I’m working on a painting right now from a photograph that I took many years ago. As I’m working on it the reality illusion (that’s my name for it) suddenly kicked in and the painting began to approach how I see reality. At least certain parts of it did. Often, I don’t know why a painting starts to do this but this time I have a clear recollection of what started the illusion.
The painting is of the edge of Burnaby Lake with grass growing at the side of the lake. I’ve always liked this photograph because of the back-lit grass at the edge of the lake. The duck on landing approach is an add-on that the image needed, it took me years to decide what the photo lacked. The painting was looking good but no reality illusion showed up, until I painted some shadows on some of the grass created by grass behind. Suddenly, even though some of the grass was still very impressionistic, the grass started to appear real and jump off the painting surface which is part of the reality illusion.
The illusion doesn’t always appear with every painting, and when it does, I rarely know what precipitates it. I’m reminded of a science fiction novel where two characters are looking up at a bridge with holes in the bridge deck; sometimes people are aware that there are more holes than can initially be seen but it’s only when they start moving that they become aware that the holes form a pattern. I think the reality illusion is like the pattern; but you don’t need to move to imagine it.
Most people envision the grass as having a single colour or perhaps a mottled appearance. An artist knows that there are many colours, and the grass exists in three dimensions where grass can cast shadows on other grass either in front of or behind. I think an artist trains him or herself, or is trained by others, to see these shadows and realise how they are formed. More than that I believe everyone has this ability, an artist is simply trained to see them.
Creative thought is often described as thinking ‘outside the box’, whatever the box might be. I believe that thinking ‘outside the box’ is creative thinking and is similar to seeing the bridge holes as a pattern rather than just holes, and I believe that everyone has this ability.