Imagining it

I’ve done a certain still life motif many times and ought to know it by heart, and yet I find upon trying to draw it from memory that it becomes vague.  I keep wondering how I can train my visual memory, and the only way I can figure to do it is by simple exercise.  I make the drawings and see how much I can either remember or invent.

I suppose that’s the key:  when memory fails, begin inventing things that might be there.  Then if you cannot remember everything at least you have begun building another skill — imagination.

People who routinely draw from imagination may wonder why anyone would find it difficult.  But nearly all the drawing I’ve ever done has been done in front of something.  I am so habituated to looking at whatever I draw that it is difficult to pull things out of the empty air — or “from the space between my ears”  — but the more I do it, the more natural the task becomes.

Seeing is a dream memory

I try to be often busy. It’s a way of making many drawings. Yesterday I had plans to draw while sitting in my car as I waited for my kid during her violin lesson. Other conditions were perfect. It was, for instance, brutally hot outdoors — and since I was painting in watercolor I anticipated having the pigments dry rapidly as I applied layer after layer of color.

Unfortunately, the heat seemed to have already affected my thinking for I neglected to bring my reference photo with me. Thus I found myself in the car amid the intense heat having water, colors, paper and fortitude but no motif. Since I had been already drawing the koi all morning long, I decided to make a virtue of necessity and draw one of the earlier images from memory.

It was then I hit that solid wall.

I found that I had already forgotten so many of the details of the picture that I had just drawn only a half hour previous! I wasn’t even sure about the relationship of the two principal actors. I tried everything I could to hammer my brain into recall mode. But it was like trying to remember a dream that unravels before one’s eyes upon waking.

Visual memory in most people is very fugitive. So are dreams. Do you suppose that the same areas of the brain are doing the forgetting? And possibly for the same reasons?