Monday, September 29, 2014

Sunsets and Training the Visual Memory

The dynamic horizon at sunrise or sunset is the hardest to capture, you have either to chase the light with the brush or prepare yourself for the event. My approach has been both, to do pencil sketches and color studies on location, to use them, and my memory of the experience to create/finish pieces in the studio. The library of information I gather from observation helps me understand what I am seeing and hopefully interpret it in a meaningful way.  As I remember and conceptualize the landscape I attempt to make informed decisions, based on my observed details and the nuances of nature. However I try to be as truthful to the experience as possible, to keep in my mind’s eye that which inspired me in the first place. 

Waxing philosophical, I believe our brains are conscious of almost every experience in our life and every encounter we have, and that stored among those billions of neurons in the brain are endless images and impressions. That it is not only possible to train ones visual memory but a necessity for the artist to do so. Up until maybe the later part of the nineteenth century memory exercises of some type were part of most academic art educations. If it be as simple as practicing blind contour drawing or copying prints of sculptures as in the Beaux-Arts tradition. They recognized the importance of a highly trained visual memory as a skill an artist used in companionship with the direct study of nature. 

There are some fascinating books floating around on the subject. TheTraining of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist by HoraceLecoq de Boisbaudran is an interesting read and more current Memory Training for Painters by Richard Lack is well worth downloading. Also a book I have mention several times on my blogs, and on my highly recommended reading list, Harold Speed "The Practice and Science of Drawing" 1913. This is a link to his chapter The Visual Memory.  “Let us assume that you have found a subject that moves you and that, being too fleeting to draw on the spot, you wish to commit to memory. Drink a full enjoyment of it, let it soak in, for the recollection of this will be of the utmost use to you afterwards in guiding your memory-drawing.”  Page 262 Harold Speed

I see memory training as another tool in my tool box helping me interpret what I see in front of me.
Technically I've been able to slowly build glazes of color to explore those atmospheric effects I am after and was the initial inspiration.

I love this quote by Edgar Degas on the subject, “If I were to open an academy I would have a five story building. The model would pose on the ground floor with the first year students. The most advanced students would work on the fifth floor." I can imagine the advanced students dashing up and down flights of stair as they study the model and dart back to their easels to make their marks.

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim


Jim Serrett, Lake Murphysboro Sunset, oil on panel 5 x 7 in
Jim Serrett, Perseids Sunset, oil on panel, 5 x 7 in
Graphite Sketch on toned paper. 
Sketchbook page


Memory Training For Painters by Richard Lack from the Classical Realism Quarterly 1990
Download pdf Here

The Training of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist
Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran – Author

"The Practice and Science of Drawing" by Harold Speed

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