The Painter’s Notion of Noticing

The need and desire to summarize and dismiss information is a necessary skill for survival, comfort and freedom. Yet, the development of repeating and overlapping patterns of knowing is often my least helpful skill when painting. However, noticing repeating patterns within a specific subject and within its context is a useful skill to the painter. This second skill gets me into the overreaching and granular similarities, differences and unique aspects of my composition. In contrast, it is the layers of “knowing” the painter has for a subject that sometimes can be challenging. So though these approaches to seeing are related they are not the same. The layers of knowing collected from past observation tend to filter and distort what is actually before us. This is where trees become straight, flower petals similar in shape or skies become blue in such a way that the immediate experience of the subject fades into something quite cliché or overly familiar. In this situation the painter has lost awareness of the subject itself in favour of everything that they already think they know about it. For example, let’s look at the photograph below. Do you see these specific daffodils or do you see these specific daffodils through the filters of all the daffodils you have ever seen before?

The filters might include the daffodils in the painting above. Or possibly the daffodils you have on your own table. Or maybe even the crepe paper replica you made in your first years of school. You may like daffodils or you may have no relationship with them at all. You may be distracted from the daffodils completely and be more focused on the painting sketch of the Japanese Garden which then reminds you of a trip you once took to Japan. Thus your proposed focus on daffodils is subsumed in favour of the painting sketch. Or the yellow colour of the daffodils may remind you of a spring outfit your mother once sewed for you to wear for a spring pageant.  Yes, filters are diverse, insistent and can get messy.

I hope by now you can see how easily the painter can get tripped up and lost in repeating patterns of what they know instead of noticing repeating patterns and uniqueness in the specific subject before them. If you have also had the good fortune to be in a painting class, you might remember how differently each painter’s result becomes while viewing the same subject. As a fellow artist and friend was remarking yesterday – we are sometimes in awe as to what happens to create these differences. So the next question is of course what can we do to address this issue of filters that keep us from experiencing the subject that is directly before us? Here are three activities we can do both to increase our awareness during the process of painting and also to be more present in life in general.

First, sit and observe your subject and do nothing else for 10 – 15 minutes. In the beginning you may need to set a timer so as to keep your attention on the subject for what often seems to be – too long! At first you will want to keep your focus to the point where it passes through a point of boredom. With practice you will become familiar with a kind of internal click where your filters start to fall away. Overtime this “click” happens more quickly until you are able to do it at will. This shift is a little different for everyone but frequently you start to distinguish more variation in the sounds around you. Maybe you start to notice distinctive smells – some you can name and many others you cannot. Sometimes colour saturation and contrasts become more distinguishable. You start to notice variations and see colours you hadn’t noticed before. You begin to discern differences in shapes and textures and so on. After 10 -15 minutes of doing nothing but noticing our whole system becomes curious and we start saying to ourselves – this is important. What is it that we have here? When we become curious and we notice even more!

Secondly, write, draw, paint or do all three to capture what you have now noticed. Or if that feels too structured just create large shapes of colour that represent what you seem to be experiencing. At this stage the gathering of information should be free flowing or raw data about your experience of the subject. The purpose of the activity is to just get the information gathered in some form and if you can, get it gathered before your reductive skills can make sense out of it or begin naming it.

Thirdly, once you have recorded your own personal raw data on paper, in any form that works for you, again sit and notice. This time, look for repeating patterns and how various aspects of your subject relate to one another. Look for clues about the spaces between various elements. What is there? What is dominant and what is supportive? What sings to every cell in your body? What is changing? What is temporarily constant? What feelings are present? The process is not about finding words for an answer but just noticing. In many ways it is noticing without needing to “know” or without attachment.

Now, after these three activities are completed, you are ready to begin translating your subject into a painting language with some confidence that your filters will, for the most part, leave your subject revealed to the way you are experiencing it – on this specific day, at this specific time. If you find you are faltering or become unsure, repeat these activities again and yet again and as often as necessary to remain present to your subject.

You may remember having had this kind experience before when traveling to a new location that is very different to the one you call “home.” Or when you find yourself in a place where the people around you are speaking a different language. Or there has been a storm that took the power out and so on. These three activities I am suggesting, though more gentle, are designed to take you to this same kind of observation and sensory alertness. They are not new or revolutionary but rather old and tried methods to gain awareness. I am willing to argue, based on my own lengthy experience, that anyone, not just a painter, can gain a richness or vibrancy of experience through these practices.


What subject would you like to use these three practice exercises to experience more fully this week?


I suggest that you are unlikely to feel like “the moon is no longer there” after having applied these three activities to your subject. Let me know if you find this is so.

There is also a new round-up post on the website featuring five new painting releases, noting three recent sales and mentioning two shows coming up for May and July. If you choose, grab your beverage of choice and drop on over for a Canadian landscape painting experience HERE.

© 2017 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

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

Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to

Tumbling Red Pears – a still life from conception to painting

How does it happen that a painter notices red pears in the local grocery market? Then without looking at the price, she grins widely, grabs a handful and comments “they are for a painting!” How does this happen? What did she see in those pears that was more enticing than say the lemons or the oranges or that green skin of the avocado? Nothing. She picked up an assortment of these as well. But it was the red pears that she knew where going to be the main attraction.

