Drawing is a curious process, so intertwined with seeing that the two can hardly be separated. Ability to draw depends on ability to see the way an artist sees, and this kind of seeing can marvelously enrich your life.
In many ways, teaching drawing is somewhat like teaching someone to ride a bicycle. It is very difficult to explain in words. In teaching someone to ride a bicycle, you might say, "Well, you just get on, push the pedals, balance yourself, and off you'll go."
Of course, that doesn't explain it at all, and you are likely finally to say, "I'll get on and show you how. Watch and see how I do it."
And so it is with drawing. Most art teachers and drawing textbook authors exhort beginners to "change their ways of looking at things" and to "learn how to see." The problem is that this different way of seeing is as hard to explain as how to balance a bicycle, and the teacher often ends by saying, in effect, "look at these examples and just keep trying. If you practice a lot, eventually you may get it." While nearly everyone learns to ride a bicycle, many individuals never solve the problems of drawing. To put it more precisely, most people never learn to see well enough to draw.
Drawing as a magical ability
Because only a few individuals seem to possess the ability to see and draw, artists are often regarded as persons with a rare God-given talent. To many people, the process of drawing seems mysterious and somehow beyond human understanding.
You will soon discover that drawing is a skill that can be learned by every normal person with average eyesight and average eye-hand coordination-with sufficient ability, for example, to thread a needle or catch a baseball. Contrary to popular opinion, manual skill is not a primary factor in drawing. If your handwriting is readable, or if you can print legibly, you have ample dexterity to draw well.
You will be learning, therefore, something about how your brain handles visual information. Recent research has begun to throw new scientific light on that marvel of capability and complexity, the human brain. And one of the things we are learning is how the special properties of our brains enable us to draw pictures of our perceptions.
The magical mystery of drawing ability seems to be, in part at least, an ability to make a shift in brain state to a different mode of seeing/perceiving. When you see in the special way in which experienced artists see, then you can draw. This is not to say that the drawings of great artists such as Leonardo da Vinci or Rembrandt are not still wondrous because we may know something about the cerebral process that went into their creation. Indeed, scientific research makes master drawings seem even more remarkable because they seem to cause a viewer to shift to the artist's mode of perceiving. But the basic skill of drawing is also accessible to everyone who can learn to make the shift to the artist's mode and see in the artist's way.
Drawing is not really very difficult. Seeing is the problem, or, to be more specific, shifting to a particular way of seeing. You may not believe me at this moment. You may feel that you are seeing things just fine and that it's the drawing that is hard. But the opposite is true, and the exercises in this book are designed to help you make the mental shift and gain a twofold advantage. First, to open access by conscious volition to the visual, perceptual mode of thinking in order to experience a focus in your awareness, and second, to see things in a different way. Both will enable you to draw well.
Many artists have spoken of seeing things differently while drawing and have often mentioned that drawing puts them into a somewhat altered state of awareness. In that different subjective state, artists speak of feeling transported, "at one with the work," able to grasp relationships that they ordinarily cannot grasp. Awareness of the passage of time fades away and words recede from consciousness. Artists say that they feel alert and aware yet are relaxed and free of anxiety, experiencing a pleasurable, almost mystical activation of the mind.
Drawing attention to states of consciousness
The slightly altered consciousness state of feeling transported, which most artists experience while drawing, painting, sculpting, or doing any kind of art work, is a state probably not altogether unfamiliar to you. You may have observed in yourself slight shifts in your state of consciousness while engaged in much more ordinary activities than artwork.
For example, most people are aware that they occasionally slip from ordinary waking consciousness into the slightly altered state of day dreaming. As another example, people often say that reading takes them "out of themselves." And other kinds of activities which apparently produced a shift in consciousness state are meditation, jogging, needlework, typing, listening to music, and, of course, drawing itself.
Also, I believe that driving on the freeway probably induces a slightly different subjective state that is similar to the drawing state. After all, in freeway driving we deal with visual images, keeping track of relational, spatial information, sensing complex components of the overall traffic configuration. Many people find that they do a lot of creative thinking while driving, often losing track of time and experiencing a pleasurable sense of freedom from anxiety. These mental operations may activate the same parts of the brain used in drawing. Of course, if driving conditions are difficult, if we are late or if someone sharing the ride talks with us, the shift to the alternative state doesn't occur. The reasons for this we'll take up in Chapter Three.
The key to learning to draw, therefore, is to set up conditions that cause you to make a mental shift to a different mode of information processing-the slightly altered state of consciousness-that enables you to see well. In this drawing mode, you will be able to draw your perceptions even though you may never have studied drawing. Once the drawing mode is familiar to you, you will be able to consciously control the mental shift.
Drawing on your creative self
I see you as an individual with creative potential for expressing yourself through drawing. My aim is to provide the means for releasing that potential, for gaining access at a conscious level to your inventive, intuitive, imaginative powers that may have been largely untapped by our verbal, technological culture and educational system. I am going to teach you how to draw, but drawing is only the means, not the end. Drawing will tap the special abilities that are right for drawing. By learning to draw you will learn to see differently and, as the artist Rodin lyrically states, to become a confidant of the natural world, to awaken your eye to the lovely language of forms, to express yourself in that language.
