If you forget to take a sketchbook, a digital camera and/or one of those newfangled smartphones with you when you go out- then you’re probably going to have to draw or paint anything interesting that you see from memory.
Whilst I’ve only done this a few times before, I thought that I’d offer you a few pointers about how to do it.
Before I go any further, I should point out that this article will be divided into two sections. This is because painting or drawing something from your distant memories and intentionally memorising something you see (in order to paint or draw it later) are two completely different things and they require totally different skills.
So, without any further ado, let’s begin.
1) Distant memory: One of the first things to be aware of if you’re drawing or painting something that you remember from several months or years ago is that our memories are inherently unreliable and they fade over time.
So, if you want a completely accurate and highly-detailed picture of something you saw a long time ago, then you’re probably better off looking for pictures of it on the internet rather than drawing or painting it.
When you’re painting from distant memory, the important thing is to make sure that you get across the general impression of whatever you’re trying to paint. Don’t worry about getting every small detail right. In fact, don’t worry about even getting the large details right – just paint something that reminds you of your memory and is as close to it as you can possibly get.
For example, here is a painting of a room I haven’t seen in about 8-10 years. If you saw the actual room, it might look at bit like this – but there are probably numerous differences:
If you really can’t remember a crucial part of the picture, then just make it up. Whilst some people might criticise your picture as being “inaccurate” – most people won’t have the same memories as you do, so they probably won’t even notice.
Not only that, people expect artists to add a certain amount of their own imagination to their works. As I said earlier, if people want a completely accurate image of something, then they’ll look for a photograph instead.
2) Memorising something you see: If you see a beautiful view, an interesting person or just something unusual and you don’t have any way to record what you see, then you’re going to have to memorise it.
This is a skill that will probably be intuitive to you if you’ve been drawing or painting for a while, but I’ll explain how to do it (with a couple of examples) in case you don’t know already. Just don’t be surprised if people start asking you if you have a photographic memory whenever you use this skill….
The very first thing to do when you see something that you want to memorise is to imagine it as a still image. A good way to do this is to imagine that your eyes are video cameras and you are taking a still frame from the footage that they are recording. Now, all you have to do is to memorise the positions, colours and outlines of the key parts of this still frame.
Don’t worry about memorising every tiny detail, just memorise the most important parts of the picture. To give you an example, take a look at this HDR photo of the Peel Monument in Manchester, taken by Barry Mangham and released under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence:
So, if you saw this when you were visiting Manchester and you didn’t have a camera or a sketchbook, you should first try to memorise something which looks like this:
After you’ve firmly memorised the outlines of everything, then try looking carefully at both a few medium-sized details and the approximate colours of the important parts of picture until you’ve memorised something that looks a bit like this:
After you’ve memorised this, then try to get a pen and paper as soon as you can so that you can sketch it out (and write down which colours to use) before you forget it. When it comes to painting or drawing the final picture, you can use this sketch as a reference.
However, you will probably have to use your own imagination when it comes to filling out the small details of your picture – but, as I said earlier, people don’t usually expect paintings or drawings to be 100% accurate anyway.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