Illustration by Ryan Garcia


How to See Like an Artist

Challenge yourself to sit and look at one thing for 10 full minutes

By Scott Rollans, 'BA, 'MA

December 10, 2018 •

When Erin Ross, '06 BFA, was a toddler, her parents noticed she had a peculiar fascination with shadows - the lack of an object, rather than the object itself. Since then, Ross has cultivated a distinctive skill for attentively observing the visual world around her. She's now an accomplished painter and drawer best known for her vivid, innovative prairie landscapes. Recently, she sat down over coffee to share some secrets to developing that distinctive artist's eye.

Slow down

We tend to move through the world with blinders on. We're not even activating our peripheral vision. There's beauty all over the place. Allow yourself to slow down and absorb it. It's meditative. Just observe the world without interruption.

Take the time to really look

Challenge yourself to sit and look at something for 10 minutes. Pick an object and fully observe it. Figure it out. Like a tree, for example. Look at the structure. Look at the way the leaves are growing out of it. Look at the shadows and the shifting light.


A lot of people say this, but unplug. Get off your phone. "That's not to say I'm not on my own phone," says Ross. "I'm very active on social media and my phone is a huge part of my life. But I absolutely have the capacity to put it down."

Pull over and take a picture

"If I wasn't focused and aware and absorbing my surroundings, I would have no reference material," Ross explains. "When I'm driving and I see something really beautiful, I'll pull off the highway - routinely. That's how I get all my source material. I drive the highways and take photographs."

Be present

Move with intention. Look with intention. See with intention. It's all about being present. Don't be a passive viewer. Be active. Be aware. Be awake.

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