Seeing and Creating

“Bee in salal blossom” View and purchase full resolution image here.

Yesterday, I discovered a bookmark in my memory that gave rise to a set of questions, when I came across some notes from May 16, 2007 about building the visual field that I had made in an art class taught by Glenn Howarth. The following questions arise from my musings about these notes and the use digital and photoshop tools to create images.

What is this passion we have for cleansing images of anything less than perfect?


Can it possibly damage our ability to trust our viewer to see?

Let me explain, as best I can, without taking us too far down “the science of seeing” rabbit hole. When we “see,” the brain needs to imagine most of our reality through a system of expectation. This is because the human eye has only a 15 degree visual arc of acuity or sharp high-resolution colour visual field. We commonly believe that we “see” everything as if it were in this a 15 degree visual arc called fovea vision. This is not true. Our human eye must build a visual field using rapid eye movements and short-term memory so the brain can “create” the image we “see.” Most of the rest of our visual field has about 50 percent acuity and 50 percent colour perception with the far reaches of our peripheral vision seeing only movement in black and white.

Photographs like the bumble bee in a sala blossom image above hold more information in acuity than our eye actually can see at one time without using rapid eye movement to create the image for us. You may be able to notice how you look at this image and be able to catch the eye movement between the bee and the blossom both of which are in sharp focus and then notice how you can “see” the whole picture that is in focus.

Rapid eye movement happens very quickly, at about 3 times a second, and is something we are not consciously aware of, so if you don’t notice there is a reasonable explanation.

If you want to know more, I found this youtube video “Human Senses Touch and Vision About 3 minutes in they explain and show how our eyes and brain build a visual field.

Because our brain must  “create” a sharp, coloured field of vision, it has a selection process for seeing. We fill in blanks and leave out information that history tells our brain is not relevant both consciously AND subconsciously. I am fascinated with the impact this has on our creativity whether it is visual, written or auditory. Here is a series of my quick charcoal sketches from 2007.

wooden forms for making shoes

I did these sketches while purposefully “seeing” using my sight beyond the 15 degree visual arc of acuity by paying attention to what is in my peripheral visual field allowing the hand to record the image with as little as possible interference from my fovea vision.

male nude sitting

This lesson stuck and I continue to create my work while exploring this way of “seeing” or consciously experiencing the world.


It is not too much of a stretch then, to consider that when we create an image that has high-resolution colour and sharp focus over a larger area we are doing the work of the viewer’s brain “to see” or create that image. If we go the next step and take out “irrelevant information” we are also choosing for the viewer’s brain what is important to see. Your created work has become a powerful editing filter for the viewer. To some extent this is what happens anytime we create. The question I pose is more about how much of a filter is too much filtering and can it actually interfering with the viewer’s ability “to see” what we want to express? And can we hold the viewer’s attention when we do the work of the viewer’s brain to build most their visual field when experiencing our work?

Could it be that the gaps in our expression are of as much interest to the viewer as the sharp clarity? Like say this image….

finding the figure quickly

Sprout Question: How does your way of “seeing” impact your creativity?

On Thursday, I am going to explore further how our human visual system must learn to create spatial relationship between objects through touch and memory and what ways this learning may relate to our creativity.

© 2010 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

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Creative Potager – where imagination rules. Be inspired.

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

22 thoughts on “Seeing and Creating

  1. Terrill – This is a GREAT post. My goodness, I learned so much — thank you. The photograph of the bee is amazing; I’m equally delighted by your sketches.

    Sprout Question: Hows does your way of “seeing” impact your creativity?

    As a writer, the first thing I do is read everything out loud to see how it sounds. Then I have Len read it to me out loud — did he struggle anywhere? Does it flow?

    The second thing I do is visual. I create plenty of white space and clarity.

    Sometimes I use a one-line paragraph or statement, and a two-line one here and there, mixed among the longer ones of maybe five or six lines in length. I mix things up for readability.

    I’ve found that most readers want short bites so I try to keep my paragraphs short.

    • Laurie, I replied to Elisa before getting to your sprout response. You may have more to add too as I think you are headed in the direction I was thinking when making the distinction between the essence of something and simplifying it. Glad you enjoyed the post:)

  2. Thanks, Terrill. I have always thought there is a special relationship between viewer & photographer… it is as though we crave photography because then we are the observer being shown what to see beyond what are eyes would.. And the bee is wonderful..

    • Thank you Kathy… Your comment “I have always thought there is a special relationship between viewer & photographer… it is as though we crave photography because then we are the observer being shown what to see beyond what are eyes would..” gets at my drive as a photographer to create the best image I can to express my experience. This is true of painting and writing for me as well.

