This shot was a happy surprise for someone like me; I am ham-handed with a camera. We have a family joke that goes like this: Did you see the shooting star? No, where? Did you see the fish jump? No, where? And so it goes. Thus catching a seagull poised in the air came as somewhat of a surprise — a thrilling one, because the still point, her gimlet eye, is sharp, fixed on the edible target, while her wings are blurred with strength and purpose. When I painted it this week, I realized that the image simply needed transfer, not adjustment: it had a sharply detailed focal point within softened surroundings. After all, it is the way our own eyes function, isn’t it? Directing the viewer’s eye to the centre of interest is more easily said than done, but half of the fun of painting is problem-solving. And once in a wonderful while, problems solve themselves (unlike the white-water canoeing photo which will need a complete reversal of soft and hard edges when I start it!).
The psychologist William James (Henry James' brother) said something interesting about the whole issue of focus:
"Millions of items of the outward order are present to my sense which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind. Without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground intelligible perspective, in a word. It varies in every creature, but without it the consciousness of every creature would be a gray chaotic indiscriminateness, impossible for us even to conceive."
There. In a rather large nut-shell, that is pretty much what artists do: manipulate selective interest. We hope that the viewer agrees to attend to our choice. Now let's step away from our screens and selectively focus on something we find beautiful. That's it! Ain't consciousness grand!
(As a side-note, Finding Nemo provided the only possible title!)