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Thread: The importance of visual memory

  1. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by briggsy@ashtons View Post
    I've had quite a few students showing exceptional drawing ability at a young age, and I absolutely agree with the OP that their "secret" is an unusually strong visual memory. That doesn't mean that this visual memory is an innate ability, it probably just means that they started training it early. Australian artist Norman Lindsay recalled how as a child he would go out into the farmyard and see what "manner of beast" was about, and then go inside and draw them from memory. Late in life he still considered that this was the best way to learn to draw.

    Fortunately adults can still improve their visual memory, and such study has been a recurrent theme in the training of artists (see the Stapleton Kearns blog post that the OP linked to). Degas' idea that in an art school the beginning students should paint at easels on the first floor from a model on the fourth floor was repeated almost verbatim by both Harold Speed and Robert Henri. Kimon Nicolaides stresses memory drawing in The Natural Way to Draw, with valuable exercises on drawing one and then multiple gestures from memory, and drawing a "daily composition" of figures in an environment from memory. He even has a gentle variation on Degas' idea, in which you draw with your easel facing away from the model.

    Ultimately though the best way to strengthen your visual memory is to try to use it a bit more in every drawing you do. Whenever you catch yourself just "looking and putting", stop and make the effort to memorize a larger array of information. Know what you are drawing.
    Finally someone talks about the topic and not about the recurring themes of CA. (like I said, partly my fault, because of the way I arranged the topic, and some of the quotes.)

    This is exactly what I was looking for. Couldn't have said it better.
    Thanks for that briggsy

    I believe strengthening your visual memory will help in many aspects of drawing, and fortunately, you can improve it. And by drawing you are already improving your visual memory. There are, however, specific ways to try to improve.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bennett View Post
    My own view is that talent at drawing (and thereby painting) is not proportional to aptitude of visual memory.
    It is to do with the ability to synthesise optical phenomena into pattern. This is precisely what a camera does not do.
    I'm not talking about 'posterizing' either. I'm talking about deep gestalt pattern synthesis. The ability to invent and write in a graphic code simultaneously.

    One has to accept that certain minds 'are wired up' to do this more fluently than others - these are the people who show talent at a very early age. I didn't practice drawing more than other kids when I was 5 or 15 - I could just 'do it' and couldn't understand why the entire rest of the class couldn't.

    What happens when you are daft enough to take it up as a career, is that your ideas about how to apply this talent become sophisticated. And to make your talent a faithful, truthful and obedient servant of that... requires WORK! (beit visual memory, structure, art history... and above all, figuring out what you want to say and marshalling a visual vocabulary and a grammer to execute it)
    Very good insight Chris and I agree specially with "the ability to synthesise optical phenomena into pattern". It helped to see things in a slight different perspective.
    I wish I could express my thoughts through words like that. My english is a mess, so this doesn't help either.

    Edit:
    So why one improves visual memory just by drawing? One of the aspects is because it becomes easier to remember things as you improve more.

    Harold Speed said it better:
    The ease, therefore, with which a painter will be able to remember an impression in a form from which he can work, will depend upon his power to analyse vision in this technical sense. The more one knows about what may be called the anatomy of picture-making—how certain forms produce certain effects, certain colours or arrangements other effects, &c.—the easier will it be for him to carry away a visual memory of his subject that will stand by him during the long hours of his labours at the picture. The more he knows of the expressive powers of lines and tones, the more easily will he be able to observe the vital things in nature that convey the impression he wishes to memorise.
    The faculty of doing this is not to be acquired all at once, but it is amazing of how much development it is capable. Just as the faculty of committing to memory long poems or plays can be developed, so can the faculty of remembering visual things.This subject has received little attention in art schools until just recently.
    Last edited by pegasi; October 25th, 2012 at 06:09 AM.
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  4. #41
    Vinicam is offline Five percent inspiration and ninety five percent transpiration.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nexuun View Post
    You guys shouldn't spend time thinking about why you can't improve as fast as other artists can. You should spend time thinking about what they did, and why those things they did made them improve. I think you should also have a long-term goal for yourself. You need to have an idea of where you want to be and what you want to be able to do.

    You should never assume that things come easily for others or that they didn't have to work hard for it. That kind of thinking pisses me the hell off.
    People can't see the efforts of others.

    When you argue for your limitations, they're yours. What the hell make excuses for? Cowards make excuses, and you aren't freaking cowards. People that become successful in anything do not make excuses.
    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    The progress I'm seeing there for the first year looks about average, actually. Don't be distracted by all the digital shiny, the underlying drawings in the digital pieces show about as much progress as could be expected from anybody practicing with reasonable regularity. And the time between the first post and the last is about five years - you can learn a LOT in five years if you stick to it. (Also, it's obvious he'd been drawing for some time before he started that sketchbook.) (AND he's almost certainly not posting everything he's doing, not by a looooong shot. Looks like he posts the things he's most proud of, every now and then. Y'know, like what most people do. )

    I think it's a waste of time believing that people who seem to be making faster progress than oneself must have some special "edge", or that they somehow find it "easier". Odds are they've gone through just as much frustration as anyone else, but maybe at an earlier point in their development, or in a condensed way. It helps if you're drawing constantly - I know for me, the times when I'm drawing the most are the times when I improve exponentially. If I slack, things don't go so well. It can also help if someone has good teachers or mentors available; knowledgable feedback on a regular basis can help you break bad habits much more quickly than if you're trying to figure everything out yourself.

