A very important theory which became popular in the 70’s was that the brain worked in two quite separate ways – the left side dealt with logics and learning, the right side with creativity and intuition. More recent research has shown that we actually use different areas, left or right, depending on what information we need. Both sides of the brain communicate new abilities and then process the information in different ways to add to overall intelligence and efficiency. However, defining the tasks of the brain into ‘left’ and ‘right’ does help to explain many of our difficulties with learning to draw, and with creative thought in general.
Our left brains are incredibly efficient at getting us through life as quickly and easily as possible, dealing with thousands of bits of information every second. The onslaught of today’s super fast technology means that we have to continually filter unnecessary ‘stuff’ all the time. The right brain has been more or less overridden in many people; apparently modern man’s left brain now actually weighs more than the right side!
A child’s repeated right-brained ’w’ questions “why, where, what, why, who?” slowly peter out as it learns the answers and files them away in its ‘hard drive’. Information is wired in with practice and repetition, and it then becomes unconscious reactions, such as walking, chewing, driving, speaking……. It leaves us free to concentrate on the content. The brain’s natural urge is to create shortcuts, to save us time and to make life easier so that we don’t have to continually re-think everything.
The problem with learning to draw is that the brain cannot find anything to refer to other than our teenage drawings, stored away in the left brain, which – unless we were encouraged and helped to draw as a child, or had a natural aptitude – we developed in a symbolic way. Teenagers will often draw a repeated image of something that interests them, and it can become quite sophisticated, but a symbol is useless when we want to draw realistically.
To draw well, we need to find ways to activate the right brain, and encourage it to ask all those ‘w’ questions every time we want to ‘see’ anything as it really is, instead of the left brain’s superficial overview and dismissal. We need to be able to see everything anew every time, as everything we attempt to draw is a new problem. Every petal on a flower is different to every other petal, every leaf on a tree, every eye, every –well, everything! – is completely unique and fascinating. This is probably what Picasso meant when he said that he wanted to learn how to draw like a child; not that he wanted to draw in a child’s naïve and symbolic way, but that he wanted to see the world through a child’s eyes- a continually new experience.
So, to activate the right brain in other ways, and also to improve your drawing and creativity, try using both sides of your body more – combing your hair, brushing your teeth, dialling the phone, even writing and eating with cutlery in the ‘wrong’ hands. Doing this feels uncomfortable, but notice how your brain is trying to make new connections, and how much more interesting these tasks become! Release your right brain from its non- creative prison!
Seminal books on the subject are “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” and “Drawing on the Artist Within”, both by Betty Edwards.
Drawing lines around things is really trying to capture an illusion; there are no lines around anything we see, only edges where one ‘thing’ seems to end and another starts. As we move, our view of these ‘things’ moves too – it can sometimes feel as if we are permanently walking through a three-dimensional picture, with the scenes continually rearranging themselves around us as we focus on them (or is that just me?!).
We cannot get away from the fact that although we know that everything is rounded and three-dimensional, we have to separate one thing from another by delineating them. Logically, everything is separated into ‘things’ with edges, and with spaces in between them. Otherwise we would be bumping into things all the time.
“We live in a three-dimensional world, or four of you include Time; or up to eleven if you follow modern physics. This means we live in a mysterious world – we cannot know the other side of things. We cannot see it all at once.” Andrew Marr
“For Nature is made up all of roundnesses....Boughs are rounded, leaves are rounded, stones are rounded, clouds are rounded, cheeks are rounded; there is no more flatness in the natural world than there is vacancy” John Ruskin
(both quotes from the excellent ‘A Short Book About Drawing’ by Andrew Marr)
This is one of the first difficulties when attempting to draw something realistically; the brain wants to show what it knows, rather than what the eyes really see. Children often draw different angles and viewpoints of an object in one drawing to describe what they know as well as see. Many adults do the same thing and find themselves drawing lines that are not there, at completely distorted angles, and really cannot see how inaccurate they are until someone shows them
Try this; hold up a pencil about 12inches in front of your eyes and look at something beyond it. You can focus on the pencil or the thing, but not both at once. When you focus on the thing, you will see two pencils. Close one eye and focus on the thing – the pencil will be a little fuzzy – now, keeping your head and pencil in the same place, close the other eye instead. Do you see how much the pencil seems to have moved? Unlike cameras, with just one lens, we have binocular vision through our two eyes, which our amazing brains translate into a single view. Cameras can only give us a two dimensional flat impression, with just one focal point; our eyes capture space and depth, plus the ability to focus near or far as we look around.
We cannot capture this three-dimensionality exactly, as our paper, after all, is flat! We can give a good representation of it though, as long as we draw with our eyes and what we really see, and not what our brains tell us. I find it easiest to explain this to students by asking them to pretend that, when drawing, the world is completely flat. Everything in this flat world fits together like pieces of a jigsaw.
Holding up your pencil again, with one eye closed, something close to you will ‘touch’ the edge of the pencil in space, and so will something in the far distance. Looking up and down the edge of the pencil, everything will touch it in a flat sense. The world is FLAT!
Besides anything else, holding up your pencil like this and squinting at the world beyond it shows you the most important function of your pencil; it is NOT for drawing with – you can draw with anything, from sticks to boot polish. No, the most important function of your pencil is to make you LOOK like an Artist. If you sit in front of a piece of paper and perform this exercise with conviction, it really impresses onlookers..........
