Image and gesture 

It is worthwhile taking a closer look at how images are formed.

Creating a conscious image is called empathic observation.

Goethe was the first to use this method to gain an understanding of nature. He distinguished three phases: imitation, the mental image in one's memory, and discovering the true manifestation. In this way, he discovered the image of the prototypical plant, the 'gesture' of the plant which, Goethe maintained, lies at the basis of all plants.

An example

In a lane, there is an oak which is exposed to the full force of the wind. The branches on the windward side break the gusts: the trunk and the dark, sturdier branches don't give an inch, the smaller branches and twigs sway but a little. Then a branch breaks off. Next to this oak tree is a birch tree, its trunk shudders with the wind, its delicately shaped branches sway, and leaves and twigs blow away. It is as if the birch does not resist the wind.

You can make these observations on a windy day. Later, you can imagine what you observed, thus creating an image of the event. You can also feel so much empathy for the two trees that you can almost experience or perceive what forces were at play. You can feel the resistance and stiffness of the oak, and how frail this resistance is when a branch gets broken off the tree. With the birch, you can feel how it gives in to the wind, how every so often a twig blows off, how supple and pliable the tree is. You attribute resistance to an oak, and pliability to a birch. If these concepts are correct, then you will be able to recognise them in all the different parts of these trees. You will see it in the leaves (the tough, unbending leaves of the oak and the light rustling leaves of the birch) and the seeds (the heavy acorn with the hard shell, the light birch seeds which carry on the wind).

 « 123456789 » 

Oak Birch

Oak Birch


Go out and observe; draw what you see. Come back inside and make a drawing of what you saw from memory.

Observing two trees

Choose two trees of different species standing close together. First, observe their exterior. Then search for their dynamic expression by mentally putting yourself in the tree's place. Discover the characteristic processes and characterise each tree species. In this exercise, it is important that you compare the two species. This will make it easier to find their characteristisation.

Wood and inspiration

Go into the woods and look around. See all the natural chaos on the ground. See the torn-off branches and uprooted treetrunks. Keep looking until you see a piece of wood that you like and in which you can see some sort of shape. Take this piece of wood and carve it until it reveals more of what you saw in it. Make the shape more defined.

© Heirs Tom van Gelder - Stichting AntroVista