March 2023

The Art of Seeing Art

“One looks, looks long, and the world comes in”

- Joseph Campbell

“People only see what they are prepared to see”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you stand before a painting in an art gallery or museum what goes through your mind? Do you start examining the wall label hoping to make sense of the image before you? Do you follow a guide or a recorded tour in hopes of understanding what you are supposed to see or understand? Do you judge the painting on its likeability? Do you walk past everything you don’t recognize already?

Did you know that the average museum visitor spends seventeen seconds viewing each work of art? Throngs of people line up inside the Louvre to snap cell phone photos of the Mona Lisa who smiles blissfully unperturbed behind bulletproof glass at the crowds as they briefly glance her way. Of Da Vinci’s seven known paintings three hang inside the Louvre. Two incredibly beautiful Da Vinci artworks hang in relative repose just steps away from the Mona Lisa ignored by the hordes. 

The Mona Lisa seen through a camera lens is not the same as a close, careful observation of the work itself. Each artwork you see hanging on a museum or gallery wall is the result of hundreds of choices and decisions, the moves the artist made and did not make when faced with the blank canvas. Whatever its subject, whatever its style, the artist spent many, many hours gazing at this image and preparing it to meet you.  

Every work of art gives concrete expression to a whole series of perceptions and memories that belong to both the artist and the viewer. The work may be new to us but it never stands alone. To give that canvas our attention is to give ourselves an opportunity to discover the power and relevance of our own perception. 

What you see first, what you interpret from the relationships of shape, color, and character will be different from every other person who stands before it. Through detached noticing, awareness allows the observed object to reveal more of itself without our intervention. Learning to pay close attention to a work of art has the potential to change not only the way you visit a museum or a gallery but also the way you live your life.

"Cafe de la Nuit" Vincent Van Gogh

Goethe says “The hardest thing to see is that which is before our eyes”. Seeing clearly is no easy trick. 

What stands between us and seeing clearly are distractions, mindsets (distortions, received ideas, prejudices, and preconceptions), and mental fabrications our mind makes up for us.

Most of us go through our lives without really looking at what is there, around us. Instead, we choose to see through the smoked glass of ignorance, presumption, or delusion. We end up being fooled by what we imagine we see rather than what is really there. 

Humans are bombarded with stimuli, both externally in the form of sights, sounds, and other sensory information and internally in the form of thoughts, emotions, and memories. Our brain automatically filters our surroundings and our internal state and allows only a small percentage of available information to pass through to protect us from an information overload that would otherwise paralyze us.   

What this means is that we don’t “see with our eyes” we see with our brain. Visual processing begins in the retina, a part of the eye that is also a part of the brain. What we see engages a full 25% of our brain and over 65% of all our brain pathways - more than any of our other senses. 

By throttling down to the minimum amount of information in our chaotic world we are able to carry on conversations in crowded restaurants or drive a car while helping our children recite their multiplication facts, or play a sport in front of a screaming crowd. We grow accustomed to the brain’s fast, general interpretations and categorizations of our surroundings even when doing so means we focus on some things at the expense of others.

Because we are not mindful, we end up focusing on our filtered perceptions rather than the object of our scrutiny. Instead of seeing the painting on the wall in front of me, I see my prejudice about abstract painting, or I see my anger and disappointment about a recent personal betrayal reflected in the two figures looking out of the frame.

Or maybe I see only my judgment of the work - “A child could have painted that” or, “I don’t like religious paintings”. By paying attention to our subconscious pitfalls, and our perceptual filters, we can bring them into consciousness and become aware of how our own souls are reflected in the image before us.  

Biologically we can rewire our brains to see better and include more information. Leonardo da Vinci attributed all of his scientific and artistic accomplishments to saper vedere “knowing how to see”. Seeing is a skill that can be learned like playing the piano, speaking French, or playing good tennis. To see in this way requires slowing down, engaging our curiosity and staying fully present in the moment.

Rushing leads to mistakes and mistakes slow you down far more than slowing down does. Details, patterns, and relationships take time to register. Nuances and new information can be missed when we rush past them. Slowing down doesn’t mean being slow, it just means taking enough time to absorb what we are seeing fully.

"Exploring the River of the Source of the Orinoco" Remedios Vara

The power of observation can be developed by simply opening our eyes, turning on our brains, tuning in, and paying attention. In life, the scene in front of us constantly changes and re-organizes itself. Four people at an accident scene often report markedly different versions of the same event. The unchanging nature of a painting allows those four viewers to discuss, review and reach an agreement on their experience.

