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  • Bianca Vinther

How to observe like an artist in 3 key steps

How do artists observe? And how do they develop and practice the art of observation?

Picture of a circle made of leaves by the British Landartist Andy Goldsworthy
Magical land art by Andy Goldsworthy. Courtesy of boredpanda.

In this blog post I’ll show you how to train your mind to be able to observe like an artist in 3 key steps, and how observation can benefit your creative practice.

For creatively curious people and artists from all walks of life: this is thought to be a quick training in observation. Would you like to learn more about this topic? Check my blog post entitled "What is observation in art?" and listen to my Art Talks on The Pointless Artist Podcast.

If you’re an expert observer, this blog post will help you sharpen your observational skills. After all, there's always more or something different to observe!

How does observation work? Three key steps

1. Notice with all your senses. Slowly.

Are you a visual, auditory, tactile, or olfactory type? What is your best sense? Regardless of how you perceive the world most naturally, make conscious use of all your senses and involve them all in your observations. Consider, for instance, walking in nature with the sole purpose of noticing input that appeals to each of your senses.

This can be of great benefit to your creative practice because it can help you shift perspective regularly, refresh your perception, as well as see and experience the world from many different angles. Don’t hesitate. Begin with what you’re drawn to, and go beyond the appearance of things.

For me, observation starts with a slow and conscious looking at pretty much anything, and continues with listening deeply. Because I’m first visual, then auditive. Nevertheless, involving the tactile and olfactory senses in my observations is often something I do deliberately, despite the fact that they come less naturally to me than visual and auditory observation.

Photography of a water stream in the forest.
"Water stream". Photography by Bianca Vinther.

I use Nature as my ultimate source of observation. I often focus on things that other people take for granted or don't even notice or think of, for instance when taking a walk in the forest. I don’t seek for the original, but I find the magic of ordinary and rejoice each time in it: old branches, fungus, lichens, human and dog footprints ...

"You can walk on the path, or you can walk throug the hedge - two different ways of looking at the world. I think that's the beauty of art: it just makes you step aside the normal way of walking or looking." (Andy Goldsworthy)

I pay attention to the inherent qualities of things, such as size, shape and motion, as well as to those characteristics of natural elements that produce various sensations and experiences in me. Sometimes I begin with those elements that excite me most: water, sky, stones, and seashells. Some other times I go (on purpose) for something totally different, like pavements, worn out walls, graffiti ...