Drawing Basics: Does Mr. Ed Have an Advantage Over You?

3 Aug 2009

It's crazy to say that horses have a visual advantage over humans, but with eyes on opposite sides of their heads, they surely don't see in three-dimensional terms like we do. There are times especially for beginners when seeing less--seeing a scene as an utterly flat, two-dimensional plane--would benefit beginning artists as they try to render. Given our brain power, however, we would still get in our own way--often the problem is not what we see, but what we know or assume about a subject. Noses look thusly. That stream curves gently along that bank, not in straight horizontal lines. That forearm is 13 inches long, even though I only see a foreshortened portion of it. Still, if you doubt that three-dimensionality isn't a complicating factor when depicting a scene, consider the difficulty of painting a landscape en plein air versus painting a photo of the scene. It's not just about the rogue wind that keeps threatening to tip over your easel that makes plein air painting more challenging--having the camera do the work of flattening the view is quite a help strictly in terms of simplification.

The flip side of this is that just seeing the flat scene, seeing the constricted value range of the camera, not being able to move your head to get a glimpse of why an edge on the subject looks the way it does is decidedly limiting. Too much information is rarely a bad thing. The artist's job is to build a proper internal filter for his or her eyes--to simplify and understand in the brain, based on full disclosure by the eyes.

More than one artist I've spoken with has cited the importance of walking around your subject a few times, studying all angles, gathering knowledge of all sides of the model, building, rock, etc. "It's always a good idea to know your subject," artist Claire Van Vliet once told me in an interview. "So move around it. You don't want to be a copyist. You want to know where the rock is going when it leaves your view--keep in mind that all of the edges are totally arbitrary based on your vantage point."

See fully, then simplify the vision. Sorry, Mr. Ed--looks like the advantage stays with us peoples.


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admallory wrote
on 17 Jul 2010 1:30 PM

Much to reflect on here.  I am taking to heart moving around the subject.  I tend to dive right in, and I am now thinking that it would be valuable to make more thinking/seeing time.  This just after recently reading that J.M.W. Turner would spend hours 'just' looking at a subject and spent a lifetime developing such an 'artist memory'.  It is thought that is how he could render his incredible disaster scenes--he memorized it in real time as it was happening, then painted it.

And, I am trying to imagine seeing in another way, as a horse would see.  Would looking through one eye approximate it?  I'm sure it will have some offbeat result.  :)

Actually, it is now believed that horses can, in addition to seeing independently from each eye,  see in binocular vision starting from about six feet from in front of their nose and out.  If they need to see something close up though, they have to bend to get their eye/s in the right position.  They see farther than we do and horses also have incredible night vision.  Such a shame they don't have the dexterity of fine movement to be artists.  It would be fascinating to see their view of the world.