Looking at art can be mind-opening in ways you might never have considered before. Do you know that detectives, doctors, writers and others who need to enhance their perception of detail use slow looking at art to pierce the veil of bias and judgment that clouds their first impressions? A two-year study published in the Journal of the AMA found that medical students who studied artwork improved their diagnostic skills considerably but that their observational skills, specifically their detection of details also increased by 10%. 

A painting sits unchanged in quiet solitude waiting for the viewer ready to come before it. Secrets and stories hidden inside its four corners wait to reveal themselves to a viewer ready to show up open, aware, and prepared to listen. The more we observe art specifically for the details, the more we will see them. Art permits us to take all the time we need and return to it again and again to look some more. 

"Nighthawks" Edward Hopper

Above is a famous painting by Edward Hopper called "Nighthawks". You may have seen it 10 or 100 times in your lifetime, but you probably never stopped to really look at it carefully. Where do you think this scene takes place? It looks like it might be taken from a film noir detective story. What time of day is it? The streets are dark and the only light comes from inside the bar. What are the relationships of the four people in the painting? Is it a coffee shop, a restaurant, or a bar? Is this picture inviting you in?

The man and woman might be touching hands, but they aren’t. The waiter and smoking man might be conversing, but they’re not. The couple might strike up a conversation with the man facing them, but somehow, we know they won’t. And then we realize that Hopper has placed us, the viewer, on the city street, with no door to enter the diner, and yet in a position to evaluate each of the people inside. We see the row of empty counter stools nearest us. We notice that no one is making eye contact with anyone else. Up close, the waiter’s face appears to have an expression of horror or pain.

Are there other details you notice? What other questions arise for you?

Kehinde Wiley

When you are ready to practice observing a work of art, select a museum or gallery and a painting for your extended art experience. Take yourself on an artist date, by yourself or with a friend who will enjoy a leisurely day looking at just a few pieces for a longer period of time. You might even try this with a work of art in your own home.

Select an artwork with enough detail to keep you engaged. Your artwork can be from any time period and any genre. Bring a journal for taking notes. Find a comfortable spot where you can sit undisturbed as you observe your selected painting. Most museums have benches in the galleries for just this purpose. 

"Self Portrait" Andy Warhol


Scan the whole surface of the painting, working methodically, and rhythmically from side to side and top to bottom. No judgments, no evaluations, no search for meaning. Just looking. Do nothing but look at the painting with painstaking concentration developing a sense of increased awareness along the way.  

As soon as you label any aspect of the painting you are no longer noticing, you are studying it. You want to form a connection with the painting first, live the experience and only afterward attempt to understand it.

Take a mental snapshot. Try to get the whole image in focus and then press the button. Close your eyes and consult with the mind’s eye to see how effectively it recalls the recorded information. After a minute or so, open your eyes to compare your mind’s eye image with the real thing.

You will probably notice that your mind registered very little at first glance.  

"The Consequences of War" Peter Paul Rubens

Next, choose a corner and then follow a three-inch perimeter around the entire painting, making the trip as slow and thorough as possible, so that no single detail is skipped along the way. When you return to your corner, turn around and make a second tour in the opposite direction. You can go around a third time if you desire. 

Next, locate the center of interest in the painting. It is usually not in the physical center of the work and can usually be recognized because it has the most detail and the most contrast of value, shape, and color. Look at one area of interest at a time in the painting. Closely examine the details and relationships of shape, color, and movement.

Allow your focus to zoom out all the way back to the edges until the entire surface is again in focus. See if you notice a physical sensation or a strong emotion.


Take a break. Close your eyes and pause for a few moments. Pay attention to what is happening at your heart and gut level, and what thoughts, judgments, and emotions might be arising. It could be as simple as “I’m bored” to a welling up of grief or sadness.

Return to the painting and find a new unexplored area to review and record in your mind’s eye. You should have a growing resource of remembered detail. Continue alternating exploration with breaks for recreating the art in your mind’s eye.

Once you have observed the painting for a while and you feel like you have the image captured in your mind you are ready to go deeper.  

"Destroy Capitalism" by Banksy

Assess, Analyze, Articulate, Ask and Adapt:

Assess: Begin by collecting the facts; who, what, when, and where.  

