Searching for lost and soft edges

When we see, we see around corners because of our rapid eye movements, our moving feet and bobbing head… and because we touch things.

Tuesday’s post “Seeing and Creating” talked about how the brain builds a visual field using rapid eye movement to create the image we are seeing. Some of the information that the brain uses to build an image comes from a history of spatial measurements that we have gathered through touch.

Seeing takes more than our eyes. We must learn spatial relationship, specifically our spatial relationship to other objects. We discover how to see where things are through practice using our hands and feet to touch and move around our world. Babies reach for our faces. Children will crawl, climb, run and jump with varying degrees of success as their brains and bodies learn to coordinate the distances of time and space. Our brain gathers and reuses these measurements in combination with information received from our eyes to provide context and relational information about what we are looking at. This complex relationship of gathering and building our visual field happens constantly and rapidly. Most often we are not even aware of the process.

However when we are creating it is helpful to understand and consider this information in our work. Some of our work in building a visual field will happen intuitively.  In fact, many situations a lot of our work in building a visual field will happen intuitively. We won’t know why we at first place a certain word in a particular sentence or why we paused the music on that particular note or why we made that particular mark off on the left side of the page or why we decided to include a particular boulder in our photograph. Mostly we just do what we do.

We can strengthen our work by increasing our conscious ability to build a visual field. A current practice of simplifying photographic images through noise reduction and sharpening and taking out what is not adding to the image is one way to play with how the visual field is built in the photograph.

Practices of adding, leaving or taking away in our creativity are not absolute creative positions but a tension we hold during the process of creating. It is in searching for lost and soft edges that I find I can most consciously building a visual field in my photography, painting and writing.

One tool or exercise we can use is to make marks or write words around your desired subject until it “appears” in your work. This helps us discover what clues or cues in the surrounding area are supporting our ability to see. In photography I do this by placing my desired object in various off-centre relationships in the frame. I change the height I take the image or the distance from the subject and so on.

Sprout Question: How do you know when less is no longer more?

Note: Here is a great reference I discovered as part of researching for today’s

The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects and Technologies by Mark Paterson (2007)

Also here is an online article that is also helpful – Eyes and Hands: The relationship between touch and space

A question I can not answer is how people without use of hands or ability to walk develop spatial relationships in building their visual field. Does anyone know the answer or have a resource?

© 2010 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

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

Purchase photography at

Creative Potager – where imagination rules. Be inspired.

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

33 thoughts on “Searching for lost and soft edges

  1. Terrill – My favorite sketch in your post today is the very first one. Look closely … where the “dimples” in the lower back are … think of them as eyes. Once you do that, you’ll see the face of an owl. Very cool!

    Sprout Question: How do you know when less is no longer more?

    When it has has a clinical feel — sterile.

    You asked, “A question I can not answer is how people without use of hands or ability to walk develop spatial relationships in building their visual field. Does anyone know the answer or have a resource?”

    My grandfather was a double amputee (legs), yet I assume he had wonderful spatial relationships because he was (at least to me) a great artist. However, maybe he’d had his legs long enough to have developed that prior to amputation (he was somewhere in his 30’s when this occurred).

    • Laurie I did find your owl… you are just an amazing person at finding images in other images. Great sprout response Laurie. Because you are a regular here (and are likely to come back to respond), I want to ask a second level question – what tells or shows you that the work has a clinical feel or is sterile? What are your clues or ques?

      My other question – thank you Laurie for sharing the story about your grandfather. I wonder? It is such a fascinating thing – our ability to create and express our visual field. In reading your story I remembered a news clip that caught my attention about a fourteen years old boy who used sound to see…

      And scientists have been working developing computer technology with a systems of sounds that allow blind people to see objects. There are several youtube video on this as well.

      I think I might go further in my research and see how hearing as well as our eyes and touch help to build a visual field. Oh! This is so much fun:)

  2. In my past life I studied and worked interior design and decor. When you feel your room/home is crowded or overdone where do you start and where do you finish the cleaning up process? Just keep removing items, live with it, look closely at the ‘new look’ and quit when it feels right to you again. Now you cannot do that in a piece of art…you have to start with little and add until it feels right to you. Experience is a good teacher and if you allow yourself to see the ‘thing’ in a new way it is most helpful.

    • Thank you Shirley for your thoughtful sprout response and dropping by Creative Potager. I seem to remember that one of your methods of creating art is water colour painting – starting with a little and building the painting until it “feels right to you” is a foundational principle of using this tool as you build from light to dark, loose shapes and shadows into areas of more detail.

