Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Learning to see - recent science relating to drawing

Excerpted from an article @ Livescience:

People who can't draw well aren't seeing the world as it really is. When we look at an object, our visual systems automatically misjudge such attributes as size, shape and color; research over the past three years shows at least some of these misperceptions translate into drawing errors. Paradoxically, in other circumstances the misperceptions help us make sense of the world. For example, objects appear larger when they are closer than when they are far away. Even so, the visual system practices "size constancy" by perceiving the object as being approximately one size no matter how far away it is. The visual system, "knowing" a distant object is really bigger than it appears, sends false information to the brain about what the eyeball is seeing.

Those who draw well are better able to override these visual misperceptions and perceive what their own eyeballs are really seeing.

Rebecca Chamberlain, a psychologist at University College London... and her colleagues recently conducted experiments investigating the role of visual memory in the drawing process. They believe that drawing skill results in part from an ability to remember simple relationships in an object such as an angle between two lines from the moment the angle is perceived to the moment it is drawn. Additionally, "drawing seems to involve focusing on both holistic proportional relationships as well as focus on detail isolated from the whole. Perhaps it is the ability to switch between these two modes of seeing that underpins successful drawing," Chamberlain told Life's Little Mysteries.

Based on their research, the psychologists recommended the following techniques for getting better at drawing: Focus on scaling a drawing to fit the size of the paper; anchor an object in its surroundings by showing how it sits in space; focus on the distance between elements of the object and on their relative sizes; and focus on the size and shape of "negative space," or the empty space between parts of the object. Lastly, they recommend thinking of "lines" as what they really are — boundaries between light and dark areas.

As Chris McManus, a member of the research team, noted, "There are few human skills which don't improve with practice."


After sleeping on this, it seems a lot less momentous to me. The findings are nothing new - in fact they're mostly incorporated into any decent drawing course. There's a huge emphasis in figure drawing from the model or reference on comparing things to imaginary horizontals and verticals and on accurately measuring angles, normally by holding your pencil against the model (visually.. ) and moving it to the drawing without changing the angle. The first part is interesting though, about the ways the brain interprets visual imagery and filters out 'distortions' like size difference. It does the same when your head is tilted or upside-down, which is why those POV shots in movies always feel so weird. We tend to feel that we're seeing things right side up no matter the orientation of the head. And the techniques listed in the 3rd paragraph are also well-known to any art student. 

What is interesting to me about it is the idea of visual memory and the ability to train it, as well as the concept of switching between holistic and detail modes of seeing. 

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