What do you think is going on in the painting? What relationships do you see - between people and objects? What questions does the painting elicit? 

There is a clear distinction between passive sight and active assessment. Observation is a study of facts. Knowing we have perceptual filters that can color or cloud what we see means it will take time to cull the actual facts from our observations. Which is a fact and which is a judgment from these statements below? There are nine people in this painting. The tall man is wearing a pony tail. The two people standing close together are married. (see painting above)

Analyze: Pay attention to your perceptual filters. Are you seeing relationships or emotions in the artwork that are not explicitly stated? 

Change perspective physically and mentally, reorient to better see the small details and the big picture. Ask yourself, what am I tuning out? What might I be taking for granted? What would a foreigner or alien coming into my world not know? Would the scene above make sense to them?

Much of the interaction by the artist with the work in the studio is time spent sitting and gazing at/contemplating the image he/she is creating. How much time do you think the artist spent gazing as the work progressed? What judgments, choices, and decisions might they have followed?  

If you are a painter yourself you might want to consider “how” the artist created the work. What processes, tools, and techniques were employed? Is the artist particularly skillful in your opinion? Can you tell which materials were used and how they were applied?  

"Castle and Sun" by Paul Klee

Articulate: Writing about art is a great way to develop your descriptive powers and spelling out your observations will help you to notice if there is something you overlooked in the painting. Make notes in your journal to describe what you see and do not see in this artwork. What words would you use to describe and explain it to someone else? Note anything conspicuously absent that should be there to give an even more precise description of what you perceive. 

One of the intriguing things about a painting is the paradox between its literal silence as a purely visual object and its implication of sound. What sort of music would you like to be listening to as you gaze on the painting? It is unmoving and yet agitated movement is sometimes suggested. Can you articulate how the painting makes you feel, smell, hear? 

Continue taking breaks to envision the work every few minutes

Each time you return to the painting, notice if there is anything new to surprise you. Regardless of how slowly and carefully you look there is always some undiscovered detail to call out to you.

Ask: Many people feel asking for assistance will make them seem incompetent but the opposite is true. People have probably approached you as you sat. Ask them to share what they notice and perceive in your chosen artwork. 

Ask Google about the story of this painting and the artist who created it to give it more context in terms of history and the movements and discoveries being made in the art world at the time of its creation.

Adapt/ Realign: How has your perception of the artwork changed as a result of your extended observation and investigation? How have you changed through this process?  What have you discovered about yourself?

I hope you feel that even if you never see this painting again it is now as alive inside you as it is with the artist who created it.

Because we live in a culture of distraction, extended focus like this can feel very uncomfortable at first. Are you aware that the average person checks their phone 110 times a day and nearly once every 6 seconds in the evening? Our perpetual byte-size interactions are a detriment to our concentration, focus, productivity, and personal safety and they lower our IQ. Students who were distracted while working on complicated math problems took 40% longer to solve them. 

Extended looking at art can train you to be more present and to recognize the ways your mind filters the world around you and inside of you in a way that can keep you trapped inside your prejudices and preconceptions.

Would you enjoy putting this process of extended looking at art into action? Would you find it tiresome or invigorating? Thoroughness and thoughtfulness are not core values for everyone, and if you make them a priority, they can help you stand out from the crowd of people who just don’t bother. Close observation of art is a practice that will help you to build both of these important values.  

Simply knowing how unreliable your first perception is can help alleviate miscommunication and misunderstanding. Recognizing that you can’t always trust what you see can prevent you and me from getting upset with others when they don’t see things the way we do. The fact is they don’t and they can’t. No one can see things like you do except you. There is always more to be discovered and uncovered when you stay curious and engaged.

Pay close attention to everything around you, breathe consciously and do all you can to stay in the present moment. This is what DaVinci meant by “seeing”. Invention is less about creation than it is about discovery. What can you notice that no one else sees? Awareness makes each moment in every area of our lives more creative and meaningful.  

Here are the books I used as resources for this essay. I found them fascinating and you might too.

“Slow Looking” by Peter Clothier

“Visual Intelligence” by Amy E. Herman

“How to Look at a Painting” by Francoise Barbe-Gall

Please reach out to me if you would like my help discovering yourself through art. I welcome the opportunity for conversation, collaboration, and commissions. 

