Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sharpening Your Mind’s Eye – Memory Drawing

Tuesday Tips and Tricks

A photo flip sketch done after studying the photo for about 10 seconds.

Let’s face it almost all drawing is, in a way, memory drawing. Whether it’s a past vacation vista or the second it takes to look from your subject to your paper, it’s your mind’s eye holding the image for you to draw. The trick is to develop that eye to keep the image true while you transfer it to the paper. The tip is to do memory exercises – the sharpen your memory the better your drawing.

Here are a few games to get you started.

1. The Photo Flip 
You can use a photograph or an image from a magazine or newspaper. Choose something in the photo that attracts you. Study and simplify your chosen image carefully but quickly, twenty seconds tops.  Now, flip the photo over and draw what you remember. Try it again with the same photo, this time study it for ten seconds. How much more did you remember?

One of my favorite books on drawing is The Natural Way to Draw: A Working Plan for Art Study by Kimon Nicolaides (1891-1938) and one of my favorite quotes from the book is:
"Try not to remember merely the position of the model, just as when you memorize a poem you are not just trying to memorize just the shapes of the letters."

2. Quick Sips
Go to a cafe. Choose someone to draw. Observe them carefully. You won’t be able to control the amount of time you have since they will move. You can count on that! Now draw what you remember. Wait a bit and you’ll find they’ll return to the same pose again and again. Draw them again. And again. How do your sketches compare? While your waiting for them to return to the same pose choose another subject and use the same techniques.

Not done in a cafe but in a park watching my granddaughter play.

3. Red Light Green Light
When you’re a passenger in a car and the car stops for a red light observe what you see out the window. When the light turns green sketch what you saw. (Sometimes as a variation I may just see how long I can hold the afterimage in my mind. Of course this can be done anytime.)

4. No Erasers Allowed 
Rather than do a new sketch for each observation in these exercises try them by drawing over/correcting your original sketch.

Another quote from Nicolaides
“Memory drawing is a little like touch typing. If you try consciously to think of where the letters are you are likely to become confused, but if you rely on your sense of touch you can become very accurate.”

Powerful observational skills and a strong visual memory are a tremendous skills for an Urban Sketcher who shares a view of a fast moving world. Practicing observation and memory skills will improve your on location sketching. 

I call this a memory doodle, done totally from a memory of Casa Batillo in Barcelona.


  1. Perfect! This would be a great Workshop Topic! . . . jus' sayin'

    1. Thank you, Peggy and Mary. I'm glad you found it helpful. I'll bring your suggestion to the Seminar Planning Committee.

  2. Replies
    1. Hi Jeanette! Good to see you here! I'm glad you liked the post.

    2. As a relatively new sketchbook artist, I really look forward to Tuesday Tips. Thanks so much!

    3. I'm so glad you find our TTT helpful! See you next Tuesday!

  3. Barbara, what I find so interesting and valuable about this week's post is that with Urban Sketching I often feel locked into compliance to the manifesto (which states that I have to draw from observation and on location). What your post allows me to do is be open to the prospect of observing something in person and capturing it later when the opportunity is perhaps more convenient or more appropriate. I often see little vignettes while driving in my car and think "that would be an awesome sketch" but I do not have the chance to sketch or even snap a reference photo while in the act of driving. But sketching from memory not only allows me to synthesize what I saw but also boil the scene down to its essence. Well done and thank you.

    1. Thanks, Wes, for you thoughtful comment. I think we all lock our selves in at times! There are so many skills to develop outside the manifesto guidelines that have a direct positive impact on our Urban Sketching that I find it important to include some of them here at TTT.


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