In drawing, you will delve deeply into a part of your mind too often obscured by endless details of daily life. From this experience you will develop your ability to perceive things freshly in their totality, to see underlying patterns and possibilities for new combinations. Creative solutions to problems, whether personal of professional, will be accessible through new modes of thinking and new ways of using the power of your whole brain.
Drawing, pleasurable and rewarding though it is, is but a key to open the door to other goals. My hope is that Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain will help you expand your powers as an individual through increased awareness of your own mind and in workings. The multiple effects of the exercises in this book are intended to enhance your confidence in decision making and problem solving. The potential force of the creative, imaginative human brain seems almost limitless. Drawing may help you come to know this power and make it known to others. Through drawing you are made visible. The German artist Albrecht Dürer said, "From this, the treasure secretly gathered in your heart will become evident through your creative work."
Keeping the real goal in mind, let us begin to fashion the key.
My approach: A path to creativity
The exercises and instructions in this book have been designed specifically for people who cannot draw at all, who may feel that they have little or no talent for drawing, and who may feel doubtful that they could ever learn to draw-but who think they might like to learn. The approach of this book is different from other drawing instruction books in that the exercises are aimed at opening access to skills you already have but that are simply waiting to be released.
Creative persons from fields other that art who want to get their working skills under better control and learn to overcome blocks to creativity will benefit from working with the techniques presented here. Teachers and parents will find the theory and exercise useful in helping children to develop their creative abilities. At the end of the book, I have supplied a brief postscript that offers some general suggestions for adapting my methods and materials to children. A second postscript is addressed to art students.
This book is based on the five-day workshop that I have been teaching for about fifteen years to individuals of widely ranging ages and occupations. Nearly all of the students begin the course with very few drawing skills and with high anxiety about their potential drawing ability. Almost without exception, the students achieve a high level of skill in drawing and gain confidence to go on developing their expressive drawing skills in further art courses or by practice on their own.
An intriguing aspect of the often-remarkable gains most students achieve is the rapid rate of improvement in drawing skills. It's my belief that if persons untrained in art can learn to make the shift to the artist's mode of seeing-that is, the right -hemisphere mode-those individuals are then able to draw without further instruction. To put it another way, you already know how to draw, but old habits of seeing interfere with that ability and block it. The exercises in this book are designed to remove the interference and unblock the ability.
While you may have no interest whatever in becoming a fulltime working artist, the exercises will provide insights into the way your mind works, or your two minds work-singly, cooperatively, one against the other. And, as many of my students have told me, their lives seem richer because they are seeing better and seeing more. It's helpful to remember that we don't teach reading and writing to produce only poets and writers, but rather to improve thinking.
A number of the exercises and instructional sequence in the book are designed to enable you to draw a recognizable portrait. Let me explain why I think portrait drawing is useful as a subject for beginners in art. Broadly speaking, except for the degree of complexity, all drawing is the same. One drawing task is no harder than any other. The same skills and ways of seeing are involved in drawing still-life setups, landscapes, the figure, random objects, even imaginary subjects, and portrait drawing. It's all the same thing. You see what's out there (imaginary subjects are "seen" in the mind's eye) and you draw what you see.
I have described to you the basic premise of this book-that drawing
is a teachable, learnable skill that can provide a twofold advantage.
By gaining access to the part of your mind that works in a style conducive
to creative, intuitive thought, you will learn a fundamental skill of
the visual arts: how to put down on paper what you see in front of your
eyes. Second, through learning to draw by the method presented in this
book, you will enhance your ability to think more creatively in other
areas of your life.
Roger N. Shepard, professor of psychology at Stanford University, recently described his personal mode of creative thought during which research ideas emerged in his mind as unverbalized, essentially complete, long-sought solutions to problems.
"That in all of these sudden illuminations my ideas took shape in a primarily visual-spatial form without, so far as I can introspect, any verbal intervention is in accordance with what has always been my preferred mode of thinking .Many of my happiest hours have since childhood been spent absorbed in drawing, in tinkering, or in exercises of purely mental visualization."
Roger N. Shepard
"Learning to draw is really a matter of learning to see-to see correctly-and that means a good deal more than merely looking with the eye."
Gertrude Stein asked the French artist Henri Matisse whether, when eating a tomato, he looked at it the an artist would. Matisse replied:
"No, when I eat a tomato I look at it the way anyone else would. But when I paint a tomato, then I see it differently"
"It is in order to really see, to see ever deeper, ever more intensely, hence to be fully aware and alive, that I draw what the Chinese call 'The Ten Thousand Things' around me. Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world.
"I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extra-ordinary it is, sheer miracle."
My students often report that learning to draw makes them feel more creative obviously, many roads lead to creative endeavor: Drawing is only one route. Howard Gardner, Harvard professor of psychology and education, refers to this linkage:
"By a curious twist, the words art and creativity have become closely linked in our society."
-From Gardner's book Creating Minds, 1993.
Samuel Goldwyn once said:
"Don't pay any attention to the critics. Don't even ignore them."
Quoted in Being Digital by Nicolas Negroponte, 1995
When the artists is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes and inventive, searching, daring, self-expressive creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book , he opens it and shows that there are still more pages possible."
-Vincent Van Gogh, in a letter to his brother, Theo, who had suggested that Vincent become a painter. Letter 184, p. 331