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Have you ever thought about how an artist sees?


If you have ever watched an artist paint…at an art demonstration or outdoors or in their studio, you’ve probably noticed something a little odd.  We squint…a lot! Doing this actually helps us to see. When you look at a painting you may get the impression that every hair on the head, branch on a tree or blade of grass has been carefully included to create the beautiful image you see before you but in reality that rarely ever happens because we squint.

Reference photo vs painting


The squint is our secret weapon. It allows us to reduce the subject to its bare essentials…the darks - or shadows, the lights and the highlights.  Try it now…almost close your eves and look through the veil of your eyelashes. Do you see how the world is reduced to those elements that allow a painting to ‘sing’? Some things in the shadows practically disappear and the artist can decide whether to include them, just suggest them or ignore them altogether. The thing we never ignore is the highlight. 


As I look across my kitchen to a canister of standing utensils I know that if I vaguely amass those near the rear painting with the right shapes in subdued shadow colours and then paint in a few of the pieces in front with more detail and brighter colour that my image is almost ready.  Finally I add the highlights and the viewer’s eye will fill in the rest of the details to ‘see’ what I do.  


Suggestion is a very large part of the viewing experience.  Look at a distant forest, it’s really just a dark mass, paint in 3 or 4 suggestions of trees and the viewer knows what kind of trees they are and…of course…that that’s a forest. So the next time you look at a painting, take the time to squint…and be amazed!


Photo compared to finished painting!


I’m Jeanne Urban, a Canadian artist living in Calgary, one of the Passionate Painters Art Group.


Please visit our website to see our work, and don’t forget to squint!!


Jeanne Urban