There are some things online that reemerge incessantly, astounding the seemingly neverending amounts of people who missed out on the earlier editions of discourse while frustrating the ones to whom this would be their 3 billionth encounter. Again?! Again. Again. An apple is one of these things.
Visualise an apple. What do you see?
Apparently it amazes people that some can see an apple vividly, as if they are holding an actual, real-life apple in their hand, or that some cannot see a goddang thing at all. Not an apple. Not a speck of dust. Then there are the in-betweens who experience various ways of seeing or not seeing an apple.
It reminds me of another species of this qualia discourse; do you hear a voice when you articulate your thoughts inside your head?
When I think or read, I hear my voice speaking the words that I am thinking or reading. Because I can clearly hear me, I often have conversations with myself inside my own head, to the point that I assume two compartmentalised roles that I do back-and-forths with: the person acting in real life and the person in my brain. (You know how there is this trope in cartoons where a character travels into another’s mindscape and encounters doppelganger versions of the latter character? This is kinda like it) It sounds a bit kooky, but it’s actually quite beneficial because I get to form a relationship with what we’d call ‘my inner self’ and become familiar with how I think. That separation helped when I get the occasional panic attack, when it’s really hard to separate one’s own thoughts with the bodily scream of DANGERDANGERDANGER.
I see an apple from 1 to 5 in the span of a second.
I cannot hold a clear image for very long, a millisecond perhaps. If you ask me to see an apple, at first I see something in 3D, like in real-life. I can actually spatially turn objects in my mind’s eye.
Then it disintegrates almost instantly, becoming fuzzier and blurrier until it disappears. I can no longer see the image, but I can somewhat remember it. The sensation. The memory of it. The sort of thing I was trying to get. The essence. The apple is more spiritual, not physical.
This applies to everything I visualise. When I read, I only get glimpses of what is being described. I don’t visualise characters. I remember them by key details that turn into shapes, or other sensual cues (I remember voice better). God help me if an author describes a room or a building. Everyone is floating in an essence of cobblestone and rugs and environment.
When I write, I don’t really see anything. Sometimes I retain really strong imagery, but they are often big picture “this is them saying the title out loud” moments* or very ambitious layouts I want to try. Otherwise, it’s mostly nothing, sometimes moments through smoke.
*this is how I can tell if a story idea is an idea worth pursuing; if an image for a concept sticks with me, that’s when I know it’s serious. I chase after that image so I can realise it in the final work.
Everything is vibes basically.
The act of thumbnailing is the first time I see an illustration or a comic. When I go through the steps of drawing – sketching, inking, colouring, all that – the vibes I perceived in my head become more and more like the imagery I intended.
It’s like if you have me look at an object through a frosted glass then force me to turn around and try to draw out what I remember seeing. I am basically figuring out my memory of an image with a pencil; I am visualising while I draw by looking at what comes out on paper. I know when a character design feels right, not when it looks right. I know when a page layout expresses the essence of what I wanted – a bit of red for drama, maybe a character crossing over some panels -, but I wouldn’t know what it looked like before I drew it.
Is this aphantasia? I am inclined to say, yes, because despite being able to perceive an imagined apple enough to get its vibes, I am operating mostly via other sensory cues to hold on to the essence. I mostly don’t see, only feel.
This applies to navigating places I had been to before. I might not exactly remember landmarks, but something about the surroundings is a sensation I recognise, and my body responds to that feeling of recognition. This feels right, this feels right, I think turning left would make it feel more right.
I actually think I have better audio or somatosensory perception. As mentioned before I can clearly hear my own voice, and I can bring up other people’s voices in my head. The few times I create songs, I can actually hear and retain them.
Ironically, I am a visual artist and writer, not a musician.
I don’t feel it’s that bad that I cannot see AMVs of my OCs in my head while I am listening to music. I like the freedom of not having to be beholden to a clear image, of having to attain 1-on-1 fidelity. I am always operating on ‘close enough’ and ‘this seems right’. It’s a very instinctual process. And an involved one, because I get to workshop my vision in real time.
Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.
She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.
Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.
Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur
French Book Tour, January 2024