Focus and Framing in Art and Life

Framing and Focus – How we look at the picture

After a break from taking and posting photos every day for 100 days, I discovered that I missed it a bit, so I asked myself what that was about. What came to me was that I missed choosing what to focus on in each photograph. It was stimulating each day to challenge myself to look at very familiar surroundings and to find an unfamiliar way of looking at them. Certainly there were mornings when I resented the “have to” feeling that I set up for myself. But almost every time I would move through that feeling into one of accomplishment, especially on days when I managed to surprise myself with something I hadn’t seen before.

The two words that came up for me as I thought about this were framing and focus. I’m using them in a non-“art-speak” kind of way, but it’s useful to at least look at what the capital-A Art world means by them. Framing is what an artist does to bring the viewer’s focus to something in the picture. It is about deciding what the viewpoint is, for instance, a lone tree might be framed by a wide, open field in a photograph, or a figure might be hunched in the lower corner of a painting. The framing can elicit a particular emotion from us, or hint at the intended meaning of the art.

What we choose to look at

For me, both framing and focus are about asking what gets included, what gets left out, what gets highlighted or emphasized. Why

choose this view over that one? When I take a picture focused on the blossoms, I’m allowing myself to get fascinated by them and ignoring the roots or bark. By shooting a close up of the grain of the wood in a fence, I have decided that the function of the fence doesn’t matter. Context drops away because of the tightness of the frame I’ve chosen.

Even a broader, landscape view will tell only part of the story. If I focus on the mountains across the Straight of Juan de Fuca, capturing both the ocean below and the sky above, you’re going to pay more attention to the relationship between the elements of the photo. The mountains seem to emerge from the sea to jut almost immediately into the sky – it will feel grand and impressive. No matter that in reality if I were to take the ferry over there I’d have to pass by boarded up buildings, road construction, and billboards before rising into the slopes of the Olympics.

The focus we choose determines the story that is told.

Focus and framing happen in other art forms too. This is even true in written and verbal art. A novel is usually written from one particular point of view. We could call that the framing. The author chooses what to tell us, and when. Some modern writers play with this, and tell old stories from an alternate point of view! (for instance Wicked by Gregory Maguire, or The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood) But in any story, we can always ask, which perspective is the writer asking me to look at this from? What is being left out of the story?

Focus and framing are everywhere. When you paint a picture, you can compose it in such a way that the eye naturally wants to settle somewhere in specific. And of course there is the actual framing of a picture, or the cropping of it. And this is something that can be great to play with in our own art.

Here’s a fun focus and framing exercise!

If you’re like me, not everything you make comes out the way you wanted. I always have have a number of pieces lying around that, for one reason or another, just don’t quite satisfy me aesthetically. Here’s something I sometimes do with them other than toss them directly in the “cut up for collage” bin or paint over them.

  • Take a piece of art that you perhaps don’t like so much as a whole. If you don’t have one, you can also do this with photographs in magazines.
  • Make two L-shaped pieces of card stock or cardboard. You might even want a few                                                   pairs in various sizes.
  • Play with using them to isolate certain parts of the art.
  • Can you find a focal point you like best? Can you frame it in such a way that it has a new or different meaning to you?
  • You can cut a segment out of your piece and use it in a new way – if it is small, perhaps it can be the front of a card, or put in a smaller frame, or used as an inspiration for a whole new piece!

Sometimes our lives need this kind of attention too. Are there places in your life that you need to “zoom in” on and see more closely? Are there situations that need more context included? Or that need reframing from a new perspective?  What do you habitually leave out when you tell your story? Is there something hiding just out of sight of the lens that could use your focus?

If  loss or change has knocked your life out of focus and you need help finding a way through the turmoil, I can help. Click here to contact me for a free consultation. You don’t have to cope alone. Video appointments available.



“It Moved Me” – Emotions and Art

Emotions and art are deeply connected

It is probably safe to say that emotions and art have been connected since the very beginning. I doubt the cave paintings at Lascaux  were made or viewed without any reactions by their creators or other community members. Whether they were created as mythic storytelling, depictions of particular hunts, or something completely different, we can imagine that, like us, the early artists and viewers felt something while looking at them. Perhaps they felt emotions of fear, or pride in the hunt, desire for status, or appreciation and gratitude for bounty. So what’s with the connection between emotions and art and the idea of movement?

