Archive | October, 2020

Seeing Things or Learning Pareidolia

29 Oct
“Night of the Dog Attack”, watercolor, Katie Turner

As a child, did you ever gaze into the sky and see clouds shaped like rocket ships, fish or buildings?  Have you ever looked at the moon and seen a face?  Have you seen a face staring back at you from your toast bread?

The phenomenon of seeing faces in objects is called pareidolia (pair-ee-doh-lee-ah).  It’s a psychological phenomenon which the mind responds to a stimulus, image or sound by perceiving a familiar pattern where there really is none.

Seeing patterns and using the imagination to develop shapes is an active exercise.  It requires you to be in the present moment and be attentive.  Drawing shapes and faces you see into your sketchbook as a response to what you see can allow for further development later on.

Using the phenomenon of pareidolia can add to an artist’s visual inspiration, particularly if you are having trouble maintaining a creative momentum.

Next time you are out in nature, take a photo of an old stump or of tree bark, then head back to your studio and practice sketching the patterns that emerge from the picture.  If you are having trouble seeing a shape try turning the images upside down or zooming out or in to change your perspective.  Watch for textures, lines and patterns.  Once you start looking for these patterns, shapes and faces, you will start to see them everywhere.

I’ve even had friends tell me they see dragons, dogs, cats or birds in some of my large paintings – images I never intended to portray. 

Nature isn’t the only place to practice pareidolia.  It can be found on city streets, with cracks in the sidewalk, patterns on the sewer drains.  You can also find creatures and face shapes at home, amongst the wrinkled sheets, stacked items on the shelf or the rain on the window. 

What makes pareidolia so fun is the possibility of adding the patterns to your paintings.  Pareidolia could lead you into exciting abstract or surrealist painting styles!  Have fun with this exercise and really make it your own.  The way you translate what you see is what makes you unique. 

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Art, Design and Functionality

27 Oct
Watercolor by Katie Turner, “Young man on subway”

I was very excited to read an article today about a newly designed subway map for New York City (

Anyone who has been on the NYC subway knows there can be challenges to understanding the trains and reading the maps. 

My first experience with the subway happened in the late 80s.  I had just been hired by Gralla Publications and planned to head to Chinatown to explore a bit after work.  It was the rush hour and I stood in awe watching as floods of people rushed into the train, cramming themselves as tight as sardines into the car.  I could not believe it. After 4 or 5 trains had come and gone with the same thing happening, I thought I’d better join them otherwise I might never get there.  So as the next train arrived, I gathered up my courage, held my breath and pushed my way into the flowing crowd.  It felt as if the crowd carried me into the center of the train.  I had memorized my stops, so even though I couldn’t see a map, I could hear the street stops announced.  Luckily I wiggled close to a door as my exit came up and I was able to squeeze off, nearly losing my shoe.  Once on the platform I breathed a sigh of relief and headed up the stairs with new determination.  After that I learned to travel at off hours for more comfort.

The new map is digital and is the biggest design overhaul in the history of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

The new interactive map, designed by Work & Co from Brooklyn, shows trains in real time and can be accessed across devices without needing to be downloaded.  The map is not complete yet but is in the beta stage, with designers asking for feedback.

It looks like these designers came up with a very clean design with an easy to use functionality.  To watch a video about it, click here:

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Shake It Up! Painting on Grounds: Gesso

26 Oct

Most of the time I don’t use a ground while painting with watercolors on paper, but the other day I took time to change things up a bit.  I pulled out some unloved sketches and started painting gesso over them.  I also applied some gesso to newspaper pages.  The shadowy text and images became an interesting part of the paintings.

For those who aren’t familiar, a ground is a primer which is painted or sprayed on raw canvas, paper or other items which will later be painted upon.

Using a ground is nothing new.  It’s very common in contemporary art.  A good ground can be very helpful to integrate into your technique for usual results.  It can make blending colors easier by reducing absorption just like Yupo and other synthetic papers.  A ground helps paint dry to a deeper and more vibrant color although dry time is extended. Ground can be applied to nearly anything to make it paintable.  It adds textures or it can smooth out imperfections and strengthen paper.  Grounds have a tendency to encourage painting in layers, which gives paintings depth and interest.

There are many types of grounds:

  • Gesso
  • Acrylic ground
  • Crackle medium
  • Shellac or Varnish
  • Gel medium
  • Encaustic

It can be very exciting to water down grounds, apply color and splash, drip, scrape and create unusual textures.  Playing with a different surface can truly enhance creativity.  Something special takes place when discovering a new process.

Have you tried using different kinds of grounds to enhance your art?  I’d love to hear what you discovered!


The Old Tree

8 Oct
Abstract watercolor painting of old tree

I’m happy to share that the Central New York Watercolor Society Juried Show is now online for viewing.

I have one watercolor, titled “The Old Tree”, in the show.  The framed size is 30”x23”.  You can also view my painting on my website

The link to the entire show with all of the art here:…

“The Old Tree” statement:

At first I was mesmerized by the abstract lines, colors and shapes in this deteriorating old tree.  Then, thoughts of being solidly anchored, deep rooted, yet accepting the nature of the end cycles of life came to mind.  There is a beauty that reveals itself in the process and it’s easy to overlook.

– Katie