With Light and Delight

Reach Out to Me
Susan Convery
Visit my website
P.S. If you didn't get the chance to download your free gift from me: Here is my "Inner Artist Inspiration Package" - a series of illustrated quotes in watercolor based on flower photos taken by family and friends.
Inner Artist Inspiration Package


Coming up in March

Artist Book Workshop

National League of American Pen Women Folded Art Book Workshop

@ Artserve

March 7 & 14 from 2:00 - 5:00 pm

Join Cindy Jenkins and me for a fun two-day workshop at ArtServe where we will be showing you how to make two different kinds of artists' books. 

Cindy will be showing you how to create a colorful accordion book and I will be demonstrating how to make a book that transforms into a star! 

Sign up with Tammy Seymour at

Sign up Here

Broward Art Guild

3280 NE 32nd St. Ft. Lauderdale 33308

Spring Fling Salon

On Saturday, March 25th I will be judging the Spring Fling Salon for the Broward Art Guild.  I can’t wait to take in all of the beautiful work created for this show. 

I hope you will take the time to stop by and see the work or attend the opening for this show on Saturday, April 1, 2023, 5:30-8:30 pm

Join us to cast a ballot for the People’s Choice award. 

The gallery is open Wed., Fri., Sat., noon–9 pm. Thurs. noon–6 pm

Miami Watercolor Society

Susan Convery

Demonstrating Artist

Sunday, April, 2, 2023 1:00 - 3:30 pm

Presentation Topic: Wave Your Magic Wand

In your hand, you hold a magic wand.  You may know it as a pencil, a pen, a  paintbrush, or a stylus, but it is an instrument of magic.  You can conjure anything your imagination can hold and bring it into reality on a piece of paper or canvas where others can appreciate it too.  The world contained within the 4 sides of the canvas or paper is waiting for you to create it, for you to build it out of your unique experiences, tastes, and perceptions.  Allow me to spend an hour demonstrating my personal process for incorporating magic into my art. I will cover the shapes, colors, and textures associated with magic and some ideas to stimulate your own imagination.  

This Happened in February

Botanical Gelatin Plate Printing Workshop

Saturday, February 11, 2023

2 pm to 5 pm

at my home in Plantation, FL

Using leaves and flowers from our gardens as well as other materials the four participants in this workshop experimented with mono-printing on a gelatin plate. There was time for each person to create between 10 and 20 images, enjoy homemade cookies and Yogi tea, and laugh and talk about all sorts of things. The three hours flew by and look at the art we made! I can’t wait to see how these amazing artists develop these great starts! 


“Yesterday I had the great pleasure of taking a gelatin plate workshop in Susan’s bright and cheerful studio. The gathering of materials botanical and otherwise by Susan gave way to a productive art-inspired afternoon. Her guidance was gentle and our results were blessed”

Pauline Runkle

Cole Wolford Painting Workshop

Cole Wolford Watercolor Workshop

Gold Coast Watercolor Society  

February 22-23, 2023

Gold Coast Watercolor Society hosted Signature Member and Past President Cole Wolford for a two-day workshop on February 22 & 23.   The 14 other participants and I followed Cole’s process of working from a photograph separated into four values and painting each value with a mouth atomizer in a triad of paints that blend into a rainbow of harmonious colors. With each value change a carefully painted layer of masking fluid was added to preserve the previous lighter tones. By the end of the process the entire paper was almost completely covered in masking fluid.  The masking fluid was removed at the end in a surprising and fun great reveal.   Cole’s original inspiration for this process came to him from the stencil art he saw when he was living in Germany. 

Susan's Interview on MVTV

The Vineyard View features short interviews with local personalities digging deeper into the rich cultural heritage of Martha’s Vineyard. My interview with Ann Bassett was filmed last September while my art was on display at the Old Sculpin Gallery on Dock Street in Edgartown and the video was just released in January of 2023.

Here is the link:

Watch the Vineyard View Interview with Susan 

2023 Portugal Retreat


Burgau Beach Hotel

Western Algarve

June 17 - 25, 2023

My Portugal Women’s Art Retreat is Here! 

Save the dates of June 17 - 25, 2023 when I will be bringing you to the town of Burgau in the Portuguese Algarve. 

Burgau is a small fishing village on a pristine beach near the Costa Vicentina National Park. 

