We humans tend to struggle with details.

Sure, we like to fancy we’re Columbo. We like to think our precision brains can take a few sweeps across the afternoon landscape and pick up on the world’s changing minutia like a particle-collecting mental Swiffer.

We think we’ll register our fella’s professionally scrubbed and shined set of teeth. Or notice the revealing new pattern raked into our colleague’s desktop Zen garden.

But the truth is, we don’t. The teeth cleaning: imperceptible. And the only thought we’ve ever given to that notebook-sized Zen garden had less to do with pattern analysis and more to do with how many days’ worth of chewed gum we could hide there before our colleague noticed her Zen garden was inordinately clumpy.

It’s the same blissful obliviousness that leads us to overlook a girlfriend’s haircut or, more tragically, to work unwittingly for the entirety of a Tuesday with a spray of tomato soup on our lapel.

We’ll take notice if a detail causes an unexpected detour in our usual routine, like a 17-car pileup or an incapacitated elevator. But otherwise we’re on automatic pilot, our noggins filling in the particulars with what we’re pretty sure we saw yesterday. Our brains, bless their intentions, tend to be corner cutters.

It’s possible to consciously direct our efforts, say, when we’re examining the brain-awakening “what’s different” page of “Highlights” children’s magazine while waiting at the dentist’s office for a cleaning we inexplicably felt compelled to get. Or when we’re challenged to seek out the details of our common surroundings on the promise of reward. (And by “reward” I mean the warming gratification of awareness. And free stuff.)

Portland artist William Hessian has conjured just such a challenge. For the past five years, he’s put together miniature art hunts in various cities around the country, hiding small works of art in local parks and goading locals to go searching for the pint-sized pieces.

Hessian, who moved to Maine in the fall and to Portland in January, has put together another miniature art hunt here.

For the event, he’s created 10 works measuring 2 inches by 2 inches — each a portrait of a phoenix painted with a blend of watercolor and metallic pens — and he’s hiding them in plain sight in the parks around Portland this weekend. Anyone who is interested is welcome to scout them out.

It’s an artful investigation inspired by the treasure hunts of Hessian’s youth.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of treasure hunts. It’s been something throughout my childhood,” he said. “I just like the idea of not being sure what you’re doing but, you know, there’s an adventure.”

To help guide inquisitive art seekers, Hessian will begin posting clues on his website, williamhessian.com, beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday. The clues will be in photographic form, and the first round will be purposefully vague.

“You’ll see the artwork in its location. You’ll be able to tell that there’s grass or some kind of bark or a bench,” he said. But the photos will be zoomed in and won’t give away more than the most basic information.

Throughout Saturday, the online clues will become more constructive. The photos will begin giving more detail; environments will start to become more recognizable. The most cunning art hunters might deduce early where the art is hiding. Others might opt for the “wing it” method of discovery.

And it’s always possible some highly attuned passer-by will simply happen upon it.

In case that happens — and to make sure anyone who finds one of the 10 pieces knows the deal — each piece has instructions on the back describing how to contact Hessian to say the work has been claimed.

Hessian plans on sharing that information on his website so other searchers can stay apprised throughout the day. (Hint: There’s only one piece of art per park.)

And while the park-based adventure is the motivation, Hessian also hopes the hunt will lure locals out to their neighborhood parks, which, like life’s nitty-gritty details, sometimes get overlooked.

“I don’t really go to my local parks because I don’t have an animal or child to go with,” Hessian joked. “I need an excuse.”

The miniature art hunt, he said, is a chance to “bring people to the park and the art to the people.”

Some folks might wander through for the first time; others might pay renewed attention to a landscape they took for granted: the texture of tree bark, looking aged like wrinkled skin, or the swirled bend of iron on an ornate fence.

By 8 a.m. Sunday, the hints turn overt for any artwork that might still remain in the wilds of Portland’s parks. The photo clues will reveal the park’s landscape with that recognizable pond, bandstand or cluster of trees. Then, said Hessian, it’s just a race to get there first to scoop up the art.

And after all the parks are scoured and all the art is found, Hessian hopes articipants will stop by the Meg Perry Center (644 Congress St.) from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday to paint with the artist, see more of his work on display and redeem the mini art for additional prizes from Local Sprouts Cooperative Cafe, Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro and Big Sky Bread Co.

The exercised sense of observation (and coinciding feeling of novelty and adventure) is also free, and can be reused at any time.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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