    There's a lot of factors that affect speed of improvement, and none of them are "natural ability." It's actually kind of an insult to say someone "had it easy" if they worked hard to get where they are.
    Hey, I didn't said the progress of them took no effort. I said that some people figure out problems better than others, and that solving problems is crucial when studying art, that's why I think some people can progress faster than others. Also, I'm not ashamed of my progress or anything like that... What I think that is a excuse is exactly that thinking of people being all the same... Well, they aren't. Some people are better than others in some aspects. As I said, they worked their asses out, drawing like machines everyday, but that fact alone is something that most people can't do, even with free time to do it, because people burn out and start making no progress if the effort is too much, or overthinking...
    People that have an aptitude for math have to work hard to learn, but they process the information and analize it faster than others. Same goes on with every theme.
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    I see we're about to get into the usual conversation on "talent", aren't we... We've BEEN through this. What it comes down to in any talent is that some people naturally enjoy a thing, so they focus on it from an early age, so yeah, they get good at it early on. Regardless of how so-called "talent" operates, it is a TOTAL WASTE OF TIME to obsess over one's own or others apparent "talent" or lack thereof. Moving on...

    Back on topic. Visual memory can be learned, though as with most skills related to drawing, I doubt there's any one "correct" way to learn it. I picked it up partly from necessity - being in situations where I wanted to draw something but didn't have time, so I learned how to "capture" things - and partly through years of classes with Dave Passalacqua, who was big on fast gestures and drawing people in motion.

    For me, I find that heavy reliance on memory is pretty much the only way to really draw fast-moving subjects. In order to draw something in motion, I have to be looking at it with my full concentration - it's hard to describe, but it's like focusing all my attention on a thing and grabbing a mental snapshot, and then either jotting it down while it's fresh in my memory (this has the best results,) or continuing to visualize it for a few seconds in order to "fix" it into memory, and then actively recalling it periodically until I get a chance to sketch it out. If I don't take the time to "fix" it, and if I don't re-visualize it periodically, the memory can fade pretty fast.

    And yes, this sort of "active looking" can be strenuous. But once you get going, it's also pretty exhilarating. I could do it for hours on a good day. Also, it does require regular practice to stay in shape. I've been doing it for years, but on some occasions I've slacked off and done less of it, and if I slack, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick it up again.

    Interestingly, this process is very similar to remembering dreams, which also takes practice - as soon as you start to drift awake, you grab the ghost of a dream, focus on it, and fix it in memory; then you bring it back and review it at intervals until you can set it down. That's something I've been doing for decades. I'd recommend it for general memory exercise.

    HOWEVER - memory - any memory - is subject to change and internal editing. There was a study recently suggesting that every time you recall something in memory, it gets changed just a tiny bit, and over time memories can end up being completely different from what they were originally. Hence why people can have ridiculous arguments with their family about who did what on that crazy trip they took ten years ago... SO. Thats where it helps to reinforce memory with fresh direct observation on a regular basis.

    I suspect the best way to learn to draw is by combining both memory and direct observation. Work from memory sometimes, work directly from observation sometimes, mix it up sometimes. The memorization helps strengthen your ability to observe, and the direct observation helps correct any tendency to drift toward schematic ideals and also strengthens your ability to observe accurately. At least, that's been my experience so far.

    And yes, I'm still learning.
    Last edited by QueenGwenevere; October 25th, 2012 at 09:05 AM.
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    Yes, but there's a point where your OP comes off as excuses.

    The point is you were talking about how you were frustrated because you couldn't copy the other drawing exactly. My point is yes it's there but at a certain point and as Chris (and others have said) it's about practice. You wanted to blame youth. You should be looking at experience. A young brain has other concerns going on than just visual memory. That's why it's false to assume "youth" gives you a head start.

    There are some things people do better than others...but to offer a counterpoint about "visual memory"

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    I think this is apropos to the topic...
    http://scinerds.tumblr.com/post/3196...re-people-take

    This is why you probably shouldn't rely on memory alone and why fresh input from direct observation is a good thing.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arshes Nei View Post
    Yes, but there's a point where your OP comes off as excuses.

    The point is you were talking about how you were frustrated because you couldn't copy the other drawing exactly. My point is yes it's there but at a certain point and as Chris (and others have said) it's about practice. You wanted to blame youth. You should be looking at experience. A young brain has other concerns going on than just visual memory. That's why it's false to assume "youth" gives you a head start.
    You don't have to stress it again. I already admitted that the way I approached the topic was wrong. I did let go some of my frustration, but it was in no way an excuse as you pointed out.
    I'm not looking for a easy way, a shortcut..whatever. I'm looking to discuss this topic with more experienced people.
    The fact is I believe anyone who has a good visual memory, being young or old, having trained their visual memory or not, if they have it, they can copy any photo or image with accuracy. That's about it.

