The Art of Seeing

Written by Denise Dahn

Painting by Emanuel Garcia, 8th grade

 

One of these days, I’m going to fall flat on my face. I just hope that when it happens, I’m not walking on a trail with mud puddles—or worse, one of those trails with sharp pointy rocks. That would be a dangerous place for a face-plant.

I guess it’s one of the hazards of being an artist who loves hiking. I get distracted by the scenery—clouds, trees, mountains—and forget to watch my step.

Emanuel Garcia is an 8th grade middle school student who is inspired by the Impressionists.

 

I often wish the artistic gene came with a specialized mutation—one that gives artists an extra pair of eyes. That way, one pair could watch the trail while the other admires the view. I envision a couple of eye-stalks—like a hermit crab—flexible, so you could swivel them around in all directions.

But, being a distracted artist has its advantages, too. I’m probably biased, but I think the world is more interesting when seen through artistic eyes. For instance, when most people look at a tree…they see a tree. But when I look at a tree, I see art.

Take an old-growth Douglas fir, for example—one of the most magnificent trees in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest where I live. These trees can grow so big, it seems like you could park a car inside the width of their trunks. They tower up into the sky—sometimes hundreds of feet high—and their tops reach into the misty clouds, where their brush-like needles “comb” moisture out of the air, dripping it down to their roots below the forest floor.

Imagine that…trees that reach up and grab water right out of the sky!

Douglas firs are giant, living beings…marvels of the plant world, but when I walk through the forest, I sometimes forget all that. I’m so distracted by light and shadow, and the lines, colors and shapes, that the forest sometimes melts away and is transformed into art right before my eyes. It’s a way of seeing—kind of like squinting, but more with the brain than the eyes.

In my painting-forest, trees become dark, jagged strokes sketched onto rough paper with a soft piece of charcoal and smudged with a thumb. Branches morph into quick, angular strokes from a sable brush dipped in green, brown, and blue, and forest shadows dissolve into swirling puddles of purplish gray. And sprinkled throughout: autumn leaves…spatters of sienna from a stiff bristle brush.

Don’t get me wrong—I love forest ecology. I think it’s fascinating to learn how millions of living beings work together to create the whole forest system. The trees are the biggest, most imposing life forms, but there are countless tiny, hidden ones. They’re all busy doing their own specialized things, and they’re all contributing to make the forest work.

But when I’m going for a forest walk, I usually let my imagination float into watercolors. I guess it’s no wonder I stumble a little now and then.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret, too. Often, when I’m with a friend and we’re talking, I find my attention wandering. I nod and pretend I’m listening, but actually, I’m concentrating on their face—imagining drawing their portrait, tracing the angles and curves of their features, mixing colors to capture light and shadows on their skin or hair. It’s true, you know…what they say about human beings. We’re all beautiful, no matter what we look like. Maybe not movie-star beautiful, but interesting—at least to artistic eyes.

So, the next time you’re chatting with an artist, if you happen to notice they’re nodding and saying “Uh-huh…yep…mm-hmmm”, and maybe staring just a little too intently at your face, consider this: they may not be listening to you at all. They may be painting your portrait in their mind.

Don’t sweat it, though. They’re seeing beauty. No matter what you look like.

And if you go walking with an artist—especially in a forest—keep an eye on them. If you notice their gaze wandering up to the sky, or off into the distance, or anywhere but down at their feet…maybe take their arm and guide them around the trip hazards.  Because, even though we’re all beautiful—artistically speaking—no one looks good after they’ve face-planted into the mud.

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About the artist:

Emanuel Garcia, an 8th grade middle school student, lives at home with his mother and brother.  He is very involved in sports playing soccer, wrestling and baseball.  He manages all this and maintains a 3.5 GPA in his classes.

After studying the Impressionist period of Art, Emanuel was inspired by the manner in which the Impressionist artists worked with light.  Intrigued by the colors and peaceful solitude of sunsets, Emanuel created a sunset of his own, hoping to capture nature’s beauty in his painting.

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Thank you Emanuel! Keep up the great work!

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WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHOW YOUR STUDENT ARTWORK ON THIS BLOG? I’ll be featuring student artwork from time to time. If you are 18 years old or younger, and are interested in being a guest artist on this blog, or if you are a teacher and have a student you think would be interested, contact me at denise@dahndesign.com. I’ll reply to your email and let you know more about the submission process. This is how it works: you supply the art—anything related to nature, any style, any medium, and I’ll write the post to go with it!

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6 thoughts on “The Art of Seeing

    • I agree! I hope he keeps working on his painting. I think a lot of kids these days get sidetracked by digital art, so it’s nice to see that traditional painting is still practiced. Digital has it’s place, but there is nothing like the feeling of fresh paint on your brush!

  1. As always, I loved this post, Denise. Emanuel’s painting is beautiful, especially remarkable, considering that he’s an 8th grader. I’ve been interested in the “art of seeing” for some time. I’ve thought about it in terms of simply “seeing,” more than in terms of “art.” No doubt, this is because I’m not an artist (would be nice, however). I became interested when I first started watching birds from the third floor window of my coop apartment in Chicago. Each morning at dawn, I would await the arrival of a lovely pair of cardinals at the bird feeder outside my window (the male was always the first to arrive). One morning, I looked across the park, toward Lake Michigan, and realized that the male, from high in a treetop, was watching me! Each morning thereafter I watched him as he watched me – and then, it seemed, after he saw me, he would fly to the bird feeder (assured that I’d put out the seeds). Watching birds has greatly enhanced my ability to see – it made me realize that there was a lot of “action out there” that I’d been unaware of previously. I see much more now. And I guess that in itself is an art.

    • Thank you so much, Pat! I was really impressed by the energy, expressiveness and fearlessness of Emanuel’s painting. I hope he keeps at it!
      Also – I am constantly amazed by how beautiful and interesting the world really is when you take the time to look closely. There was once a squirrel who would join me everyday after work in my back yard. I would be sitting there, reading the paper, and pretty soon, he’d come running along the fence top and find a place to settle in the nearby tree. He’d just sit there, watching me, and pretty soon I’d notice his eyes get heavy and he’d fall asleep. I think he just wanted some company! I think animals in the wild are always watching us, even though we almost never seem to notice them.

  2. Heh! Love the post, through-and-through… Highlighting such a wonderful young artist (BEAUTIFUL!), and your hiking stories. Me, I usually become so entranced by butterflies or birds on hikes, that I don’t watch my step, ensnare myself in banana spiderwebs, and nearly step on our alligators. Quite literally.

    I love your descriptions of the living-being trees and the most magnificent and wondrous forest ecology. I often go into a meditative state on hikes as well, and it really is a beautiful experience. Listen to the trees! Thanks again for sharing.

    • Thanks, Christina! I think there’s quite a few of us who fall under the spell of wildlands. Nice to know I’m in good company!

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