Imagery Rehearsal

Article by Darren Rousar.


The process of memory drawing involves much more than just blankly staring at your source. It requires many analytical activities that are as useful when drawing and painting directly from it. Among them are: comparison, learning to see the whole (also known as the big-look), and selectivity. Relative to the shape aspects of memory drawing, imagery rehearsal will be your greatest help.

Before we get to the specifics of imagery rehearsal, let’s briefly look at the other ways you’re trained to look when doing your memory drawings. Many of these techniques were explained in an earlier article titled Active Seeing.

This is to That

Drawing from life with the hope of attaining a likeness requires that you make continual comparisons. They are often quite simple, but can at times become very complex.

For example, in a 3/4 view portrait what is the relationship of the line of the model’s nose to that of the cheek? It’s a critical comparison because it is one of the main aspects that set the pose in your artwork.


When looking at your memory drawing source, you should ask yourself numerous questions, such as:

  • At what angle is your target line to the control?*
  • How big is this shape compared to that?
  • Compared to the darkest dark in the scene, how dark is this one?

* In numerous memory drawing exercises the control is a given dot, line, value, or color against which you can compare the subject to be memorized. It gives your observation some context. The control is copied directly from the source onto your exercise sheet.

Seeing the Whole

The big-look is the overall impression of the scene you’re looking at. Oftentimes you get such an impression unintentionally, after a mere glance.

Better is to purpose to see the impression. This is done quite simply by staring at the scene, taking in the whole of it while intentionally avoiding comparisons. Yes, that is easier said than done and it does take some practice.


Not everything within your visual field is worthy of representing in your drawing nor recording in your memory for later use. Many aspects are incidental. Unless you’re a photo-realist, each wrinkle, mole, or freckle on your model does not need to be drawn for you to arrive at the subject’s likeness. In fact, representing too many of them may well take away from it.

Better is to learn to see what’s necessary and only what’s necessary – all the more when memory drawing.


Selectivity is a skill used in conjunction with seeing the whole. For instance, when looking at the scene above, the shapes of the sky, tree line, and shore immediately stand out (which are the main aspects of the impression).

Likely overlooked would be the multicolored rocks on the shore. And with good reason. They add very little to the scene.

Imagery Rehearsal

Without a doubt, repetition is the most common memorization technique. And that applies to memory drawing as well as to math tables and spelling.

What is imagery rehearsal? It is both mental and physical repetition.

It’s mental when, while staring at the scene, you pretend you’re drawing it in your mind. This has a similar memory effect as if you really were doing the drawing.

Imagery rehearsal is physical when you attempt to trace your subject with your finger. Doing so actually combines both the mental and physical memory rehearsal effects because finger tracing requires that you think about what you’re doing.

In both cases you should at times also do imagery rehearsal with your eyes closed. Then open them up and do it while looking at your subject.

The skills mentioned above show that memory drawing is far more than simply staring. It’s an active process that develops a skillset which is as useful whether your subject is within view or not.

Making the Most of Every Glance - An Introduction to Memory Drawing - Cover

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