Fresh air and exercise are great for waking your senses up if you’re feeling sluggish and demotivated. Stephen King and Julia Cameron, to name just two, take long walks almost every day. The rhythm of exercise helps the subconscious to play around with ideas, particularly any aspects that don’t seem to be coming through to you.
You can get even more benefit out of a walk, run, or cycle by adding this simple observation and memory exercise.
Visual artists and writers in particular use description often, and developing an eye for detail helps to make an artwork even richer. It’s not always possible to write down or sketch the details of something that catches your eye, and that is where good observation and memory skills can serve you well.
How to Develop Observation Skills
Decide beforehand on a time – say twenty minutes, or if you prefer not to use a watch or timer, count to twenty after passing the first block/fire hydrant/other walker. This is so that the place you stop at is as random as possible.
Now set out on your walk or ride. At your chosen time, stop and look around you. Choose a point or scene close by that interests you. Give yourself several minutes to study the scene and observe particular details.
Continue your walk, letting the details of your scene mull in the back of your mind. (Do pay attention to where you’re going, I don’t want anyone being hit by a car!)
When you return home, take ten to twenty minutes to write a detailed description or make a detailed sketch of the scene you observed. This is only an exercise, so spend as much or as little time on it as you prefer. If you feel you have something you want to use, keep going.
You may want to take your sketch or description back out to the place of your scene. How good was your memory?
Alternatively, return to the same scene the following day and repeat the exercise. Did you remember more than the first day? Did you choose to focus on elements that you didn’t have time to observe the first day? Did your perception of the scene change?
You may prefer to focus on different scenes each day to stretch your descriptive skills. Practice by varying the time you allow yourself to observe. How much can you observe in just a few moments? What new details do you see when you have more time? Try to look for those smaller elements in a shorter time.
As your observation skills develop, add in more scenes in a single trip. How much of each scene can you remember well? Are you able to keep the scenes separate? Are you able to use elements of the different scenes together in the same artwork?
This article was first published on BellaOnline in January 2006. © Elsa Neal