When it comes to creativity, it’s important to have a constant stream of inspiration to draw from. If we choose to pay attention to them, our senses can offer bucket loads of material as we move through each day hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Paying attention to our senses helps us live in the moment, excites our curiosity, and can make us more in tune with our natural impulses. However, so many of us—myself included—go through our days without really feeling much of anything. To deepen my own awareness, my plan is to write a post on each of our senses, explaining some ways that we can focus more intently on that sense and wake ourselves up to the variety of experiences around us. Hopefully they’ll help you too. So far, I’ve also written about taste.
In some ways, sight is the easiest sense to work on, since it’s the one we use the most anyway. According to Psychology Today, more than half the body’s sense receptors are in the eyes. But how much of your surroundings do you really see on a daily basis? If you follow the same routine every day, you probably have long since stopped noticing the buildings you pass, or the way the sky looks – unless something is drastically different. What if you could train yourself to look at the same old things with fresh eyes, seeing something new every day?
When you see the world translated on a camera screen, it can help you pick out things you might not have noticed before. Choosing what to shoot, and how to compose the image, helps us to focus in on certain aspects of our visual field. If you find that you’ve stopped seeing your surroundings, take a camera with you and promise yourself that you’ll take at least one photo: you won’t be able to help looking more closely and becoming more deeply involved in what you see.
- Photography is all about light. And, unlike solid objects like apartment blocks and trees, the light is constantly changing. Learn to observe light and you will constantly be delighted (get it? de-light-ed?). Take out your camera and try capturing different times of day, different times of year, and different locations. How does the light change? Notice where shadows fall, the colour of the light, and the mood it evokes. Summer light is very different in terms of colour, brightness and feeling than winter light, at least where I live. Experiment with photos that capture those moods and feelings, then try to describe them in words and see what you come up with. Does the light at 3pm in December feel melancholy or peaceful? What do the long shadows make you think of?
- Notice how the colour of the sky changes every day. When I was a kid, I loved the deep deep blue of summer skies so much that I wrote a poem about it. And in the book, Knit the Sky, author Lea Redmond suggest knitting a scarf by watching the colour of the sky and knitting a row each day that matches it. You could take pictures of the sky as well – making a collage to represent a year – or paint squares in a sketchbook for the same effect.
- Choose a colour and spend a day photographing items of that colour. The following day, choose a different one. Your eyes will be primed to pick the colour out from the background and you’ll be sure to notice things you haven’t before.
“Drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer, and clearer still. The image is passing through you in a physiological way, into your brain, into your memory – where it stays – it’s transmitted by your hands.” ― Martin Gayford, A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney
As I work through The Drawing Project, I’m learning that drawing is another way of seeing. It forces you to look more closely than you’ve every looked, and to strive more whole-heartedly to understand what you are looking at. It also teaches you how to interpret what you’re looking at, in your own unique way, as you translate images on the page.
- When you’re drawing something, try to look at the subject more than you look at your paper. A lot of the time we draw things the way that we think they look rather than how they actually look. This is one of the greatest challenges of drawing, and one of the best ways to sharpen your sense of sight.
- Draw something you look at every day, but never really see. It could be your car keys (or your car), the kettle you boil water in, or your phone. Try to capture as much detail as possible and make note of things you hadn’t noticed before.
- Try to draw a person or an animal in motion, ideally in person so you can’t stop or rewind. See what quick glimpses you can get on the page before your subject changes position. I recently tried drawing seals at the zoo and I learned so much more about the shapes of their bodies and how they move from drawing than just from watching. I was never able to do a complete sketch, but I did manage to draw some interesting shapes.
- If your eyes are tired from staring at a screen all day, take a break by staring off into the distance, and relax the muscles that have been holding your eyes on a fixed focal point.
- According to studies that show that playing video games is good for strengthening eyesight, scanning the environment and picking out small changes keeps your eyes in good shape. By this logic, bird – and other animal – watching must be good for you, and it’s a little more of a peaceful activity. When I walk in the woods I am constantly scanning for wildlife, even if it’s just a tiny chickadee (I’m also listening carefully, but we’ll talk about that in the hearing post!). It’s so rewarding to catch a hint of movement in time to spot an eagle, or a woodpecker, or even a white ermine. Even as you walk in urban areas, see how many animals you can spot. Watch their behavior and their movement patterns for extra points.
- Take a staycation in your own city and look at the places you’ve seen countless times in a new light.
How do you make sure that you’re really seeing your surroundings? What have been some of your favourite sights? Leave a comment below!