    We've got so many interesting points of view already..please continue on topic.


    Edit:
    I suspect the best way to learn to draw is by combining both memory and direct observation. Work from memory sometimes, work directly from observation sometimes, mix it up sometimes. The memorization helps strengthen your ability to observe, and the direct observation helps correct any tendency to drift toward schematic ideals and also strengthens your ability to observe accurately. At least, that's been my experience so far.
    Yes, good read. Totally agree.
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    Quote Originally Posted by pegasi View Post
    The fact is I believe anyone who has a good visual memory, being young or old, having trained their visual memory or not, if they have it, they can copy any photo or image with accuracy. That's about it.
    No.

    Drawing is not the same as observing.

    Example: My friend I go into a room and look at a table with various objects for a certain period of time. We both walk out and are told to draw it.

    I can remember more objects on a table than my friend. He may draw a table more accurately than me because he's drawing much more. He is better at mark making because of how much he's done it. He understands perspective better.

    Memorizing what is in front of you is not the same as "learning to see" As I posted in that video - there's a part where you have to remove yourself from "argument from ignorance" and symbolism. The drawing you're trying to copy you see a face, nose eyes and wrinkles. A person learning to see is learning how to construct the face away from symbolism. They learn about how to accurately judge distances, learn form, edges, mark making etc...they want to view the face as a whole. One artist may leave out a pimple or hair, because they're trying to get the overall look. Another may focus on those details but still may not make accurate mark making.

    When one uses their visual library it is from a lot of observation. I may know what kind of metal and how it reacts because I've studied, and looked at the same metal under different conditions to see how it works. I look at a towel rack with the same metal. I learn how to construct it with combination of observation and study (similar to scientists learning how to construct events and theory).

    Learning to observe as an artist goes with learning how to draw. Just having a good visual memory can be totally irrelevant if you don't know how to draw.
    Last edited by Arshes Nei; October 25th, 2012 at 10:13 AM.
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    Even thought I agree with some things you say, I don't agree with everything.

    A person learning to see is learning how to construct the face away from symbolism. They learn about how to accurately judge distances, learn form, edges, mark making etc
    This is true. But if the visual memory of the person is strong enough, then it is possible to memorize distances,form,edges etc.
    It's like tracing a photo. Anybody can trace, you just need to follow the contours of the photo with your pencil.
    A person with a strong visual memory is doing the same, only the tracing occurs from the visual memory your brain retains. (this is not draftsmanship. Its literally copying what you see.)

    And this can be trained. Even thought it's not needed to become an artist.
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    Quote Originally Posted by pegasi View Post
    It's like tracing a photo. Anybody can trace, you just need to follow the contours of the photo with your pencil.
    A person with a strong visual memory is doing the same, only the tracing occurs from the visual memory your brain retains. (this is not draftsmanship. Its literally copying what you see.)
    No, not everyone can trace. If you can't draw, you can't trace.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arshes Nei View Post
    No, not everyone can trace. If you can't draw, you can't trace.
    This could be. Years ago, frustrated with my inability to copy anything accurately, I tried copying by means of a grid over a reference photo (someone told me it would help to train my eye to learn to see). I found that the grid didn't help; in fact, my drawings done that way looked even less like the subject than ones in which I just eyeballed it. And boy, was it a boring way to draw!

    So what does work then? I have no idea - I still can't copy accurately!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arshes Nei View Post
    No, not everyone can trace. If you can't draw, you can't trace.
    I'm talking about simple contours here, with greaseproof paper.
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    Quote Originally Posted by pegasi View Post
    A person with a strong visual memory is doing the same, only the tracing occurs from the visual memory your brain retains. (this is not draftsmanship. Its literally copying what you see.)
    Er, no. This is NOT what you are doing when you draw from memory. There's a good deal of reconstruction, editing, and filling-in-the-blanks that happens as well. Same as when you draw anything from your head - you are pretty much never going to just "trace" a mental image, because it changes while you draw it. The very act of drawing changes it. So there's always a lot of give-and-take between the mental image and what you're setting down on paper.

    (Unless somebody is some kind of bizarre savant-type of the kind that can memorize a phonebook by glancing at it. But that's extremely rare and generally involves sacrificing basic living skills in favor of a super-memory. As far as anyone knows, this cannot be learned. Yes, people have tried experiments.)

    When I capture something in memory, it's usually a combination of specific shapes and colors AND basic structure AND the overall gestalt of a motion or attitude. Drawing it later involves parsing that info and combining it until it looks close to what I remember.
    Last edited by QueenGwenevere; October 25th, 2012 at 10:54 AM.
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    Arshes Nei: I think Pegasi means mindless mapping when he/she talks about anybody can trace.

    Just to add another point to the 'better visual memory=better drawing' concept:

    Imagine someone with a photographic memory, that is to say, a perfect visual memory. They are (to coin Mr Ferrara's wonderful phrase) a camera made of meat. Drawing is synthesis out of a consciously chosen set of shape intimations extracted from an infinite flux.
    Last edited by Chris Bennett; October 25th, 2012 at 11:00 AM.
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