Many (many!) moons ago, when I was doing an art foundation course at Hull Art College, I fell in love with life drawing. I had always drawn quite obsessively, hence the decision to follow my (he)art and improve my skills.
The opportunity to draw someone who would happily hold a pose for an hour or more without any embarrassment was a revelation to me. Our usual model was a no-nonsense young woman who would cycle to college through the busy city with just her dress on, rush in late, fling her clothes into a corner, and model for us all morning. We were a mixed bunch of 17/18 year olds, and the various reactions to this were hilarious. I loved it – and I still have some of the drawings I did back then somewhere. I’ll have a look and see if I can find one for you.....
On a foundation course the aim is to give students a taste of all the different disciplines and avenues that they can follow in art. Usually this is broken into a few weeks concentrating on each subject, and we tried our hands at graphic design, photography, three-dimensional work and ‘Fine Art’ (there were probably other subjects, but as I said, this was a long time ago!). I had really been looking forward to Fine Art – that’s what I dreamed of doing; being An Artist and painting proper Paintings.
What a shock though. This was the 70’s, and the thinking at the time was to encourage ‘self-expression’ rather than teach traditional skills and techniques. I was presented with a big white canvas, oil paints and brushes, given a rudimentary explanation and then left to it. No instruction, no model, no still life, nothing. I painted an imaginary scene in shades of sticky mud and hated everything about it. I don’t remember what happened for the rest of my ‘Fine Art segment – I think that I just went back to drawing the model.
Later, when it came to choosing an art college to graduate to, I searched the UK for a course that would actually teach me traditional skills. None of the Fine Art courses appealed to me, as they all seemed to be following the same ‘self-expression’ abstract approach, and I decided to study Illustration at Harrow. What a happy choice! I didn’t particularly want to be an Illustrator but I knew that the college was famous for the standard of pure drawing its students achieved.
The experience on my foundation course taught me that we all need to have a good solid knowledge of our chosen path before we can start to express ourselves with any confidence or personal style. No one would expect to write a novel without starting with the alphabet, rules of grammar, language etc, no one would think they could compose an symphony without knowledge of music or the instruments involved. Why should we expect to draw or paint any better than we did as children without learning the basics?
Here is a quote from Tom Robb
“The essential element of learning to draw is the ability to see, but seeing is not that easy. By developing observational skills the artist has the opportunity to develop intellectual awareness and knowledge not only of the visual world around them, but greater awareness of themselves, their skills, likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Drawing, though for the most part being based on things seen, is an abstract learning activity involving sophisticated mechanical and intellectual skills”
‘The Artist’ magazine, October 2013 (Which I highly recommend, by the way)
I'm starting a four-week Drawing course on the 9th November - Saturday afternoon - from 2pm to 4.30pm in my studio in Manikata.
I can GUARANTEE that I can help you to see the world differently, which makes it so much easier to draw anything you choose. Complete beginners and those that need to brush up their drawing skills are all welcome. The only materilas you will need are a cheap A4 sketchbook and a 2B pencil.
80 euro for the course, which will be very structured and so - well - don't miss any!
This structured course of six classes will cover all the basics that you need to know to either learn to draw or improve your skills. Easy steps for using tone, perspective, measuring and composition will give you the confidence to tackle any subject. Advice on how to mix colours and use basic watercolour techniques will set you on the road to making your own pictures.
All in a friendly and creative atmosphere :-)
Classes begin on Saturday the 16th March from 4.30 - 7pm.120 euro for 6 classes – booking can only be accepted upon payment, as places are limited.
For more information please contact Jeni on the form below
Or Sistina on 21335548
Wednesday classes are continuing at Sistina, and also Sunday morning creativity sessions in Manikata.......
Classes at Sistina are starting again!!
It will be lovely to be back at Sistina Art Shop, 118 The Strand Sliema again!
Classes begin on Wednesday 13th February at 10am til 12.30pm
We'll be doing drawing exercises and explorations into different ways of approaching picture-making, covering everything from tone to perspective to colour mixing..... we'll work mainly in watercolours, but mixed media and Other Stuff usually appear too!
Places are limited, so please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org for more info and a booking form
Creativity Workshops in Manikata
Classes will resume on February 17th
in the usual format of an hour of focused drawing practice followed by creative exercises in different media.
120 e for 6 classes, 23 e for drop-in classes, 28 e including all materials.
Please email me on email@example.com for more info and a booking form
"Love" by Anne Hoshi Furuya
Japanese Calligraphy Workshop
Saturday 23rd February 2013 10am (sharp) - 4pm
Only 45 euro including all materials - and a vegetarian Japanese lunch!
A fun day with Anne Hoshi Furuya, the talented daughter of a professional Japanese calligraphy teacher in Japan.
Using authentic equipment, we will learn : -
*how to write our own names in Japanese characters
*make a lucky New Year card using traditional methods
* a little origami
Please wear suitable clothes (ink stains!) or bring an apron.
The workshop will take place in Jeni Caruana's studio in Manikata.
PLACES ARE LIMITED AND CAN ONLY BE RESERVED AGAINST PAYMENT IN FULL.
Please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org for more info and a booking form
I love to paint - and draw - and help others to discover their creative side too.....
Be the first to see my latest work and hear of new classes by adding your email address below. Thank you!