On visual memory
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    On visual memory

    I have a feeling that many will think this is bullshit which is fine, if I am right I hope it might be helpful to some.

    I recall seeing here and also hear a lot about the idea that as a beginner your visual memory is very poor so that say when you are doing something like a study you really struggle just because you look at the drawing or photo or still life or what ever and look back and your paper you have already forgotten what there and its very difficult keeping things accurate. Its something I have experienced my self. Obviously once you put things completely side by side like when doing a Bargue or if you are doing it digitally you could place the thing you are copying right next to your copy.

    There were also tips about when doing it in life drawing to quickly flick your eyes back and forth from the figure to page to see 'movement.'

    Its all useful.

    However:

    I am currently taking the CGMW dynamic sketching class and something occurred to me that might be helpful with people having this problem. It seems to be helping me too.

    I think its wrong that its a visual memory problem(at least to a large extent). I don't think that the more experienced artists simply remember the reference more clearly. I dont think its simply the case of looking longer to try and take in the information, but DO LOOK FOR LONGER! I think its much more largely to do with translating. How much you are simplifying things and breaking them down.

    Its very easy to remember the relative size of a couple of spheres and cubes and work from there and that's what experienced artists seem to do when they draw. Breaking things down in your head like that is hard. It seems easy but it takes a great deal of practice. I think once you notice this it becomes easier to tackle than trying to think of ways of improving your visual memory.

    Just an idea. Back to drawing.

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    I always try to put the canvas as close as I can in the line of sight to the subject to make it as easy as possible. Also seems to be better at arms length with a long brush sometimes

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    I used to find it so much harder to use reference on my computer screen when working traditionally and using reference from a book when working digitally because it took longer for me to work back and forth.

    Now I know when I experience this discomfort to think about whether I am simplified/breaking things down in my head first!!

    It seems to be an equalizing force that stops this discomfort.

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    Drawing is more about analyzing and reconstructing, and less about copying. Instead of drawing that wonderful curve that connects with itself, you can also note it is a sphere, with centre overthere, and radius whatever. The same holds for the human figure, which can be quickly summarised in a gesture, modelled as a series of volumes, finished with a nice sensitive line...

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    JFierce .. I knew I was thinking of a specific thread that I was thinking of where those arguments about visual memory were made. I think its been talked about before too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Whirly View Post
    Its very easy to remember the relative size of a couple of spheres and cubes and work from there and that's what experienced artists seem to do when they draw. Breaking things down in your head like that is hard. It seems easy but it takes a great deal of practice. I think once you notice this it becomes easier to tackle than trying to think of ways of improving your visual memory.
    There are very different ways/methods to tackle a life drawing, you are talking about one of them. Even thought it helps to simplify things, it's not a prerequisite and its not the only way to go.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Whirly View Post
    I don't think that the more experienced artists simply remember the reference more clearly. I dont think its simply the case of looking longer to try and take in the information, but DO LOOK FOR LONGER! I think its much more largely to do with translating. How much you are simplifying things and breaking them down.
    Exactly.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pegasi View Post
    There are very different ways/methods to tackle a life drawing, you are talking about one of them. Even thought it helps to simplify things, it's not a prerequisite and its not the only way to go.

    That is just ignorant. Name another way then. Everything is simplified and translated. The most detailed picture you can think of is a simplified version of the reality.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaint View Post
    That is just ignorant. Name another way then. Everything is simplified and translated. The most detailed picture you can think of is a simplified version of the reality.

    Off course everything is simplified and translated..
    What I'm trying to say, and might not be what It really says, I don't know, is that you don't need to simplify things to their basic forms (cube,sphere,cylinder, cone) to learn how to draw. Whirly said that the pros do this, and I'm saying, not necessarily.
    Specially if you are drawing organic things. The human body is made of tiny irregularities and nuances. If you try to simplify too much you can lose yourself in this simplification and your drawing can lose life and expression. What I'm saying is that you can jump that part of simplifying, it's not a prerequisite and it can hurt you.
    By means of study and when working from imagination things are different..
    Simplifying things into their basic forms is a tool, but use moderately, imho.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pegasi View Post
    There are very different ways/methods to tackle a life drawing, you are talking about one of them. Even thought it helps to simplify things, it's not a prerequisite and its not the only way to go.
    Please note pegasi this was purely addressing the "I dont have a good enough visual memory problem" myself and other people seem to experience. I would never presume to claim there is one way to do Life Drawing specifically or even if I know the best way. Its purely the changing from "I cant remember it every time I try and put my pencil down to" "I need to understand the simple forms more, it actually does not seem to really be a memory problem."

