For the Record

by twizzlertee

A kind of amnesia seems to set in as drawing skills improve. Students forget what their drawing was like before instruction. Moreover the degree of criticism keeps pace with progress.

Betty Edwards, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”

There are three drawings to complete before starting the instructional exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  The recommendation is to do the drawings, sign and date them, adding any comments about what you like or dislike about the drawing or about your experience while doing the activity.  Then, they are to be put away and not looked at until all the exercises are complete.

The main purpose of these drawings is to have a concrete record of drawing ability (or lack thereof) before instruction, and be able to recognize any improvement that has been made at the end of the program.

Makes sense.

1. “Self-Portrait”

This drawing will serve as the “before” to be compared with the “after” for the grand reveal at the end of the program. (Hopefully, it will not be too difficult to identify the post-instruction drawing.)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, over a year ago I completed a few of the early exercises in the book.  At the time, I was pleasantly surprised with some minor improvements I noted in my drawing. However, I was even more pleasantly surprised when I did my “pre-instruction” self-portrait a few weeks ago.

I wouldn’t expect that anyone would recognize me from either of these drawings, (although my toque looks vaguely familiar,) but in my opinion, the second is pretty clearly an improvement over the first.

"Self-Portrait" - Oct. 29, 2010

"Self-Portrait" - Feb. 11, 2012

What I find remarkable, is that since I shelved the book so many months ago, I have done very little drawing.  I have completed a few “craft-type” projects and although I am very proficient with tracing paper and using borrowed images, any real improvement in my drawing skills would have to be credited to previously completing some of the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

I find this encouraging.

2. “A Person Drawn from Memory”

This exercise, I did not find encouraging.

I hated doing this drawing. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what my friend looked like. I couldn’t remember any details about his face. I forgot what side his hair is parted on. I even forgot that he wears glasses most of the time. And it’s not like I don’t see him often. I thought about picking a different friend, but all of a sudden I couldn’t remember what any of them looked like.

The same weird panic set in that I feel when I watch a crime show and the witness describes the “perp” and I imagine how I would perform in the same situation.  I wouldn’t have a clue: “Uh..yes officer…He looked…uh…you know…nice?” (I have a propensity for thinking that all people are nice.) I completed the drawing as quickly as possible to appease the anxiety.

Apparently doing a drawing from memory is difficult even for a trained artist.

Good to know.

"A Person, Drawn from Memory" - February 11, 2012

"A Person" - March 8, 2012, photo by Mike Elbow

According to Edwards, the reason for doing this drawing is that it exposes a memorized set of symbols we learned as children.

And it’s true.

This exact drawing could have appeared in one of my sketchbooks from ten…or twenty…or even close to thirty years ago. (Yikes, really?) I think it’s particularly noticeable with the eyes. At an utter loss as to how to create a remotely realistic representation, I reverted to drawing the eye “symbol” that I had drawn over and over as a child.  Notably, these are pretty much the same eyes as in the initial self-portrait I completed in 2010, (although it would seem my friend is sorely lacking in lashes), demonstrating how the “symbol system” is a force to be reckoned with even when the drawing is not from memory.  It seems that it is this system that is responsible for why many adults continue to produce drawings that appear immature or “childlike.” Admittedly, I am one of those adults.

Part of the process in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is learning to relinquish this deeply ingrained symbol system in favour of accurately perceiving and recording what you see.

3. My “Hand”

"My Hand" - Feb. 11, 2012

I’ve often wondered about the phrase, “know it, like the back of my hand” because how well do we really know what our hands look like?

Good thing this one wasn’t a memory drawing.

My “pre-instruction” drawings are now safely locked away in a vault, (and posted on the internet,) not to be seen again until I have completed all the exercises in the book.

Wish me luck.