      I believe that creative work is best received as a participatory experience. But maybe that is just me? I want to take you where I am with maybe a small window with a glimpse of where I have been and where I think I am going.

  3. Hi! Hmm…I wonder if I misunderstood what you meant to teach me? If what you are saying is true, about how the mind/brain sensory input neurological faculties function, then if one removes or adds items to attempt to ‘shove’ interpretation, does not the eye/brain sensory processing system still chunk/re-chunk all of that same information from scratch?

    Unless perhaps you were speaking of the same ability of the brain to chunk approximately 7 words while reading before having to make a memory shift, thus if one is presenting information to anyone, one might write very simply…subject verb, in order to increase comprehension. (this is too simple a way of explaining it, but i am hoping it is effective in explaining where I am making a cross comparison as I chunk meaning 😀

    The other thing I was thinking, while reading your words was that I love reading toothpaste tube writing, or what is on the magazines or books and so on in the background of an image. In this instance, is it more important to express the artist’s expression/creativity only by oppressing that of the viewer/interpreter?

    woohoo! thinking!

    • Elisa I can hear some of the same wonder and exploration that I felt the first time I was presented with this idea which still inspires my musing.

      One of the key distinctions, I think, might be the difference between essence and simplicity. I need a bit more time to think this distinction through but getting at the essence of something is different than taking it down to its simplest form. The haiku…

      first light
      everything in the room
      was already here
      (by Christopher Herold)

      gets at the essence of light and our perception space.

      Where as the school reader “Dick and Jane” might be an example of taking language to its simplest form…

      See Jane run.

      Both examples are clear and have eliminated all that is unnecessary. Yet the first example of the haiku leaves room for mystery and engagement through a process of showing rather than telling me. I like to remind myself of the “showing” rather than “telling” principle in all of my forms of creativity. Even if I am not always successful, the principle seems to provide a guiding light. In this way, an incomplete or broken line may have more to share than a solid line.

      So I have a hunch has me musing over our technical advantage allowing us to create “perfect” images is the notion of “telling” that leaves me, as the viewer, no room to build on the experience and make it my own. I am thinking as I write here… grappling with the differences as they sort themselves out…

      Please Elisa and readers, feel free to jump in… I truly invite us to explore these ideas and tease out their fraying ends while reweaving a new pattern we co-discover as we go.

  4. I’d like to answer your sprout question from two perspectives. First as a crafter. My vision impairments has effected not only what crafts I engaged in but what aspects of that craft I engage in. For example, I don’t engage in bead work because threading the beads isn’t easy for me. Instead I knit and I knit with needles no smaller than 4.50 mm or US 7.
    As a writer, by nature I write much like you draw. I like to give my reader room to use their imagination. I enjoy traveling on the story journey with my reader.

    • Leanne this is exactly what I have been trying to say… “I like to give my reader room to use their imagination. I enjoy traveling on the story journey with my reader.”

      This is the adventure or intention that is behind my sharing of today’s post.

  5. I read this twice, Terrill. Fascinating! I think how quickly my eye moves across photographs only glimpsing the basic outlines. Sometimes I read that way, as well, trying to digest information in “chunks”, to get a feel for the whole package rather than the details. To feel what’s being said rather than analyze it.

    However, in slowly down, the details come into focus more. But to think what is being missed even in the slowing down! Such food for thought…thank you.

  6. I truly enjoyed reading this post… and have been thinking about it throughout the day. I’ve changed in my thinking of what is perfect. Too often I have tried too hard in watercolor painting to add more detail. As my college art teacher used to tell us, “Don’t tickle it to death.”

    How little can I do to convey the message or tell the story? I think the perfect piece leaves parts undone for the viewer to finish in their mind.

    This last winter we were in Tucson for a month and we toured Ted DeGrazia’s Gallery in the Sun. My best take away for the day came from a short film biography on DeGrazia’s life. He often said that his paintings were completed, but never finished. He left the finishing to be done by the viewer… to put in the missing parts like the eyes, nose and mouth, etc.

    You may enjoy seeing a couple of posts I did on DeGrazia’s Adobe Gallery mid February 2010.

    We went to see his Gallery in the Sun because we have an interest in adobe structures… we built an orphanage in Mexico out of adobe between 2004-2008. But we really got into his work as an artist, even thought we had never heard of him before.

    I really enjoyed the YouTube films you posted. Good stuff. Thank you for your inspiration today.

    • Sherwin your introduction to Ted DeGrazia is a perfect fit for our conversation today.

      Readers here is DeGrazia Adobe Gallery Part 1

      And here is DeGrazia Adobe Gallery Part II

      I encourage you to go and have browse.

      Sherwin is a fellow Mayne Island photographer, artist and blogger along with his wife Shirley. We have yet to meet face-to-face but that will happen over time I am sure.