    I am curios about this though "If you try to simplify too much you can lose yourself in this simplification and your drawing can lose life and expression" ... "use moderately" Can you not always go from the most simplified to as complex as you like?

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    Yeah, I assumed too much
    Quote Originally Posted by Whirly View Post


    I am curios about this though "If you try to simplify too much you can lose yourself in this simplification and your drawing can lose life and expression" ... "use moderately" Can you not always go from the most simplified to as complex as you like?
    in my opinion it's not that simple. Your eyes get used to things, that's why you flip the image or back away.. It's the same with the simplified to complex thing, it can hurt you if you get too much into it, specially if you are a beginner and don't know better.

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    Knowing what you are seeing makes you retain more of what you are seeing. Brain is a very selective instrument: what it doesn't recognize, it doesn't notice.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Whirly View Post

    I think its wrong that its a visual memory problem(at least to a large extent). I don't think that the more experienced artists simply remember the reference more clearly. I dont think its simply the case of looking longer to try and take in the information, but DO LOOK FOR LONGER! I think its much more largely to do with translating. How much you are simplifying things and breaking them down.
    Yes! You're getting it...nice to see. This is why I always disagree with catch phrases like "visual memory" (I was probably one of the main antagonists in that thread). It's a little pop BS term that means nothing and at the same time sounds all hip...really it just misleads and confuses.

    Here's a piece of ammo you can use if you like (when people argue with you about this subject)...most of us have a pretty clear visual memory of our Mom (or Dad..or a loved one). Now sit down and paint her portrait in 3/4 light. From memory.

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    I just had a major breakthrough with this. The problem with beginners copying is they are not thinking in three dimensions or in simplified shapes. Most people start out looking at outlines and shadow shapes and not in 3D shapes and big overall forms. Memorizing outlines and shadow shapes is useless and will do nothing to build a visual vocabulary. When you draw a shadow for instance, you shouldn't think of it in terms of it's 2D shape on paper, but how it runs over simple 3D forms. When you think of a head as a ball and wedge is relative easy to memorize those simple shapes and draw them in any perspective. If you think of it in terms of its outline with all of it's lumps and bumps, that's useless. Any decent artist on here will be thinking in terms of simple 3D forms. Some may draw them very structurally, especially people leaning more towards cartoons and comics like John Watkiss or Burne Hogarth and some may be a little freer with their lines, like Wes Burt, Marko etc. but they still use the same underlying principles. When you copy, try to think of how that object sits in space and try to simplify it, especially with your initial rough in. Don't worry about getting 100% accuracy, but rather a solid looking form that feels like it's sitting in space. Always think in 3 Dimensions! Repetition is also key. Anyway, hope that helps.

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    The easiest thing in the world to remember is that which you already know.

    All communication is about the sharing of concepts. We write and speak in text because it is so damn easy. All the words are concepts and all the concepts are there in the dictionary for us to look up. You can visit a museum and its so easy to write about it. It is much much harder to draw about it. Because we don't communicate naturally with visual concepts anymore. We don't have a ready vocabulary that is shared culture wide. The artist is part of a distinct tribe that still communicates with visual concepts.

    To say something visual about the model, it is good to already have in your mind a ready vocabulary of forms. That way you can speak fluently without having to be too conscious about the mechanics. Just like I barely needed to think as I typed this post. All the words are part of my mind, I've known their definitions forever, and everything I'm writing I've already thought.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dimension View Post
    I just had a major breakthrough with this. The problem with beginners copying is they are not thinking in three dimensions or in simplified shapes. Most people start out looking at outlines and shadow shapes and not in 3D shapes and big overall forms. Memorizing outlines and shadow shapes is useless and will do nothing to build a visual vocabulary. When you draw a shadow for instance, you shouldn't think of it in terms of it's 2D shape on paper, but how it runs over simple 3D forms. When you think of a head as a ball and wedge is relative easy to memorize those simple shapes and draw them in any perspective. If you think of it in terms of its outline with all of it's lumps and bumps, that's useless. Any decent artist on here will be thinking in terms of simple 3D forms. Some may draw them very structurally, especially people leaning more towards cartoons and comics like John Watkiss or Burne Hogarth and some may be a little freer with their lines, like Wes Burt, Marko etc. but they still use the same underlying principles. When you copy, try to think of how that object sits in space and try to simplify it, especially with your initial rough in. Don't worry about getting 100% accuracy, but rather a solid looking form that feels like it's sitting in space. Always think in 3 Dimensions! Repetition is also key. Anyway, hope that helps.
    That's good, but I'm hoping that when the excitement dies down you'll see that you still need to pay attention to the 2D shapes as well! I apply a cycle of observing 2D shape, and then explaining with 3D construction, working from the figure as a whole down to the smaller details. Using visual memory means looking actively as opposed to passively copying whatever happens to catch your attention, and of course it applies to your visualized 3d constructions as well as observed 2D shapes.