What’s moving, emotions or me?

What do we mean when we say something “moved” us? We use the expression about emotions and art all the time… a piece of music or a poem is moving; a film moved us, sometimes “to tears.” But I’ve been musing about a couple of different ways to look at this idea of movement.  What is moving, precisely?

When I read a particularly poignant book, for example Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  I, like the author himself, immediately choke up with  emotions of sadness and an almost indefinable ache – it feels a bit like longing – even though I have not yet lost either a child nor a parent. It “moves” me to a place of being able to feel what the author felt. The movement for me is from my

status quo, whatever it was before I picked up the book, into a new emotional state, a new place to experience life from, one I haven’t known before.

Or how about this? When I read that book (or my other favourite for accessing the bittersweetness of life, Peach and Blue  I can think of it another way. Through their love story I’ve opened the door to allowing an emotion to move through me. I am still who and where and how I am, but I’m letting the feeling enter, and I can let the feeling leave.

So what’s the difference?

Well, aside from giving me the chance to look at those two moving books again (and I could add a zillion other books, works of art, movies, etc. for any emotion you care to name, but then we’d be here all day and the dog wouldn’t get walked!) …

I don’t think one way of experiencing emotions and art is better than the other, but I do see them differently. When I’m the one being moved, for me it’s like I’ve been transported into a role. I feel something from the inside out, and I’m inhabiting that state of mind and heart. It puts me in touch with emotions I might never have known before. Or, even if I have, I’m feeling them from another perspective. When I use art to experience emotions in this way, I think I can say I’m learning a lot about empathy.

When the emotions have been moved through me it feels different. I remain in a bigger sense, more rooted in my own experience. Sometimes it’s because the feelings are ones that I’ve had before, and what moved them into/through me is a reminder of them. But not always. It’s more likely to happen when I’m in a grounded place, or you might even say in a more mindful place, where I’m practicing the habit of witness consciousness and recognizing that while I may have emotions, I don’t have to be identified with them. It’s the difference between believing “I am so angry,” and “I feel anger within me in this moment.”

Letting emotions move on through

Have you ever noticed how kids seem to be able to allow emotions to move on through them? The temper tantrum might be an almighty storm, rocking them right onto the floor with kicking feet and screaming lungs, but when it’s over it’s over. They’re already asking “what’s for supper?” while Mom is holding her heart, still breathing fast, and wondering if anyone would notice if she just walled herself and the family up until the child turns 21. It’s not so much that kids have anything like a “witness consciousness” going on – I don’t think most do. But they do seem to have some ability that we gradually lose as we grow older. Teens and adults hang on to emotions, to pull them out of our pockets to savour later, or to think them over for a good long time in the hope that they will reveal to us the secret of never having to feel that way again.


Like I said, I don’t think there’s one right way to experience emotions through art. But knowing that there’s not just one gives us some choices. Maybe you find it healing to watch a sad movie that you know you cry at every time. This can be really helpful especially if we actually feel like an emotion is stuck within us. Allowing the art to stimulate the sadness that is already within us, perhaps unexpressed or keeping us feeling tight, can let the sadness move through us more completely.

Or perhaps I might feel immobilised myself – like I am in a rut or habit of a way of feeling or perceiving my situation. Most especially when I’m feeling flat, this is when I find a trip to an art gallery really helpful. I can stand in front of many different pictures, one after the other, and allow myself to be moved into different states with each one. I can “try on different hats” in a way. What did the painter feel while he was making this one? What led that sculptor to create her piece out of that material? Those aren’t just thinking questions, but feeling ones as well. I can notice what my body and heart do in response to the art, and allow myself to get carried along into a new experience. I can then ask, what do I want to do, now that I can see things this way? It’s a way to create action in my life.

So – what moves you? What is moved within you? Share your thoughts on my Facebook page

And if you’re yearning for movement, wanting to make sure that you make the most of your life so that you can stop waiting for “someday” and start creating a fulfilling NOW, contact me for a free consultation.