September 29, 2016

Motherhood parables: observing the leaf

 How many of us say we are not artists?
 How many feel they grew up without artistic experience opportunities?

 My daughter came to me  with a leaf that was heart-shaped. "Look mom a heart-shaped leaf!"
 Then my son asked what type of plant  it was.  It was some type of a tree but I couldn't tell  which, all I knew was that we have aspen trees in the front and side yard. So I said maybe it's an aspen and told them to go get a leaf from our aspen tree so we could compare.

 Upon comparison we realized the shapes were somewhat similar, but one was a heart and the other somewhat heart shaped but not completely. We also noticed the same green and yellow colors in the leave, yet the veins of one leaf  were dark, while light on the other; and the parts that were yellow on one leaf were reversed on the other. We also noticed the textures of the leaves were completely different: one felt more like paper bordering on plastic, while the other one felt very soft (more like cloth). Then there was the outline of the leaf which matched each other...slightly rounded yet tiny jaggidies.  (Definitely not the technical terms. ). 😜 Were they different stages of the same tree or different leaves altogether? Observations which led to interesting new questions.

 So where my going with all this?

 As I sat pondering upon these two seemingly different leaves, I wondered about the art of observation. 

This is something I've been thinking a lot about the last two years as I've explored my more artistic side and try to get more in touch with  observing things around me.

 I'm sharing this because I feel if one knows the elements of art one knows the elements of observation; and to improve upon one is to improve upon the other. So if you do not feel like an artist ask yourself this question: how good am I at observing my world? Do I slow down and take time to be fully aware of the world around me?

 Sometimes life can go really fast or get really busy that we don't take time to stop and ponder and ask questions. Or sometimes we don't know what questions to ask. I think this was my problem growing up – – I just didn't know what questions to ask.

 I grew up in Alaska, surrounded by nature. And I love being in nature, but I never felt like I could fully appreciate nature… Like I could absorb it and it could become a part of me. It was always something I enjoy being out in, but couldn't feel completely satisfied that I was taking it all in as much as I wished. I needed both the right questions to ask and also time in nature with those questions. Curiosity is a powerful thing especially when empowered and equipped with the right questions or focus.

 So enough of my rambling… And back to art or the art of observation.

There are basic art elements and terms that all artists get familiar with in order to observe and create art. I never remember learning these terms specifically, though bits of them are familiar and basic enough to  all of us to understand.   The key is simplifying all these lists of art elements people throw at you into one simple breakdown  that is easy to remember and makes sense to your average person.  So here's my simple breakdown of the six or so basic art elements...summarized/grouped as just a few:

  • line, shape, form:  though typically separated as three elements, I see these as one element to be aware of, and the transformations of such . Simply put a line can transform into an outline or shape, which can then transform into a form which is The three-dimensional shape. So when you are observing something....
  1. First look for its lines what lines do you see?
  2. Then what  takes shape and outlines?
  3. Then how did the shapes and lines create a three-dimensional form? 
  • Light, color (hue), quality (value--along black and white scale--& intensity--brightness) :   Light is black and white, but light is broken down into color (aka hues), then the quality of the color can be analyzed. So when you look at something ask the following types of questions: 
  1. Where is the light?  From what source?
  2. What color appears from this light?
  3. What is the quality of the color:  is it pure or has its value been tainted by black (shades) or white (tints)?  What is its intensity: bright or dull (does it reflect or absorb light)?
  • Texture:  the physical feeling of an object. how does  an object physically  feel or appear to feel?   is it flat or bumpy? Small or large? Dainty or chunky? Soft or hard? 
  • Space:  The physical area or location of the object and it's relation to its surroundings

So next time you find yourself going too fast...slow down and look at something. Ask yourself some of these questions. And if you need help, try carrying a sketchbook around and starting just noticing basic lines and shapes. Or start paying more attention to sunsets and the autumn changing leaf colors... what colors do you see? And do you notice how they change along the color rainbow/spectrum.


  1. I've thought of myself as being observant, but you just taught me that there is more to observe. It's like a Mandelbrot set; the closer you look the more there is to see!

  2. Technically this observation I mentioned is more visual...for visual arts. But there is also auditory, tactile, etc. artists develop their visual observation. Chefs develop their sense of taste and smell. So if you think you aren't one of these....all you have to do is develop your awareness of those senses more. People use to say you were either left or right brained...but really it's a matter of developing both sides and using all your senses. There's a great book about it called Multiple Intelligences...and how we should develop all our heighten our awareness in all the various areas we can. This is what Leonardo Davinci thought too...