      Dear readers I encourage you to check out Shirley’s blog AND THE LIVIN’ IS EASY where she posts about her world of gardens, words, photos, art and good food.

      Other materials and tools can sometimes allow us more play in adding and taking away, such as when working with clay or with oil painting or when writing. What we all seem to be seeking is a point of “getting to where it feels juuuust right!” Maybe that is why the story of the Three bears and Goldilocks has had such a long run of popularity?

    • Oh Leanne this is it isn’t it? We “want to live it.” Like when I replied to Laurie, I am going to ask a second level question… What ques and clues tell you your senses lay lifeless on the page?

      I am gently and purposefully pushing regular sprout responders Leanne and Laurie because I feel I have a length of history and mutual respect with each of them that might yield a deeper discovery for us all. I do not know the answer to the questions I asked. These are my learning edges. I am passionately curious to see what might unfold as we continue our conversation. So if you have an idea or a thought or an example…. please chime in!

  3. Terrill – In answer to your question, “what tells or shows you that the work has a clinical feel or is sterile? What are your clues or ques?”

    The answer is really what I DON’T feel. It leaves me unchanged. There’s no value added; no takeaway.

    Let’s say that a person comes to HolEssence and leaves no different than they arrived (body, mind and/or spirit). There would be no point in their having come. No value added. No takeaway.

    Am I explaining myself okay?

    The clip you provided a link to was outstanding — thank you! Interesting your memory took you in that direction. My grandfather was also blind (diabetes was the reason for his amputation and loss of sight).

    I followed the link you provided to Shirley’s blog (And the Livin’ is Easy) and really enjoyed it. It wouldn’t, however, let me leave a comment no matter what I did. I was trying to let her know how much I appreciated her work — now THAT’S value added!

    • Thank you so much Laurie for dropping back to answer the second level question and you are explaining yourself perfectly. Glad the additional links were of value as well.

      For Shirley’s blog I seem to remember I had to use the open id and put in my website link that way but if you tried everything and nothing worked to be able to leave a comment… I don’t know what to suggest.

  4. Thanks for sharing a little of the creative world where more is always welcome!

    How do you know when less is no longer more?

    I have a extremely hard time with this one, as I am (ok I will be Blunt!) anal. Never settling for just what there is, always wanting a new challenge, idea, project, more work, and yes more more more, I admit it.

    It is an addition and I am committed to making sure that I keep it in check….


    • Kim, I am so glad you shared your experience about never settling for just what is. I can relate… I am always searching for more as well – not more things but more learning, ideas and experiences. And you know what? The universe provides. My life is always filled with wonder and curiosity. In recent times Laurie and Jeff have both been guiding lights showing me ways to ease up and be still in the moment appreciating what is. Laurie with her solid tools. Jeff with is deeply vulnerable exploration about his practice using some of these same tools.

      I sometime use the tide of the ocean as a metaphor or reminder. The tide never goes just out or keeps coming in… and at the change of the tide there is a still point – a pause. I sometimes forget to build a pause into my daily living. I forget that the ebb and flow living is not always of the same magnitude. When I remember this then staying with what is becomes easier. I connect this metaphor to my breath and each conscious breath then becomes a reminder – a check.

  5. Less is no longer more when our art or photography fails to impact the viewer. One of the advantages of painting is the artist can eliminate a lot clutter and only include the elements that work in harmony.

    The photographer has the same control when working in a studio or a set that is designed… but in the real world there is often a lot of junk one wishes weren’t there. For example power lines and poles do not usually enhance a beautiful sunset. Hoses laying on the ground around a house are another pet pieve. When working as a realtor I used to have to tidy things up to get better pictures.

    Another photographic trick can be accomplished using depth of field, like you did in the recent bee photo. By focusing on the bee and letting the background go soft, emphasis automatically goes to the subject. Soft edges are good.

    I enjoyed the sketches you used in the last few posts… are they all yours?

    • Sherwin I bet you are not fond of tea towels casually draped over oven handles and family photos plastered on fridges either when taking photos to sell a home?