      Sherwin, welcome to the Creative Potager community and I am glad you enjoyed the post. I would love to hear more about your work in Mexico and will poke around your blog to see what I can.

  7. Hello Terrill! Finally I find the time, huh? :+)

    Been thinking so much about this question. I am often my own worst critic and one of the things I am very critical about is how much or how little I actually was open to “seeing”. Did I just see what I wanted to? Did I only respond to the things I appreciate or relate to and automatically ignore other details? This is something that can be applied to my acting, writing, sketching and photography. I always think that when I am researching or looking to some place, something, or someone for insperation, I try not to have a preconcieved idea of what I want because I know I won’t be satisfied narrowing down the search so prematurely. Just a few points of interest but leave them open for change and influence. I also try to not be one of those people who always see the flaws in everything and everyone, I’ve known people like that and they bring me down and affect how I “see” after having been bombarded with their cynical “vision”. Being my own worst critic, I tell myself to try harder to “see” everything at once, it will be more realistic to take in everything and use it. But its not really possible is it? I mean, you can go back and look at a photo or watch a movie and always notice something that didn’t catch your attention before. Happens to me all the time. So even though I try to “see” everything at once, hoping that will aid me in a richer final product, I’m only overwhelming myself and need to take it in more than once and always try to “see” at least one thing that I didn’t before whenever I reapproach it. Consistant moderation is the key here, I think.

    • Hello Joseph… you are here, that is all that is of importance. Now is always perfect. I like your challenge and the parameters you set for yourself. Sometimes when I want to go deeply into seeing, I set an intention such as “openness” or “stillness” or “become part of the surroundings.” I will also visit the same place many times ind different seasons, times of day and so on. These allow various aspects to catch my attention in new ways. This all seems to help me build an elastic field of vision around a particular subject – keeping it loose and flexible. So glad you dropped in Joseph and hope to see you again soon.

  8. There is good data on color depth in the book THE TECHIQUES OF LIGHTING FOR TELEVISION AND MOTION PICTURES, by Gerald Millerson. The Grumbacher Color Compass or your favorite color wheel similar to that brand help with seeing color.

    There is another aspect of color which must be understood, and that is “color depth.” This is the apparency of depth (relative distance from the viewer) characteristic of different colors and depending on background against which they appear.

    Against a white background, colors give the illusion of distance from the viewer in the order:

    blue-green (apparently nearest the viewer)
    yellow-green (apparently farthest from the viewer)

    Against a black background, the apparency of distance changes:

    red (nearest)
    violet (farthest)

    Color depth and color harmony must be used in conjunction.

    There is a whold index of emotional responses to colors. For example, blue is usually associated with knowledge or serenity; yellow is mostly associated with value and red prompts impulse buying. This book includes a short section on color associations.

    As an example of the use of color associations, one would not use a blue, connoting serenity, as a key color for a painting meant to convey terror. The message ends up garbled.

    The principles of color depth, color harmony and color associations are invaluable tools for forwarding your message. I am still interested in learning more so seek this out a lot.

    • Thank you Kathy for your outstanding addition and reference. I am amazed about such things as “color depth, color harmony and color associations.” Glad you could stop in today on what has become a celebration day as Creative Potager has reach a milestone of over 12,000 views since December 27, 2009. I have written a special celebration post “Squishy Hug of Thanks WORDPRESS” Feel free to wander over and see if you can answer the sprout question… it might be my toughest yet:)

    • Elisa thank you so much for posting this video… it definitely takes our discussion about who we “see” to new levels of understanding and complexity. How wonderful! I think this video may need its own post with a discussion about perspective.

  9. First – let me challenge the apparent fact that our adding definition, or defining for others what we see is removing for the viewer what they might see. It isn’t. Everyone sees things differently. You and I and everyone here who comments could look at one small child and see entirely different expressions, different tonalities, different aspects. We see depending on all our senses that are available to us, but we also ‘see’ in the sense of interpretation, depending upon our life experiences.

    My mother was a sculptor and she didn’t have a very good spatial sense. I have inherited that problematic spatial sense and am also an artist, though I have taken my creativity a step further and I don’t paint faces or even try to paint faces. Instead, I do what I say that cannot happen – and I interpret vagueness for other people and turn it into something that I hope they will be able to define for themselves as something specific. I’m always fascinated by the different interpretations my work receives in my blog.

    On the other hand, as well as painting, I also colour black and white photos, bringing into them some ‘life’ that, for me, feels like it has been lost in the monochromatic version.

    May I suggest that, if you haven’t already, that you read the work of Oliver Sacks. He’s a neurologist who writes of sensory deficits and how people cope with them and he’s written about a lot of creative people.

    I like your blog.

    Be well.

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