Back home she arranges them this way…

Still Life with red pears in the studio by Terrill Welch 2014_02_26 009

and then that way

Still Life with Red Pears Falling by Terrill Welch 2014_02_26 013

She settles on “that way.”

You see, she was caught up in some ideas about “seeing” and realism in a conversation that was hosted by artist and colleague Lena Levin on her G+ profile. Partly because of this conversation, the painter kept thinking as she was painting – what am I seeing? What is the influence of what I have seen before? Where are my mental shortcuts? She has no answers but starts and continues to paint.

Tumbling Red Pears in process 1 by Terrill Welch 2014_02_26 021

As is common, there is no drawing to guide her brush. Her eyes must be her guide, along with her experience which is where the problem lies. It is in her experience that the mental shortcuts are developed and her eyes and brush stop noticing and actually “seeing” what is before her. She is even, in her noticing, not looking for details but rather relationships between light, shadow, colour and to-a-lesser-degree form. The painter understand that our brains construct images from rapidly gathered information from small areas that the mechanism of the eye scan and then the optic nerve delivers to the brain for translation and construction of a visual image. However, there is more information that is gather from the painter’s other senses that also assists in these constructed images. To name just a few bits of other sensor influence, there is the smell of the orange and linseed oil, the feel of the fabric and the planks of the wood floor with her bare feet and the sound of water dripping from the eaves. Then too there is all the previous data gathered about what a bowl of fruit looks like. There are all the bowls of fruit ever noticed and seen – both in real-time and in photographs and paintings. There are all the rules and breaking of rules about composition, about the actual process of painting as well as those about noticing, really noticing what she is seeing. Of all of this information, what will be the resulting rendering of THIS still life?

Well, the painter did not get very far before she decides to enhance what she is seeing. She adds a lemon on the bottom right. Yes, she says to herself, it should be there. And so it is.

Tumbling Red Pears in process 2 by Terrill Welch 2014_02_26 025

What could be the harm of adding one imagined lemon? I mean really. It is only a little bit of yellow right?

The painter chooses to ignore that her noticing had resulted in imagining a whole lemon.

Tumbling Red Pears in process 3 by Terrill Welch 2014_02_26 031

She determinedly continued to focus on the bowl of fruit. In fact, she focused so hard that the red pears began to tumble forward out of the painting.

Tumbling Red Pears in process 4 by Terrill Welch 2014_02_26 036

This is about the exact point where the still life painting made a notable separation from its visual reference. It is that blue curving line on the left at about the middle of the painting that did it. Then, without any ability of the painter to rest the brush, another blue line of motion appeared on the bottom right. She knew then that even the slight visual impressions of the paintings in the background would go. They would be replaced by the gold fabric and the light leftover from the blue in the sky of one of these paintings as an easy reference for the light coming in from the skylight and the window behind the still life set up. This was now a deliberate mental shortcut.

Tumbling Red Pears in process 5 by Terrill Welch 2014_02_26 042

Memory and imagination had conquered the physical evidence of what the eyes were actually seeing.

Tumbling Red Pears in process 6 by Terrill Welch 2014_02_26 062

The intention of the painting had clearly become focused on the illusion of red pears falling out of the bowl – a focus that intends to encourage the viewer to hold out their hands and try to catch the fruit before it tumbled out of the painting. The painting is set aside until later in the evening and then, with a few edits that lead the painter’s work through to the next morning, it comes to rest.

TUMBLING RED PEARS 20 x 16 inch oil on canvas

Tumbling Red Pears 2 resting 220 x 16  by Terrill Welch 2014_02_28 039

It won’t be released just yet as the painting still needs to sit for its final photo shoot once the paint is dry.

Now we can ask the painter – did you know you were going to paint these red pears tumbling out of a canvas when you saw them in the grocery store?

The painter blinks, slightly confused and unable to answer as she comes out of her painting trance – her deep practice of noticing what she sees, a seeing that uses all of her sense, a seeing that is disrupted by her memory and is enhanced by her imagination. At this moment all she can remember, all she can “see” is tumbling red pears – the ones she imagined, the ones she painted on the canvas. This is her painting of reality.

When have you most acutely recognized that you were “seeing” more by your imagination than with your eyes?

Before I leave us, I want to thank everyone who shared last week’s Art Studio Spring Thaw Event post. Your ongoing support is what warms my heart and also grows the global awareness of my paintings and my photography. Without your efforts my ability to financially sustain my studio practice would be gravely hampered. So thank you, Thank you and THANK YOU!

Also, I am lighting a small candle each evening to focus energy on a peaceful resolution in the Ukraine. My mantra is – use your words. Listen and talk it out rather than bully and fight it out. My focus is calming energy sent to Russia’s leadership with this message. However, it isn’t narrowly directed and I disperse it as a blanket over all global decision-makers and citizens. You are most welcome to join me in this practice. I am an artist yes, but I am also more than that. I am a human-being and I desire to live in peace and I desire this for all of us. This, like the effect of full sensory “seeing” in this painting, is a tangible practice in attempting to render my desired reality.

© 2014 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

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

Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to