      My now husband, David, and I prepare his beautiful old home of 34 years for sale on its 100th birthday year in Victoria B.C. We created an up and down duplex and sold each part separately. He was the general owner/contractor on the project and I did the detailing for design, colours and final preparation for sale. When I met David four years earlier (and four years after the death of his first wife) I don’t think a thing had been moved in this house that was chalk-a-block full of 30 years of living and raising four children. When we met he wouldn’t even let me see the 1,500 square foot basement that was filled from floor to ceiling with a narrow winding path to the wooden stairs opening up into the kitchen. Well, after almost three years of hard work doing the renovations, and sorting and letting go of a life time of living, we had the occupancy permits and we were ready for the photo shoot to put the two places on the market. I went from room to room removing the final items from counters and surfaces before the photographer arrived. The basement was empty and the floor had been painted. I was smiling in almost disbelief that we had done it! We were show ready! David looked at me, looked around the kitchen and into the pristine dining room and growled “Well it may look like home and gardens but no one can actually live in a place like this!” And he was right. I gently explained that the home had to inspire someone else to live it. It had to have just enough in it to show possibility and little enough for the potential buy to be able to image their own treasured possession in each room. He just looked at me resigned and a bit sad as if to say “I’m ready to sell but this feels like the final insult to my memories.” We had an outstanding realtor who worked with us to find our price point. This, combined with an absolutely solid, beautifully care for and carefully prepared property allowed us to sell the top unit in 3 days and the main floor in a week.

      We are both extremely pleased to have set that property on a journey of another hundred years of providing homes and shelter. We had already found our property on Mayne Island and wasted no time coming over to view it one more time and make an offer. That was three years ago in May and here we are! I share this story because it is all about how we see, what we filter out in the process of living our lives. We do not see the tea containers a clutter on the counter – they are simply handy when you go to make tea. There is a big difference when seeing a home as a place you are living and a home as place you are considering buying.

      And Sherwin, yes the sketches are all mine from 2007 and thank you so much for your sprout response.

  6. What clues told me that my senses lay lifeless?
    Simply, the words didn’t engage me. I had no connection with the story. They were just lifeless words. They didn’t move me. When I read the words I didn’t see an image. I think this is as close as I can (currently) come to answer your second question.
    Ask me again in five years. : )

    • Thank you Leanne for answering the second level question. I am curious about these clues and cues that both you and Laurie read from a place of what is NOT there. Hum, how interesting. I am wondering then if when it IS right if the expression can be broad, deep and diverse so that it is easier to identify when something doesn’t work than when it does. Hummmmm.

      And I just might ask you again in five years Leanne… that is a distinct possibility:)

  7. Less is no longer more in my art (photography) when I lose the feeling, the tug that initially pulled me to that image. I love to play around with cropping and see what happens when I add and take away parts of an image. It can totally change the feel. Of course for me that place where less is no longer more is going to be different for everyone else – because art is a completely personal expression.

    • Kat your process of deciding when less is more and when less is just less with your photography is something that I do as well. Sometimes I even keep more than one photo of an image because the framing provides a different feel of the same subject. Your point about the difference for each of us is important. I find this difference within my own view from one day to the next as well.

      What is fascinating to me is when an image has broad and lasting appeal over even hundreds of years and across many cultures. The mystery is – what is it offering or touching within us that gives it such a broad and lasting pull? Then, I think there is something else going on beyond the individual – something that has struck a part of humanity which is much harder to put into words. I have a good friend who says “we always know quality and greatness when we experience it.” But how? That is my question. How do we know?

  8. I can’t stop to look at these wonderful pictures, thank you so much for sharing!

    RE sprout question: I strictly go with what pleases my *mind* and try not to be too reasonable and calculating – which is difficult, as reason is a vital part of the inner orchestra 😉

    • Thank you Detlef for your feedback and your sprout response. You make an excellent point about the creative process… one I embrace with gusto – holding that tension between what pleases and reason is challenging because what pleases is not always reasonable:) So glad you dropped in:)

  9. Terrill — I am very drawn (what a play on words!) to your pictures, but what captured me were these “Children will crawl, climb, run and jump with varying degrees of success as their brains and bodies learn to coordinate the distances of time and space. Our brain gathers and reuses these measurements in combination with information received from our eyes to provide context and relational information about what we are looking at.” and “We won’t know why we at first place a certain word in a particular sentence . . .” The first sentence because I spent last weekend with my granddaughter who is 8 and I am still so impressed with her physical energy and her absolute need to be physical no matter where we go. Your explanation helps me to understand her, other children, and myself as well and why, as adults, we don’t get more physical and play like children. The second sentence about writing gives me a different perspective on my writing process. I have been drawn to words and reading and writing since I learned there were such things! My playing with them helps me understand the world much better.

    • Barbara thank you for your thoughtful reflections and contributions.

