Two Tips For Knowing What To Paint From Memory

Well, I thought that I’d talk about painting from memory again today. Although I won’t be talking about how to memorise things you see here (you can find tips for how to do that in the second half of this article), I’ll be talking about how to choose what to memorise.

Because, well, you’re probably only going to be able to memorise 1-2 scenes at a time. So, choosing the right one matters.

1) Know yourself: understand your own artistic sensibilities (eg: what your art style is focused on, what interests you visually etc..). This is important because it will help you to spot interesting things that you will enjoy turning into paintings.

For example, my own art style tends to focus a lot on light, colour and shadow. So, during a short car journey the night before I originally prepared this article, I happened to look at the passenger wing mirror and notice that the lights at the back of the car had bathed a nearby wall in red light.

But, whilst everything in the wing mirror was various shades of dark red, everything outside the window was illuminated by a white/blue light that was nearby. The contrast in both lighting and colours seemed like exactly my type of thing.

So, I made a stylised memory painting the next day, based on a quick sketch from memory I’d made shortly after the journey. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th August.

So, if you know what qualities you focus on a lot in your art, then this will help you work out what to memorise. Once you know what really interests you visually, you can focus your attention on looking for things that fit into this quality. This will result in more interesting memory paintings. Plus, it also helps with memorisation too because you’ll be memorising things that look dramatic or interesting to you.

2) Follow your intuition: If one particular scene seems more memorable than the others, then paint that one. Even if it doesn’t look as complex or interesting as the other things that you’ve seen, then paint it nonetheless. Why? Because it will not only be the clearest memory, but because it’s probably memorable for a reason.

For example, the car journey I mentioned earlier also included some really beautiful-looking views of streets at night, elaborate Christmas lights and even a brief glimpse of a distant town at night. It really was a wonderful visual feast. Yet, the image that really stuck in my mind was a quick glance at the wing mirror when the car was starting.

Why? Who knows. But, if I had to guess, then I’d say that it was because the composition and colours were the most striking and memorable. Although I saw a lot of other beautiful scenes during the journey, this one was – by far – the most unique. It almost looked like it could be a frame from a film or something like that.

So, if one scene seems more memorable than the others that you’ve seen, then there’s usually a good reason for this. Maybe it’s easier to paint? Maybe it looks more unique? Maybe it allows you to include visual storytelling? Who knows? But, there’s usually a good reason.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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