I searched back into my older posts and found I never completed my thoughts on searching out places to learn about art. Keep in mind, this will to write something useful for a change was inspired by my teacher's and some friends' posts on their blog, which I always seemed to find enlightening and inspiring in some way. I'm sure my posts won't be nearly as helpful, but nonetheless, here I go to finish what I started.
Okay, so in this entry I'll try and make some comments on observing. Once again, I'm no expert and I got this particular idea from an old roommate of mine; he always had a fantastic frame of mine for art.
So, being an observer is different from just looking at things around you. Sometimes we are so bombarded with images and colours they all just blend into our surrounding and then are quickly ignored or forgotten. In my limited experience I find this frame of mind to be a waste of a perfectly good opportunity, after all, art is about translating the world around you into a 2D space so what better reference could there be then studying your surroundings?
So let me give a real life example to help explain why I think this is useful. Last summer I worked a boring old, questionable, factory job. Now, most people would drag themselves into work and trudge through the day in a dazed, reluctant manner, I know this because I knew some people who worked there that did this. Initially, I was a little unimpressed with the condition of the building I worked in, certainly nothing classy, but that's just where I realized something. What an old relic this building was, run down and some rooms filled with dusty machines abandoned on the spot. This building had character! What better place could there be for me to gain some reference into old machines or what old buildings had that made them look old. Or, even, what rays of light through dirty windows looked like. I had all the real life reference I could ever want on industrial atmospheres if I only would take the time to observe the place in which I worked.
Now, try and apply this to the places you see everyday, be it the public transit, your office, that quirky restaurant you pass by on your way to a friend's house. Anything around you could have character, could be unique to where you live and could be an excellent setting for a picture you many want to do. Heck, it could even inspire you to want to draw something with that atmosphere. If nothing else, always look for something in real life that you have trouble drawing in your work then break it down and see why it looks the way it does. What makes it work.
Some people, like myself, find it difficult to take real life objects and break them down into their technical pieces to figure out why they work so don't get frustrated. I try and start simply, first, why am I observing this? Usually it has to do with the lighting since I have a lot of problems with that or, more recently, reflective surfaces. So let's take this desk in my room as an example. I know it's brown because it's made of wood, but it's also highly polished so the light from the window is reflecting the things around it. So I start thinking about the colour, the desk may be brown but the light is a white/grey because it's overcast outside; the clouds are reflected onto the surface of my desk. Now, most of the top of the desk is this colour, except where the objects on it are casting a shadow, in them I can see the wood grain and colour coming through. And the shadows may reflect the object they are from, but you an hardly see that because of the grain of the wood. So, next time I do a reflective surface, I should really keep in mind the colours surrounding it (especially if those colours are creating the light) because I know those will be reflected back off the surface, also if the surface is dark or heavily patterned, the objects that cast shadows and are relfect onto the surface will have little detail. Now, I'm not gonna run off and paint a desk right now, but it will be good to keep in mind in the future and test out, if nothing else.
Observing things and breaking down why something works applies to people too. The attitude of people on the streets doing what they do, their character as it were. How do they act and what makes them convey the emotion they do? What is their posture like? What is their pet's posture like? Animals can convey emotion just as well as people and they have body language too. I think the key to storytelling is being able to convey emotion between people without words.
Keeping your mind interested in the places and things around could be an endless source of education without paying a dime for it. I've often taken up interest in advertising and graphic designs for the sheer artistic value of it rather then what they are selling and I know some friends who do the same. I think analyzing whatever you can and making notes about what you observe keeps your mind active and more inclined to see things to fix in your own work.
Now, think of something you have trouble drawing and go out and observe the world for answers.