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The Art of Observation

Aug 30, 2019

Yesterday, I walked a mile and a half to the nearest branch of Bank of America. I needed a break from the challenge of simplifying how to visualize and layer veils of warm and cool colors onto a drawing or painting.  Eventually, I'll create an entire online course on the power of manipulating warm and cool colors.  Until then, I'm doing my best to include little snippets of information in each of the current courses.  it's sooooo valuable to have the understanding of warm and cool colors in your artist tool box.

Why was I walking to the bank? ... Having forgotten to pack my debit card when I left for California a couple of weeks ago, I needed to get a replacement card from Bank of America.  I thought it would be a simple task.  I don't use a debit card except when I travel to foreign countries.  There, I use it in the ATM machines to obtain local currency.  I'm headed to Singapore and then on to Bali in less than two weeks and need the debit card.  Unfortunately, BOA issued me a temporary debit card after cancelling the one I left behind in NJ.  The temporary card doesn't have a chip.  Therefore, it's of no use in Singapore or Bali. To make matters worse, BOA doesn't offer currency exchange for Bali rupiah (I forgot to ask about Singapore dollars).

On the way to the bank I came upon a shopping plaza that extended a full block.  A hedge of firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea) separated the parking lot from the sidewalk. I was struck by the playful pattern of the tiny round berries against the pattern of the narrow oval leaves. Depending on which section of the hedge I focused on, the tiny berries were dominant or the oval leaves were dominant.

berry dominant               neither dominant                   leaf dominant

This first observation of the hedge slowed my pace. My curiosity kicked in.  At first, all the berries I saw were green.  I began to wonder whether they would stay green or turn a different color ... and what color would that be? I moved a few steps further along the hedge, searching for a change in the color of the berries.

                   A                                            B                                         C                   

I found what I was searching for ... and a great deal more.

The color change in the berries were a good example of how a color can be warm in one situation and cool in another, depending on what other colors were nearby.  

A. The little yellow-green berries are warmer than the blue-green leaves and cooler than the yellow-orange and yellow-oranger berries.

B. The yellow-orange berries are warmer than the yellow-green berries and the blue-green leaves.  Those same yellow-orange berries are cooler than the bright red berries.

C. Even though the yellow-green berries are looking quite warm, lit beautifully by the sun, and with very few blue-green leaves showing in the photograph, the yellow-green berries function as a dominant cool color against the small area of warm (hot) bright red berries.

I suppose this obsessive way of observing is what makes me a total art geek.  I really don't mind at all.  I find it delightfully entertaining.

But wait! There's more!

As I was searching for berries that were turning colors, I discovered that the hedge offered many more treasures than colored berries.

Apparently there is a difference of opinion among the hedge pruners whose job it is to trim this hedge. Within the span of one block the appearance of this firethorn hedge transitions from abstract topiary ... to solid hedge ... to an untamed, more natural appearance.

The hedge also acts as a net to catch treasures released from tree branches that tower above it.

My favorite discovery were the spiderwebs and the diaphanous shapes they added to the hedge. Upon further investigation of the webs, I saw that they were funnel-shaped in a way I'd never seen a spider web before.

I'm grateful for the ease and affordability of digital photography as well as a cell phone that fits into my zip pocket.  I ended up taking 234 photos of this amazing firethorn hedge.  I rarely look back at my photos.  The only time I look back is to share my experience with others as I'm doing right now.  I find that when I pause to snap a photo, I'm taking notice of something that has caught my attention. As an artist, it's valuable to notice what catches my attention, why it catches my attention as well as to build upon that knowledge. That acknowledgement is more valuable than looking at the photographs I've captured.

The Art of Observing is a way of life for me.  One of the experiences I can compare it to is that of dreaming Building Dreams. If you've experienced a dream in which you enter a room, building, vehicle or similar sort of space and it become larger on the inside than it appeared to be on the outside (similar to the Tardis in Doctor Who) ... and it continues to expand as you explore the space, opening doors, going down hallways, slipping through holes ... then you know what I mean by dreaming a Building Dream.

The ability to observe increases and becomes enriched the more you do it.  Eventually, it becomes one of the most useful tools in your artist tool box.

To conclude this dreadfully long blog post, here are a few of my favorite photos of the firethorn hedge. 

I felt rejuvenated after spending a half hour with the hedge, so much so that the disappointing experience at Bank of America didn't bother me at all.






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