Where the Art is: Finding Imagery for Collage and More

Several years ago I interviewed an artist who had trained and earned a certificate in creative embroidery. Her coursework had trained her to see patterns, “And once you start to notice patterns, you see them everywhere,” she said.

collage art in progress by jane davenport
After creating a collage background, Jane Davenport
“finds” imagery within the patterns.

When I heard that, I was intrigued, but I thought I would have to take a course to learn how to notice patterns. In reality, simply by being aware of patterns made me start to notice them. (Exposure to high-quality fiber and collage art helped, too.) Now, it’s hard for me to pass an interesting wall of bricks, tree bark, drips on a poorly painted wall, rows of cemetery stones, etc. without whipping out my phone and snapping a picture.

The point is, you can train your eye to see like an artist (or improve your artistic vision). And the more you see what most people don’t notice at all, the more you will be able to develop your own artistic vision.

Here are a few exercises to help you exercise your creative eye:

1. Draw an object in a realistic way. Artist Jane LaFazio says the secret to drawing is to really see the object and then draw what you see. Don’t assume you know! Sit down with a simple shape like a coffee cup or an apple and start noticing. Is the handle of the mug round or does it taper? Does the stem of the apple stick straight up or does it lean in one direction? Keep seeing and drawing; you may be surprised at what you discover.

2. Photograph patterns. An old brick wall is a great place to start. Print the image out in grayscale and see how many patterns within the pattern you can find. Trace the mortar lines to see what shapes you can find. Are there lines on the bricks themselves? How might you use these lines and shapes in your artwork?


exercise for positive and negative shapes
With opposite positive and negative shapes
highlighted, the same image can look very different.

3. Accentuate the negative.

Take a piece of paper and randomly draw connected lines on it. Photocopy the paper and then with a set of drawing pencils or crayons, color in what you perceive as the negative shapes on one of the pictures. On the other picture, fill in the opposite shapes. See how your perception of the drawing changes.

Another helpful exercise for sharpening your artistic sight is one Jane Davenport explores in Looking for Drama, The Serendipitous Artist! In this download, Vol. 8 of our Art Lessons Collage & Paint series, she shows you how to create collaged journal pages, then find pictures within the patterns, much like you might find dramatic imagery in cloud formations.

Now, spend the day looking for pictures and patterns in your everyday life. Snap a picture or draw in your sketchbook and you may be surprised at what there is to see.

P.S. How do you practice “seeing” with your artist’s eye? Leave a comment below.


Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques


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