Observation: The Most Valuable Skill for Aspiring Artists to Develop

Someone recently asked me what I thought was the most important skill for drawing. I think they were expecting me to talk about some kind of watercolor, pencil, or pastel technique. At first that’s where my own mind went as I pondered the question. Then I realized that no technique for using media is as important as the skill of OBSERVATION.

Observation: The Most useful skill for aspiring Artists to Develop

When I am doing a nature drawing, or drawing for my sketchbook, most of the time, I spend twice as much time looking at the subject I am about to sketch than I spend actually sketching it. Later on, I may go back and redraw it a few times, adjust the coloring, lay it out in a nicer, more artistic layout for a more visually pleasing end result, but when I get down to it, most of my time and energy is spent on seeing.

When I get down to it, most of my time and energy is spent on seeing Click To Tweet




Paying attention.

This, friends, is the biggest benefit of keeping a nature journal and doing any kind of nature study.

It’s not “Here’s your lesson plan; today we’ll learn about owls.”

Nature study is looking at what is going on around you.

Nature study is looking at what is going on around you. Click To Tweet

Nature study is paying attention.

Nature study is observation.

Deer Rides

When I was a child, our family had a cabin “up north”. When we were up north, we often went on what we called “deer rides”. I’m not sure how this tradition started, but us kids would be in pajamas, just as the sun went down, and we’d pile in the car. These were the days before carseat laws, so I was usually on my mom’s lap, so I could see better. We would drive down country roads trying to see what kind of wildlife we could spot, mostly deer of course. We usually had some kind of snacks with us, as if we were going to the movie theatre.

We weren’t stopping and drawing them or even photographing them. Part of me thinks we may have been scoping out hunting spots for my dad. ~smile~

Also near our up north, we would go to some friends who lived on a lake, and when the adults wanted to get rid of the kids, they’d say, “Go see if you can find a turtle” or something of that sort.

Learning to Look Closer

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was learning nature observation.

I wasn’t studying a biology book or a field guide; I was learning what the different kinds of turtles in that lake were by observing them and finding out about them later.

“What kind of turtle is it when it has a pointy nose and a brown, rubbery back, Grandpa?”

“What do you call the ones with spots on the edge of the shell?”

“What kind of bird is that floating on the lake?”

The Spark of Curiosity and Looking Closer

You learn what rabbit tracks in the snow look like by seeing them enough times, and finding out (using a field guide or the internet) whose tracks those are. We have an assortment of rabbit tracks in our yard, with cat prints right behind them, my daughter pointed out today.

Observation is foundational to nature drawing. Looking at the wildlife around you. Looking at the flowers and the trees around you. Until you learn how to really see what you’re drawing, you won’t be able to draw as well from observation.

Observation is foundational to nature drawing. Click To Tweet

It takes time, but it’s pretty relaxing.

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