    ...

    We seem to be doomed to endlessly repeat the fallacy that using visual memory/ understanding anatomy/ using construction/etc is BS becuase just using visual memory/ understanding anatomy/ using construction/etc alone doesn't work.

    If someone really can't see that making better use of their visual memory is going to help them to correct, adjust and develop their drawings, I'm not sure there's anything anyone could say to help them.

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    It happens to everyone who has strong ideals about something. They have difficulties to accept certain things. Everybody does this, its ingrained in our society. If its not proven by a thousand years of experimentation and research then forget it. (exaggerating here)

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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaint View Post
    That is just ignorant. Name another way then. Everything is simplified and translated. The most detailed picture you can think of is a simplified version of the reality.
    I agree. Not to get off track, but whenever you are simplifying your "stylizing". So even the most detailed photographs are stylized because it can not hold ALL the information from nature.


    http://www.essential-humanities.net/...s-stylization/

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    I've already explained what I meant. But you can choose to ignore.

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    Pegasi - I assume you mean me? Right, you don't HAVE to see a form in terms of a cube, sphere, cylinder, cone before you start drawing the complicated shape. But it helps, because your simplifying the information no matter how you approach it.

    The human body is made of tiny irregularities and nuances. If you try to simplify too much you can lose yourself in this simplification and your drawing can lose life and expression. What I'm saying is that you can jump that part of simplifying, it's not a prerequisite and it can hurt you.
    It's not going to hurt you. You didn't get messed up after drawing your avatar, did you?

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    I always thought visual memory had to do with drawing from imagination (or was it having a visual library?)
    One thing I've been thinking lately when doing studies is that you learn to see "in passes". Like you focus on the biggest shapes first and try not to see details, and then go smaller and smaller with each pass.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Januz View Post
    I always thought visual memory had to do with drawing from imagination (or was it having a visual library?)
    Applying visual memory to your subject when working from life was widely recommended in the late nineteenth - early twentieth century. For example see the Robert Henri quote here; Harold Speed says something similar:

    http://conceptart.org/forums/showthr...06#post3563706

    Having a visual library is also very important, but it's not the same thing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Yes! You're getting it...nice to see. This is why I always disagree with catch phrases like "visual memory" (I was probably one of the main antagonists in that thread). It's a little pop BS term that means nothing and at the same time sounds all hip...really it just misleads and confuses.

    Here's a piece of ammo you can use if you like (when people argue with you about this subject)...most of us have a pretty clear visual memory of our Mom (or Dad..or a loved one). Now sit down and paint her portrait in 3/4 light. From memory.
    I agree with not being able to draw mom and dad from memory, very detailed. But you can learn to draw stylized figures of your mom and dad from memory, by practicing, obviously. Like comic artist. Not sure why your so against the idea of drawing from memory?

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    I prefer to simplify into lumps. Lumpylumpy..

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    Quote Originally Posted by briggsy@ashtons View Post
    Using visual memory means looking actively as opposed to passively copying whatever happens to catch your attention, and of course it applies to your visualized 3d constructions as well as observed 2D shapes.
    thank you. i would have applied that term to working from imagination only aswell, but you opened my eyes .

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin View Post
    I agree with not being able to draw mom and dad from memory, very detailed. But you can learn to draw stylized figures of your mom and dad from memory, by practicing, obviously. Like comic artist. Not sure why your so against the idea of drawing from memory?
    I never have been against drawing from memory actually...I do it all the time. What I tend to be against is the micro-analysis and over-emphasis on terminology rather than just focusing on learning to see, translate and decide on a mark or statement. This is especially important for beginning students who tend to get caught up in trivial aspects of theory as opposed to getting down to the business of drawing. If "visual memory", whatever it really is and however it fits into the activity, is actually a part of our drawing and painting process that is fine...personally I just call it drawing and painting. There are as many ways to accomplish that as there are reasons for doing it. Just as kev pointed out in his post...he called it writing...not "literary memory", "vocabulation" or "grammatical processing".

    But yes, you can of course draw and paint stylized figures from memory using good construction principles, coupled with a good basis in life drawing. I've said it before, it is a sliding scale in a way...the more realism you're after the more you need to work directly from life and observation of the subject under those particular lighting conditions...the more you get away from that the more you must rely on construction and stylization formulae...no matter how good your "memory" is as illustrated by the inability to accurately draw or paint something we know very well.

