Look, Discover, Create

Hello, I’m Kathy O’Neill, an art teacher and writer, and I’m excited to join the Write2Ignite team. In my posts I hope to help you Look! Discover! and Create! And I think you’ll see in this first post that you don’t have to become an artist to add “looking time” to your writer’s toolbox. So let’s get started.

Earth’s crammed with Heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

From Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

First graders gather on the rug for art class. Wiggles and whispers continue until I ask, “Does anyone have a cat?” Hands shoot up. Geneva can’t wait to tell us she got a white kitten for her birthday, and Zane makes us groan when he says his cat threw up a hair ball. When I tell them we’re going to draw cats, everyone wants to race to their seats to draw. “Hold on,” I tell them, “First we need to use our artist eyes.”

I ask the children to close their eyes, then open them to see a photo of a cat. With their artist eyes, we take time to look at the lines and shapes that make a cat—its roundish head, curvy back, and long, furry tail that does not end in a point. Then they go back and draw and paint much more realistic cats!

First graders don’t need artist eyes to draw a cat, and neither do we. God has already given our eyes those abilities. But the phrase tells my younger students we’re going to stop and look before we draw, because observation is essential for accurate drawing.  

Research shows that part of our brain, usually the right side, enjoys slowing down to see details, relationships, and the overall picture. On the other hand, our more verbal, and analytical left brain is happy with symbols for the objects in our lives—cats, houses, cars. When someone yells, “There’s a cat stuck in a tree,” we visualize our symbolic cat, because what’s important then isn’t the cat’s color, but its rescue.

But when we’re drawing or writing about a cat, we need to study a particular cat–its color, the fluffiness of its tail, and the number of toes on its paws. If possible, we want to pet its soft fur, gaze into its mysterious eyes, and watch how it crouches with its tail flicking back and forth when it spies a mouse. When we take the time for these things, our cat comes alive and leaps off the page into our reader’s lap and heart!

C. S. Lewis once wrote, “We must use our eyes. We must look and go on looking till we have certainly seen exactly what is there.” 

It takes time to look at “exactly what is there.” But when we do, we’ll see that everything, from a shiny bee crawling across a sunflower to gray elephants lumbering across a dusty savanna, and especially a child clutching a pencil and drawing and painting a big cat, contains the splendor and majesty of God Himself. The naturalist, John Muir, called nature the “manuscripts of God.”

Here are three ways to fit “looking time” into your day:

  1. If you have animals in your WIP, take a trip to a zoo or pet shop. Look at the colorful patterns on tropical fish, notice the size of a tiger’s paw, and the droopy lips of a camel. You’ll return more attuned to animal variations and personalities. Henri Rousseau studied animals at the Paris zoo for his famous tiger paintings.
  2. Give your eyes and brain a break and go for a walk to look at the constantly changing clouds. You’ll return refreshed and with a heightened sense of how to show, not tell, about shape and movement. John Constable, a landscape artist, used to go “skying” to sketch clouds.

3. Step into a garden and choose one flower to study. Look how the colors change from sunlight to shade. You’ll begin to notice nuances of color everywhere. The children’s author, Madeleine L’Engle, called this “being time,” and said looking and thinking was never wasted time, because we are touching God.

Most of all, “looking time” helps you see that every creature, cloud, and flower is crammed with heaven, and seeing, you’ll want to take off your shoes to discover more and wake up your own creative talents to help your readers see it, too.

Look for me each 4th Monday to discover new paths to creativity. On February 28th you’ll learn simple techniques everyone can use to engage your brain to keep looking and discovering.

In other posts we’ll explore what it means to be a Christian working in a creative field, as well as how to maintain our creativity.

Kathy O’Neill is an art teacher who loves to show everyone they can draw. Visit her website http://www.kathy-oneill.com/ to discover more about her writing and workshops, and her blog https://kathythepicturelady.wordpress.com/ for a Christian view of great art and related projects and devotions for children. Kathy’s goal is to engage children’s and adult’s hearts, hands and minds to discover God and their own creativity through art, history, and nature.


7 thoughts on “Look, Discover, Create

  1. I love creating pictures. Your words are spot on. Looking forward to reading more here and visiting your personal sites.

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