Sketch notes: Margaret Livingstone at NYU

Margaret Livingstone spoke at NYU on the subject of “What Art Can Tell Us About the Brain” on Tuesday, and I filled this page before she even got to the Q&A. I’d been curious to see her speak because of my interest in perception and how she relates it to art, and the talk was very spirited. She explained different aspects of perception with a series of optical illusions, including her insights on the Mona Lisa’s smile which I’d seen and found fascinating.

A couple of the biggest takeaways from this were:

  • our visual processing “normalizes” the visual information we get, and artists know + play with this, which explains why a painting of a scene will regularly be different from a photograph of a similar scene.
  • many visual processing quirks stem from the fact that there are two processing streams when parsing an image, and one is colorblind (the older system). This explains the “shimmery” effect we get from colors that have color contrast but no luminance contrast, for example.
  • From the overflow to these notes: on the impact of diorama-type work, she said “Maybe by making something the wrong size, artists get you to process it with a different part of your brain”, referencing things like how we don’t really process an image of a face if it’s upside down. This is food for thought for me as I continue to work with, and be interested, in representations of space at small scales.

Sketches from Paris

I was recently in Paris for two weeks and made a lot of time to draw.
Some of my favorites:

Along the Canal St Martin

Out the window of a bistro in Montmartre

The historic yet unassuming Lapin Agile in Montmartre

Steps near Sacre Coeur. There are tons of steps to get up and down from Montmartre.

Sketches and painting of a window. The architecture is lovely and picturesque but surprisingly complicated to draw. Mostly I needed preparation to deal with the perspective due to looking from the ground, and a variety of grey-yellows to model the details with any depth.

Aperol spritz! With record high temperatures, these were a big feature during the trip.

Tiny sketch from a picnic when I learned to combine Schweppes Agrum’ soda (mixed citrus) with red wine for a sort of super-simple sangria

Canal boat navigating the locks on Canal St Martin

Window in the Latin Quarter

Doughnut peaches for breakfast

Rooftops drawn while taking a break from the heat

Antique chair

The cluttered interior of a lovely cafe where I had a little longer to draw


August Travel: ICELAND

My last trip of the summer was definitely the biggest—I went to Iceland with a group of eight friends, staying in AirBnBs in Reykjavik and the Golden Circle and seeing all sorts of things. It is quite an otherworldly environment. I’ve finally gone through my photos and posted some favorites to Flickr. It was really tough to narrow them down since basically anything you can photograph in Iceland looks fantastic!

From Flickr (click to see all 200+ photos):


And some sketches from Instagram:

IMG_5506 IMG_5531 IMG_5562

CSArt Project Process

This year I’m participating in the CSArt program by Cambridge Center for Adult Education (, which is inspired by Community Supported Agriculture (or farmshares), but for art. For my run of 50 artworks I’m making small individual maps around ink, with roads that run through the series. Here’s what the project looks like so far:


Painting and sketching from life

I recently rediscovered my travel watercolor set and have been having fun figuring out techniques to quickly capture my environment on paper. A couple sketches from New York:




I tended to get pretty detailed with these still, so I tried painting by putting down wash for the main areas and filling in some details:


When it works it works, but when it doesn’t work it’s pretty disheartening.

Last weekend I was in Providence and stopped by the RISD store, where I found a perfect travel painting set—a bound multimedia sketchbook and a case of watercolor crayons, both small enough to fit in a purse. Along with my water brush (which is magical) they make a really ideal travel set. I did a number of little paintings there:





The paper is a little harder to work on than watercolor paper (you can’t really wet an area multiple times) but it’s actually nicer to draw on, and I don’t get as precious with it, which is the goal. I’ve got some more travel lined up this summer and I’m excited to see what I make with this set!



Tentacle map!

I recently participated in a Secret Santa swap (yes, way after Christmas because everyone’s busy during that time!) of DIY items. It took me a long time to figure out what to make, but I knew the recipient had some interest in cephalopod themes and decided to attempt a tentacle map. I wasn’t sure it would work, but I would try.

I hadn’t really drawn tentacles going in, so the first thing I did was a quick Google image search to remind myself what they really look like, and see how other artists translated them into drawings. I did some sketches:


I liked the format of the design in the middle so I went with that. I sketched it out at 5″x7″:


then started drawing in parts with pen. It was complicated to figure out how much the map should be the background texture and how much it should curve around the figure. I wanted the tentacles to be apparent but not glaring.

tentacles03 tentacles04 tentacles05

Then I colored it in with very diluted acrylic (I usually use watercolor but I had none on hand)


I think it came out okay! The colors could be more different, and the design could be even more graphic, but overall it seems to work.