Learning To See Part 3

Armand Cabrera

The last part in this series I want to talk about perception when painting. To learn to see as an artist we must train ourselves to see things as marks or shape instead of line. Every mark we make with a brush, knife or finger is a shape and that shape has color and value and a quality to its edge. Too often when people start painting they think in terms of line only but this is not as useful to painting as it is to drawing and doesn’t allow you to take full advantage of what painting with a brush offers.

 It doesn’t help to try to mimic exactly what we see either. Some aspect of the process must be visible on the canvas for a painting to succeed as a painting in my opinion. The artist decides the marks and the quality of their edges to arrive at something greater than a photo or real life. The artist invests some of their personality and experience into the image.

 A painting must be a translation of the source not a copy of it. To this end an artist must stop looking at the source at some point and focus on the painting being made. This is important and something often overlooked when starting out as an artist. Beginning artists are always trying to copy things and forget about the painting as a painting.

This is where the idea of selection, organization, simplification comes into play.  They are personal guides to keep the idea front and center in our mind as we work. That means paying attention to the whole painting and the relationship of its components in service of the idea. For us to see as artists we must impose patterns and groupings of color and value, that we decide upon.  These patterns are informed by our imagination if we are inventing  the image or informed by the source if we are working from life. How we design them is the core of successful painting and the cornerstone to seeing as an artist.

Images in this article from top to bottom are Gustave Caillebotte, T.C. Steele, Peder Monsted, Jean Manneheim, George Inness

George Inness


Armnad Cabrera

George Inness was born in 1825 on a farm just outside of Newburgh New York on the Hudson River. His father was a successful grocer and just after Inness was born the family moved to New York city and then again four years later to Newark New Jersey. It was here Inness received his education and discovered his interest in art.

In 1839 at the age of 15 his father bought him a grocery store to manage but Inness had decided to pursue painting and his father reluctantly paid for art lessons. His first teacher was John Jesse Barker. Inness then studied engraving for two years in New York City. He studied painting for a year with French Artist Regis Francois Gignaux and attended classes at the National Academy of Design.

In 1849 Inness opened his own studio in New York. He also married Delia Miller who died just a few months after the wedding. He remarried Elizabeth Abigail Hart a year later and the couple would have 6 children together.

In 1851 a patron sent Inness to Europe for fifteen months. He rented a studio in Rome and studied the old masters and painted. It was probably here he became interested in to the philosophy of  Swedenborgianism which held all things in nature had a spiritual relationship with God and that an artist’s perspective is influenced by this experience.

His work became more ethereal in his later years using his memory and painting with a softer more emotional intent. His later work transcends the natural world touching on the poetic and sublime.

He was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1853 and became a full Academician in 1868.

Inness had a retrospective show of his work in 1884 and he won a gold medal at the 1889 Paris Exposition. George Innis died in 1894 in Scotland after watching a sunset.


Inness landscapes

Alfred Werner

Watson Guptill Publications 1973

Quote: The true purpose of the painter is simply to reproduce in other minds the impression which a scene has made upon him. A work of art is not to instruct, not to edify, but to awaken an emotion. Its real greatness consists in the quality and force of this emotion.