    I hope that clears up my stance on the matter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by briggsy@ashtons View Post

    ...making better use of their visual memory is going to help them to correct, adjust and develop their drawings,...
    I'm curious briggsy, this sounds good but what does this actually mean, on the practical, applied side of things? Not trying to needle you, just honestly interested in this concept as applied to drawing and painting.

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    A couple of people have emailed or pm'ed me with similar questions, so first off in case anyone is still equating the idea of applying visual memory to drawing your subject from life to (1) drawing from memory away from your subject, or (2) with applying memorized schema to your subject, please look carefully again at the Robert Henri quote from the other thread.




    Then to get a feel for how this can work in practice, please try the exercise I recommended in this post. The exercise needs to be done, not just appraised:

    Quote Originally Posted by briggsy@ashtons View Post
    All of this discussion of the theory of visual memory is so not the point.

    Visual memory is not a theory, it is something that we all use already in drawing, and have done for hundreds of years.

    What is needed is to do some work to give it exercise. This is not a new idea, but it seems to be a widely forgotten idea.

    To again quote Roberrt Henri, using memory does not mean looking at the subject less but looking more.

    Next time you are doing life drawing, try just memorizing alternate gesture poses, and then drawing them during the next pose.

    When you are getting comfortable with that exercises, try this:

    For the first 60 seconds of a long pose, seriously pretend to yourself that you are going to have to draw that pose from memory. Check all the things that you know you should check, but often don't because you are too busy copying. Then start drawing. Don't try to draw the pose from memory; look back and check as much as you want, but just see if it doesn't help to start from a position of KNOWING what you are drawing.

    As the drawing develops, whenever you catch yourself passively "looking and putting" one detail at a time, stop again and memorize a set of related details.

    The amusing thing about this whole discussion is that the benefits of giving your visual memory some exercise are not even controversial to anyone who has actually tried it.
    We all slip into "looking and putting", in other words passively copying whatever in the subject happens to capture our attention. The key part is the bit about actually knowing what you are drawing. Easiest thing in the world to say you already do this, but to see if you are BSing yourself, there is always the test of seeing how much you actually retain of the subject when it is suddenly taken away.

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    JeffX99 is offline Registered User Level 17 Gladiator: Spartacus' Dimachaeri
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    Hmmm...I don't believe you actually have defined what it is or how it works on the practical, applied level? But I appreciate it nonetheless.

    I have a very different take on the Henri page or passage. I don't believe he is talking about "memory" so much as he is talking about "impression" and statement, and the effort to retain that initial impression. Yes you use your memory to recall and attempt to capture that moment - that impression you are after, but I don't really see that as something special. In other words I don't know how it is any different from any other "memory", as virtually all memory tends to be visual.

    In plein air work we do this all the time...you make an effort to nail the light within the first 15-20 minutes - the rest of the time spent painting is refining and development in support of that initial statement - without losing it or modifying it to the point of obliteration. Though Henri is talking about the model I believe he is talking about the same concept, the idea of the impression, of that "special look". In plein air the beginner often faces the problem of "chasing the light", where one paints information from the subject long after the light has changed from the initial moment, causing a breakdown in expression, or as Henri puts it "...a patchwork of parts of various moods". I think this is similar to Henri's mentioning of "...that special look, and that order that was its expression"...in the case of the model a similar problem may be "chasing the expression". So as I mentioned earlier, I think these things are simply part of the drawing and painting process and not some specialized aspect of memory.

    I do think your excercise is very valid however, but I believe its main benefit is not to develop memory so much as to develop the ability to quickly see and understand the important information and relationships, which will in fact help you reconstruct the subject from memory. In fact a great excercise in plein air study is to work from a large projection (large enough to feel you are looking and responding as you were in the landscape) with a 20 minute timeframe...but turn the projector off after 5 minutes. Then turned back on the last 5 to correct and compare. Nothing teaches quite as well what is important, what to look for and capture as having the subject removed.

    TBH I've just never felt like I am "looking and putting" passively when I work - I have a bit of a blind spot for that notion frankly, so I don't really relate to it. Maybe I was lucky to have teachers instill in me early the idea of thinking, evaluating and considering every mark or every brushstroke, IDK. I can actually recall, in the first year or two of painting there was a time or two when my mind would wander and I would just be dabbing...but I corrected that immediately. Anyway, maybe I am BSing myself there, but I've always been more interested in statement and expression rather than fidelity to the subject, so when the subject is taken away I'm not overly interested in how much I retained, simply so I can continue an accurate rendering from memory...I'm more interested in simply developing the statement I was after in the first place.

    Thanks for the discussion - I welcome any further thoughts.

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