The Western Coast is considered to be the least spoiled, least touristy and most scenic part of the Algarve. It’s made up of rugged cliffs, a national park, and numerous small, often empty, and incredibly beautiful beaches. 

From our comfortable base in Burgau we will explore nearby villages, the caves and cliffs as well as a famous pottery studio.

There will be daily painting time, optional early morning yoga and meditation as well as delicious food, great company and conversation.

Please let me know if you would like to attend as spots are limited.

All the details!
Hold a Spot for Me!

Prices have been confirmed and I am thrilled to be able to offer you a new reduced price of just $4,500!

Hotel, transportation, most meals, events, and adventures are included.

Painting Joy

Created especially for artistic women in the third stage of life who are dissatisfied with their artwork and want to have more fun connecting with themselves and others. In this three-day watercolor workshop, we experiment with visual cues that inspire joy, discover personal symbols that resonate, and provide clues for ways to bring more effervescence into our life and art.

Please recommend any venues you know that might be interested in hosting this workshop in 2023 or 2024.

I would very much appreciate your help in getting the next booking.

Reach Out to Me

Private Art Retreats

Private Art Retreats

A personalized experience, full of art and discovery, for those who….

  • are traveling alone, or with a couple of friends
  • would like a much more flexible, and free experience, and lots of fun, too, tailored exactly to your needs, interests, and experience level
  • may want to combine painting with organized discovery trips and tours and really get to know the ‘real’ South Florida
  • would like to book in for a shorter or longer time than most workshops
  • don’t want to have to bring a mountain of supplies in their luggage

Private Art Retreats

Private Lessons and Events

Master Classes for High School Students
Private, highly personalized classes in mastery for artistically-minded US & international students virtually on Zoom or in person at my home.

If you have a student who is a visual thinker, willing to push the boundaries of their own work, and serious about improving their options for college, I want to hear from you! Schedule a time to discuss how I can collaborate with you to build a portfolio that will give your student the greatest chance for success.

Art Workshops, Critiques & Presentations
Invite me to present or lead a workshop for your school, club, or guild.

I can customize a program for your event or present my skills programs on composition, color theory, drawing faces, coordinating light/shadow or understanding the cues for depth. I am available for judging, confidence-building critiques and recorded tutorials.
Improve Your Artist Statement
If you would like to delve more deeply into your own inner questions and clarify your thoughts as you create an artist statement for your website, a gallery show, a sponsor, or another project, please reach out, and let’s talk. I have helped many students write compelling statements for AP Art, college applications, and competitions.

Sketchbook Prompt:

Find a famous painting or drawing to copy in your sketchbook.  If drawing is not a strength, trace the painting slowly and mindfully observing closely the details, the textures, and the brushstrokes.  

Careful observation is something you can practice daily. If you do not choose to copy an artwork, select an item with a lot of detail and really study it for one full minute.  Then put it away or cover it up and draw as many details - shapes, words, colors, measurements, and textures as you can.  Retrieve the object and try again this time looking for two full minutes. 

Available Paintings

Please contact me if you are interested in adding any of the paintings below to your collection.

I will deliver if you live within a 2-hour drive and if you live further away, I will give you a reasonable price for shipping.

Venmo, CashApp, PayPal and Zelle are welcomed.

Title: Peony Plenty

Media: Watercolor on Arches

Size: 11" x 15" Unframed, 16" x 20" framed

Price: $350.00

Frame: Gold Frame with a 2" mat

This painting is an example of the joyful aesthetics of "abundance" and "renewal". Peonies are a favorite flower of mine and they are in a gorgeous brass vase which I painted with iridescent watercolor..

Title: Harbinger of Spring (study)

Media: Watercolor on Arches

Size: 11" x 15" unframed, 16"x 20" framed


Frame: Gold frame with 2" Mat

This painting is a study for a larger painting that isn't finished yet depicting a magical deer bringing spring flowers and a flock of scarlet tanagers out of the winter forest into spring on his amazing antlers.

Title: Bluebird

Media: Mixed Media Monoprint

Size: 11" x 14" unframed, 16" x 20" framed


Frame: Gold frame with 2" mat

A beautiful bluebird flies through an imaginary garden of printed blue begonia leaves

Title: Enigma

Media: Mixed Media

Size: 22" x 22" 

Price: $550

Frame: Gallery Wrapped Canvas Gold Edge

This painting revealed an inner presence to me when I was trying to create an abstract painting featuring veiling and texture.

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