The Artist’s Mindset

The Mind of the Artist.

Visual artists, working in any medium (even on an iPad!) tend to think in terms of shapes, lines, colours and textures, tones. Some use spatial (3D) qualities.

Edward Munch: The Cry (1863-1944)

Edward Munch: The Cry (1863-1944)

Artists can observe these items everyday in the real world and store them in memory and they can also be developed by the imagination (i.e. in the mind) or perhaps a mixture of both like Edvard Munch  the Norwegian painter (right). Munch, in this painting also thinks emotively….expressively…

self prtrait jeffrey_smart
Jeffery Smart: Self Portrait

Due to their artistic experience, seeing things in this way becomes a way of life for the artist and can develop into a style. (see Jeffrey Smart: above left). Jeffery Smart’s portrait studies of Clive James  are hilarious!

However everyday “seeing” is different.…it is pragmatic! If you go into a supermarket to buy a pear you probably look for size, condition (damage) and ripeness (colour) but never for edges, proportions, volume, angles, colour variation or texture…. that would be inappropriate in that context.

Develop a useful Mindset for Art

Our habitual way of “seeing”  is essential for navigating our everyday experiences. As you step off the pavement you don’t need to look closely at the edge of the kerb, its depth, the curve of the road shoulder ahead….you probably focus on the oncoming traffic, and your brain does the rest habitually. You cross the street safely.

However everyday “seeing” can get in the way of developing an artistic mindset……it prevents us from seeing in a new way… like the artist’s mindset !

Still Life and the Artist’s Mindset

In my view, still life drawing and painting can help to develop an appropriate artistic mindset fairly quickly. It forces you to “see” edges, proportions, volume, angles, colours, tones and texture and gives you time to try and try again.

Seeing  the”negative”  (abstract) shapes as you work….


Small Tree: ASKetch 2012

Another aspect of the well-developed artistic mind is to see clearly those things we normally pay no attention to in everyday life. Some people call these the “negative” shapes. They are the abstract shapes between objects and other things….the relational shapes.

 In the tree example the shapes between the branches (in green) are as important as the branches themselves.

small_tree Negative

Tree showing negative spaces

The shapes between the tree and the canvas edge are also considered.

Small Tree: Augusta

Small Tree: Augusta

When you place the tree image on a canvas the abstract shape made by the canvas edge is also considered. It is part of the composition.

Pablo Picasso took this approach to its limits in “Guernica” (1937)abstract shapes

                                 Pick out the negative spaces in this Still Life painting

Figure/Ground Illusion

Figure/Ground Illusion


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