Monday, November 23, 2015

Training and Use of Visual Memory, Deborah Paris TRAC 2015

Morning Light Deborah Paris
24 x 30 inches
As mentioned, I learned much from Deborah Paris's presentation at TRAC earlier this month:
In her presentation, Paris reminded us of how memory works and how memory training was once considered a significant part of training for artists. Her presentation reinforced the importance of memory in loosening the contemporary reliance on photography as a reference tool and showed how memory provides a bridge to working from imagination.

The memory training method described by Paris is a logical extension of training made known by Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran along with new, contemporary techniques developed by Paris.

In a nutshell (and as I remember it), the basic steps in this training, when working from a master drawing for example, are as follows:

   The big stare - at least 10 minutes of focused observation

   Describe what is observed to another person (or yourself) and/or write about the observation

   Make an air drawing - trace the contours of the subject in the air with your pencil, brush, or finger. 

   Make a drawing based on the memory and compare it to the original. 

   Repeat the process to strengthen and develop observation and memory skills.

It may seem odd that writing about an observation or verbally describing it to someone would help, until you remember that memory works by association. The stronger the associations the more quickly and fully a memory can be retrieved. Associations can be formed from a variety of sensory and cerebral input. In training for a massage therapy license, a group of us had heard that scent aids recall. We agreed together to use peppermint, and so studied and memorized with peppermint oil and we all wore peppermint oil to our final exam.

George Innes
Other training methods include removing oneself further and further from the subject, in both time and space. A friend who long ago attended the School of Visual Arts recalls drawing classes where the model would be on one floor and the easels on another. One either sharpened memory skills or got more of a workout than bargained for.

Nocturne James Abbott McNeill Whistler
You can see how useful this training can be when you want to work from imagination, or consider the many subjects that do not easily lend themselves to a photographic reference, such as the magical hours of dawn and dusk or the constantly changing clouds and ocean, or the night sky, or stars, comets, lightning, and volcanoes.

I've just touched the surface of Deborah Paris's presentation, and the subject of memory training in general. Fortunately, I understand that her paper will be published at some point.

UPDATE: Deborah Paris's paper is now online. Here's the link:

Keep your eye on Field Notes  - Paris's teaching blog.

A few more resources:

Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran's book is available online here:
The Training of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist

Memory Drawing 2 Stapleton Kearns

Memory Drawing Techniques  Carol Allison

Deborah Paris's offering of online classes and field and studio workshops can be found here:
Deborah Paris, The Landscape Atelier classes and workshops.


jimserrettstudio said...

Sounds like a fascinating lecture, Boisbaudran's book is a fairly boring read but stimulating in practical application.
recommend it, thanks for the share.

Katherine Kean said...

My pleasure Jim, and agreed. Not to take anything away from Boisbaudran - it is wonderful information, but it can be difficult to read through what is to us an old fashioned writing style.

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