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How to See Like an Artist

Updated on October 7, 2014
copyright:njg | Source

Enhancing Your Visual Awareness

As an artist, I am a very visual person. This helps me to enjoy life and to find inspiration for my work. I think this hyper-awareness comes naturally to me, but for most people, there is so much activity in our daily lives that we selectively and automatically tune things out. We do this because if we were to pay attention to everything we would be very overwhelmed.

Take this box of apples. Its just a box of apples, right? But, look at the many different colors, the shapes, the contrast of the round apples against the straight edges of the box. The apples are spherical, but they are covered with stripes. Then, there's the little bit of straw drawing your eye to the upper corner, and, LOOK, a sliver of sunlight coming through the box and mimicking the angle and shape of the straw. Beauty in a box.

Years ago I worked with a career counselor. He asked me what it was I had always wanted to do. Much to my surprise I blurted out "I want to help people to see things in new ways." Then I began to cry. I had not realized that passion was hovering about in my subconscious and I was completely thrown by the level of emotion that I had held inside.

Anyone can learn to notice and appreciate more of what is right in front of them. I'll help you by telling you how it works for me.

And....check back for more. I'm still working on this!


Keep a Visual Journal

What? Aren't journals for writing?

In many of the classes I have taught, one of the assignments is to keep a visual journal. This is one way to encourage students on a daily basis to pay attention to what they see around them. The more you do it, the more you will begin to notice things you never were conscious of before.

If you feel you need prompting, set your watch or cell phone to signal you its time to stop and look.

In your journal, write down what you see from time to time each day. Stop and look. What is there? What are the colors, textures, lines? How many colors are really in that apple? It's not just all red, is it? Write it down. Make some sketches, if you wish.

In this example, I have only sketches on my journal page. Wouldn't it be great if I had written down what I was seeing, feeling and thinking too? It will help to train you to see more and you will begin to enjoy the world around you in a way you haven't before.

Try it! Start today.

A Version of an Artist's Journal

This children's book combines art with descriptive information on the seasons a tree experiences and the changes it goes through. It's a good example of how a written journal can inspire a piece of art. Great for adults, too.

Keep Your Eyes Open for "Accidental" Beauty " : Found Art" in the Kitchen

copyright:njg | Source

I dropped by to visit my friend and when I went to get a drink in the kitchen, this is what I saw in the sink. She was draining freshly cooked peas in her bright orange colander. I was stunned by the colors and textures. It was found art. She had not even thought of it that way until I took the photos and showed her. It changed her perspective right then and there. "Wow!", she said. Beauty and interesting images are everywhere.

Books to Help You See Like an Artist

Your Artist's Brain: Use the right side of your brain to draw and paint what you see - not what you think you see
Your Artist's Brain: Use the right side of your brain to draw and paint what you see - not what you think you see

This book is designed to help you learn to see accurately instead of what your mind thinks is there. The ultimate goal of this book is to help you make a realistic drawing or painting by helping you to see things as they are. But, learning to see in this way will help you to be even more creative and can change your perceptions of the world around you.


Use All Your Senses - Taking a Walk

When you go out for a hike or a walk, what is your goal? Is it to get some exercise or to reach a destination? What if you also paused on your walk to pay attention to what is all around you? We miss SO much by focusing on an ultimate goal. Try to pay attention to the seemingly little things on your walks from place to place. You may find things that are tiny in size, but giant in beauty and significance.

  1. Do you hear the leaves on the trees? What do they sound like? Rushing water? An incoming tide? Shells rolling in on the beach? Can you feel the same wind on your face that is also blowing the leaves?
  2. When you look up, do you see the light twinkle through the leaves? How many different colors do you see in each leaf? Is it like they are dancing? How does it make you feel to watch them?
  3. When you look underfoot, what do you see? What is the texture like? Are you in the woods? Can you find a patch of moss and is it a small world all its own? Can you imagine shrinking to a size that is so tiny you can walk around inside that mossy world? What would that be like?
  4. Write something in your journal to help you remember what you found, what you learned and how you felt. Make some little sketches to help you remember. Even if you never look at your journal again, writing things down will help you to learn and grow.

The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation
The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation

A classic which has been re-released, this fabulous book will help you to see the world in a new way.


