. The inside of the hand carved stamp has to be smooth to make a smooth surface to the clay. Usually I only have to worry about the part that picks up the ink; now it is the other part! And the change is definitely mind-expanding to me!

  4. Quinn, happy to know all is well in your world. Sounds like you’re settling in nicely in your new life! Love your perspective on writing and illustration. (Glad to hear you’ve found an apartment!)

  5. The contrast between the two – drawing and watercolors – is interesting. I had never thought of it that way, but I can see how it is correct! The idea of both of those being applied to writing? Yes, indeed, I can definitely see that. Quinn, thank you for sharing these insights! (And congratulations on the new apartment!)

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