Life of an Artist – Blog #6: Learning to See the World

Life of an Artist Blog #6

Learning to See the World


Welcome to my blog! This week I would like to share with you what it’s like learning to see the world through the eyes of an artist.

I think the most important lesson I got from studying Illustration and Animation at uni many years ago was one of the first modules we started with.

It was the Observational Sketching module.

First we were told to acquire ourselves a small sketchbook (A5 is a great size for me) and then go out and sit down anywhere with it, i.e town, a cafe, in the woods and simply look at the scene in front of you. Really observe the subject and then sketch as much information as needed to capture the essence of what you are looking at.

The sketch did not have to be perfect, the practice is more within the looking of the subject matter and capturing the most crucial aspects within only a few marks.

The key is to look at the subject you are drawing more than the page.

Fig 1: Pen & Watercolour sketch of a beautiful tree just transitioning into those warm autumn colours

Fig 2: Watercolour sketch of a classic Dunedin building in the Octagon.
Here I experimented doing the sketch directly with watercolour and brush instead of pencil or pen.

Life of an Artist_ Natalie J Cheetham

I’m so happy to have met my companion, Mrs Sketchbook 😀

She seriously comes with me every where I go now.
Ever since that first module in 2006 I’ve been hooked.
I love this practice as it means that I’m never waiting; when I wait, I draw. That’s why I love travelling around on public transport, waiting for a bus? No problem I’ll just sit, observe and draw. Long layovers at airports, yay lots of time and subjects everywhere to sketch. Long wait for the doctors, yipee sketch time.

The other thing I love about this practice, is it gives me the perfect excuse to go out for a walk. And not just that, it allows me to sit still in a beautiful place, calm myself down and really absorb everything around me. How the light plays in the wind, the changing of colour as the sun moves, the tiniest textures of the leaves, bark, birds, humans, simply everything!

It’s a practice all of the great masters have utilized, it’s what makes the art one produces more convincing, as it’s based on real life studies.
And it’s overall amazing for my memory. I can remember all of the places I’ve ever sat down and sketched so much more vividly than anywhere I’ve just taken a photo or haven’t documented at all. Don’t ask me where all of my sketchbooks from 15 years have gone, I’d love to know that, too. And don’t ask me what to do with all of those sketchbooks once they’re full, again I’m never too sure what to do with them when I have to move. If there are any other artist’s reading this please leave a comment to tell me what you do with all of your sketchbooks once they’re full?

I had this idea once, that it would be great if artists could donate them to a section in their local library, so that other people can come and browse an artists sketchbook. Maybe I’ll ask my local library next time I’m there.

Natalie J Cheetham_Sketch of Takaka River

Fig 3: A pen drawing of Takaka river. I really wanted to practice different marks in the details of the foliage in the background and to capture the overall cone shape of the family dynamic.

The beauty for me, however, isn’t so much that I never get bored waiting, no the beauty is learning to truly see the world! As an artist I can’t help but really study everything I look at. I ask myself, which colours would I use to paint this sky or this leaf or the grass. I ask myself, which marks would I make to create the texture of the bark or the wrinkles on that beautiful face.

The world becomes a painting.

Especially when I spend a lot of time painting in my studio. Have you ever noticed how sometimes the things you look at intensely somehow imprints itself onto your vision? Have you ever played Solitaire (the computer card game) or stared at writing on a screen for a long time and then looked up and have been able to see the cards or text embedded on everything you see? Maybe it’s just me, but this is also what happens if I paint for long periods of time. All of a sudden I see the whole world in brush strokes. Who needs drugs, right?

This is the aspect I love the most about being an artist, seeing the world through curious eyes, trying to study every detail, the interplay between light and shadows, colour relationships and gestures of humans and animals. It’s a magical lens to see through.

Natalie J Cheetham_ Observational Sketch Takaka

Pen & Watercolour sketch of Takaka River. I particularly wanted to capture the bright vibrant greens against the darker murkier background.

Natalie J Cheetham Observational Sketch Seacliff

Pen & Watercolour of a bunch of flowers in my garden. Here I wanted to practice making really loose and quick marks and washes, to really accentuate the wild yellows.

Pen sketch collage in a beautiful garden in Motueka. Here I played with compostion, playing with two scenes from the opposite side of the same garden.

So happy sketching and learning to see the world

If you liked this feel free to share it with your friends and leave a comment below…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We use cookies in order to give you the best possible experience on our website. By continuing to use this site, you agree to our use of cookies.