Pause and Look - You May be Surprised


After parking my car one evening for an appointment, I was so glad that I happened to pause and look up. A pile of snow which had been against a bush had melted away from it and left a delicate icy image, much like a long-necked bird. It sparkled in the lights. Doing a double-take, I noticed that the shape of the ice "sculpture" mimicked a table sculpture inside the office behind it. What a delightful find it was. I gathered the employees outside to have a look. It was fun to see them react.

"A Visual Perception Workshop..."

This book, which is focused on photography, covers..."Barriers to seeing - Learning to observe: rethinking the familiar". These are all great topics to help you learn more about how we see and how we can change the way we see and be more creative.

A Moment of Beauty

copyright:njg | Source

Would you have noticed this on the porch? These shadows might never fall the same way with the same light again. Enjoying fleeting images like this is like opening a beautiful present. Allow yourself the gift of awareness.

Tell Me If I've Helped You

Have I helped you to see things more like an artist?

See results

Frame Your View

A tool from the art department

Referred to as a "viewfinder", this simple, little tool can really help you see things in a different way.

It's used to help you focus in on small sections of what you're seeing. It cuts out any competing portion of your view and lets you pay attention to the detail of the section you are framing with your viewfinder. It's useful to artists in many ways, but one of them is to look for new and interesting images or perspectives--things that might not be noticed if you are focusing on the larger whole.

A viewfinder is not big. You can create one by cutting about an inch square hole in the center of a piece of cardboard. Hold it up in front of you at about arm's length and move it around to find interesting compositions. If you want to create a sketch, you can hold it with your non-dominant hand and sketch with the other.

Document what you notice with a photo: Beauty in the world around me.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Tent Tops Against the Sky copyright:njgRain on the Window copyright:njgTwo Artist Blown Glasses Side by Side copyright:njgPattern in Some Old Steps copyright:njg
Tent Tops Against the Sky copyright:njg
Tent Tops Against the Sky copyright:njg | Source
Rain on the Window copyright:njg
Rain on the Window copyright:njg | Source
Two Artist Blown Glasses Side by Side copyright:njg
Two Artist Blown Glasses Side by Side copyright:njg | Source
Pattern in Some Old Steps copyright:njg
Pattern in Some Old Steps copyright:njg | Source

Try a Different Point of View

copyright:njg | Source

Here is a view of ice on the lawn taken right at ground level. It certainly changes your perspective. Your camera is a great tool to help you see new things. I took this by holding the camera to the ground without looking through the lens. The results were a lovely surprise.

Add your comments here. - Tell us about your experiences in seeing the world in new ways.

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    • krakensquid profile image


      6 years ago

      Exquisite lens! Thanks for sharing :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is an inspiring and unique page. I've often expressed what I see around me in art terms and appreciate when others comprehend it all. Haven't had the time for journaling, but hope to be there again some day.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I often stop in awe at the beauty around me I think that's a gift from my mother as an artist she taught me to see things in detail and now having the time to stop and appreciate the natural beauty around us is awexome x great lens great pics

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      I appreciate this feature on seeing with new eyes... or a different focus. Perhaps a renewed focus. This is truly my pathway these days... to make time to really see. It has greatly enriched my life. I need to return to my journaling.

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 

      7 years ago

      Art is everywhere and you just proved it...great article about art

    • sponias lm profile image

      sponias lm 

      7 years ago

      Your work is fantastic! Iâm an artist who had to abandon art and care about other things in life, but my artistic spirit never dies. Itâs really a privilege to be able to look at the world with the eyes of an artist.

    • efriedman profile image


      7 years ago

      This is excellent information about how to see like an artist. I am going to feature this on my Five Photos Visual Thinking as Art page.

    • joanhall profile image

      Joan Hall 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Fascinating! I'm not very visually-oriented; I'm much more auditory. Hearing an artist talk about what they see really does open up a new perspective.

    • Barb McCoy profile image

      Barb McCoy 

      7 years ago

      I really liked reading this lens and is a very thoughtful way to look at life. I try to do that through my photography and nature journal. Thanks for the great lens.

      Adding to my favorites and leaving a special Angel Blessing.

    • njg profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Graham 

      8 years ago

      @Gloriousconfusion: Yeah for you! You get it! Doesn't it make your life richer and more wonderful?

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      I have a dark leafy corner of my garden which is all about different shapes, sizes, colours and texture of leaves, layer upon layer - it gives me such pleasure and satisfaction to look at it, and see the changes over the seasons and at different times of day


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