      Creative Potager is such a great place to visit when I wake up! All these additions to a few fragments of thought posted from the day before. I just love all of you – first for being you and second for sharing here and filling this space with creative wonder.

      I have been thinking about how all those receptors on our hands and feet have so many more jobs than telling us when something is hot, cold or ticklish. How they are actually providing information continuously on how we spatially place ourselves in the world. Who knew that running around driving all the adults crazy was actually designed to assist us in finding ourselves in the world?

      I made a note from something I read somewhere in researching for this post that “paper detachment through externalizing our memory comes at price of forgetting the original ‘bodily attitude’ or kinasthetic situation” because the eyes, hands and feet draw us into the world. I believe this is why it is so helpful to go for long walks in the environment and why we refer to it as “getting grounded” and why we can’t seem to resist touching leaves, twigs, trees, rocks, brick walls, fences, and sign posts as we go… or at least I can’t. In this process we are engaging in the adult version of what children do when they are running around. We are affirming our original bodily attitude in the world. We are collecting the information we need in order to see (and know) where we are in time and space.

  10. Yay! This one spoke of that sensory processing! I do have access to some information about spatial relationships and when I am home I shall locate and provide it. I will ponder the sprout question and reply later.

    • Elisa thanks for stopping in and I look forward to your future reply. The more resources we can collectively gather the better – at least for me:)

      As regular readers will know… not all my post are so heavily weighted towards conceptually understanding the creative process. Everywhere on blog writing and writing we are told to keep it short and simple. However, I’ve always leaned towards sharing what I am wanting to learn and sometimes these ideas are complex and require a fair amount of thought and reflection to understand. I aspire to respect the intellectual ability AND desire of my readership to engage in such a manner when the topic requires us to do so. Or to wait until the next post that is a quick pleasurable read… as long as you don’t try to answer the sprout question:)))))

      Thank you everyone who has stuck with me in the past two posts and mused and thought about and added to the conversation. It means a lot to me and inspires me to go further and deeper into my creativity and into my learning. I hope it does this for you as well.

  11. “Seeing takes more than our eyes. We must learn spatial relationship, specifically our spatial relationship to other objects. We discover how to see where things are through practice using our hands and feet to touch and move around our world…”

    Fascinating, as is this entire post, which is unquestionably the most complex and demanding of any I’ve ever seen at this blog. (but in the best sense) I have observed some of these qualities you inform on children in my own, though I don’t think I’ve ever left the box to examine them.

    As to your sprout question, sad to say, when we leave our sphere of literature and the arts, and succumb to the black and white of the material world we will invariably abandon the precious concept of ‘less is more.’ As this site has showcased time and again, there is so much more in beauty than what is initially discernible.

  12. I wear Hearing aids but can hear but quality is poor without them ,the sound of birds for instance if i did not have my hearing aids on would be missed, the rustle of leaves of trees in the wind, the sound of your feet on the ground, the crunch of a twig all might be missed or heard but slightly out of focus. having said that, perhaps a hearing loss makes the visual senses more acute? But we all see the world in a unique way and take from it many visual messages

    • Chris your description of wearing hearing aids reminds me of when I first talked to my dad after he got his due to hearing loss from years of running equipment before they realized you need to protect your ears. He said he could hear the wind in the trees rustling the leaves and he hadn’t realized that he had lost the ability to hear this sound until he got it back with the hearing aids. I could hear the emotion in his voices as he told me. He spent days marveling and appreciating the gifts his hearing aids offered. Though they are not perfect – in crowded rooms with lots of talking for instance the gifts far out weigh the drawbacks.

      Chris your point that “we all see the world in a unique way and take from it many visual messages” is a powerful reminder. We don’t really know what or how another person is seeing because we see different things depending on our purpose for seeing never mind the sensory tools we use and our experience and skills in using them.

      Sigh… what a great blog-post-replying-to-comments-morning… time for breakfast:)

  13. What draws me in this blog is your title “Searching for lost and soft edges”. I have been doing lots of meditating in the past few days (not so much creating as being still and aware). And yet–there is a way of being still which has hard edges and a way of being still that has soft edges. By continually softening into the edges of awareness there seems to come a place where flowing and stillness merge together. Thank you, Terrill, for this inspiration!

  14. Pingback: Monday Morning Diary (June 7) « Wonders in the Dark

  15. Beautiful post, Terrill! Fascinating, too!

    Ummm… when less is no longer more has a different meaning for me, as I am in Costa Rica currently, admiring the Beauty, but working through a few less is definitely not more challenges 😉

    Thanks for sharing your Amazing creativity!

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