Looking and seeing are two very different things. We all use our eyes to look at things, but how you see those things depends on many factors, including how old you are, how you've been brought up, what you've already seen, what you're interested in, what you expect to see, what you pay attention to, and the perspective you take.
Perspective is the view you take. If you take a long view, you can see everything and you're more likely to take in the whole rather than look at the details. If you take a closer view, you're forced to look only at a small part of the picture and focus in on the smallest details. It's like looking at the forest or just looking at one tree -- you can see more and more detail of the one tree the more you focus in on it.
You can do a simple "From Zoom to Across the Room" activity with any book. Hold up an illustration from a book as you're standing on one side of a room and everyone else stands on the other side. What can the viewers see? At this long distance, the idea is to look for basic shapes and colors. Slowly start walking toward the group. Every few steps stop, and ask what more the group can see of the illustration. Slowly, more and more of the dominant features and then details will come into focus. As a final step, for a really intimate view, have everyone examine the illustration with a magnifying glass.
The Dream CD includes a bonus art/visual literacy activity -- ZoomArt. Four different perspectives are provided for each piece of art in the book Dream, from a distant view to a magnified view. This prompts viewers to take different perspectives on each piece of art, look for different things, and appreciate the differences in the mediums.
Each illustration in the book Dream was done using a different "medium" (i.e. each artist used a different material -- like watercolor, oil, or collage -- to create the piece of art). Here's some general background information on the various mediums:
Oil is paint made of pigment (color) mixed with linseed or poppy-seed oil. Oil paint can be put on in layers and used thickly or thinly. It dries slowly, allowing the artist to make changes.
Watercolor is paint in which the pigment (color) is mixed with gum. When used, the paint is mixed with water. The finished painting is very sensitive to light and fades easily.
A drybrush watercolor method uses very little water on the paintbrush. Layers are built up very slowly, allowed to dry, and reworked.
Acrylic is a synthetic paint (i.e. not made from natural substances) that artists like because it dries quickly and can be used on almost all surfaces.
Pastels are made of pure powdered pigment (color) that's ground into a paste, mixed with a small amount of gum as a binding agent, and then rolled into sticks. Colors range from soft and subtle to strong and brilliant. An artist strokes the pastel sticks across an abrasive "ground" surface, embedding the color in the "tooth" of the paper. Works in pastel may leave more or less of the "ground" exposed to create a desired effect.
Colored pencil allows an artist more control and precision in applying color. An artist has to apply the right amount of pressure on the pencil to get the desired effect.
Ink, unlike pencil, is permanent; it's not easy for an artist to make changes or corrections. Artists use special ink pens and can choose from different nib (tip) thicknesses to make different kinds of lines and create shading effects.
Scratching involves using a cutter or knife to scratch out white lines on a piece of art to create a desired textured effect.
Collage is a picture or pattern made up of smaller pieces of paper or another material, shaped and colored to fit the artist's design, and stuck onto paper, board, or another surface.
Plasticine is a type of modeling clay that's oil-based, squishable, and never gets hard. It's available in many colors, and an artist can make even more by mixing colors together. Plasticine artwork is made by building up layers so that they stand out from the surface; this is called "relief." Various tools can be used to create textures in the plasticine (e.g. a sharp pencil can be used to "draw" lines to add a smile to a face, a small comb or fork can be used to scratch a grassy or furry texture, a toothbrush can be used to create a fuzzy look).
Digital artwork is created on a computer using special software. An "original" doesn't exist on paper or board, but as tiny bits of data in a computer file.
For the ZoomArt activity that's part of the Dream CD, show each of the four perspectives for each piece of art one at a time, asking the following questions:
1) Distant View: What basic shapes
(e.g. rectangles, squares, triangles, circles) and colors (e.g. red, yellow, blue, green) do you see?
2) Closer View: What dominant features (e.g. a face, tree, window) do you see?
3) Full View: What details (e.g. flowers in a garden, items on a shelf, clothing) do you see?
4) Magnified View: How would you describe what you see (e.g. sharp lines, soft edges, brush strokes visible)? How is it different/distinct from the other mediums?
The new ZoomArt2 version of this activity allows children to explore the illustrations and mediums on their own by first looking at a magnified view and then trying to guess the full illustration and the medium.
Take a Look: An Introduction to the Experience of Art by Rosemary Davidson. Viking, 1993. An excellent book that encourages young readers to look, see, think, and discover art for themselves.
Zoom by Istvan Banyai. Puffin Books, 1995. This wordless picture book begins with a close-up of a rooster's comb and then each picture zooms out to give a more distant perspective -- revealing a new surprise. If you think you know where you are, guess again!