"I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain." – The National

Tag: drawing on the right side of the brain


As mentioned in the previous post Trying to Find Some Perspective, I have chosen to take a break from working through an exercise that was causing me great strife and temporarily put my energy in a different direction. (A brief detour, if you will.) The new exercise, also from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, instructs the student to study and copy Charles White’s drawing, “Preacher.”

This drawing is a clear demonstration of a foreshortened view and once again highlights how what the artist sees may contradict what we know of the physical world. For example, in the drawing (and as it would appear on the imaginary picture plane) the man’s hand is larger than his head; obviously in reality this wouldn’t be the case. However, it is because of these unexpected proportions that the drawing maintains its realistic appearance.

“Preacher” by Charles White

My Copy of “Preacher” by Charles White

I was a bit at a loss as to how to mimic the artist’s masterful shading but I gave it my best shot. (I will greatly welcome the lesson on shading techniques, which I believe is a couple of chapters down the road.) Interestingly, by trying to copy the shading, I became even more aware of the exquisite details of the drawing, particularly the depiction of light, and experienced a whole extra level of appreciation for White’s creation.

This reminded me of my English degree undergrad years when I would read a required work for a course. Often I would initially appreciate what I had I read but it was only after studying the work that deeper meaning and understanding would emerge. Along with this understanding came respect, excitement and a true appreciation for the writer’s craft.

I have had little experience studying Visual Art, but I imagine it could be a similar experience and one that I hope I can open my world to as I continue on my path of learning to draw and learning to live.

Trying to Find Some Perspective

My good friend, who is an excellent teacher, has assured me that there is often a plateau when one is learning a new skill, when it’s possible for progress to lag and for graduation to the next level to seem insurmountable. She cited learning a language as an example and pointed to the learning of prepositions as a point when students often become overwhelmed.

I am still slowly working my way through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and I am finding the third basic skill of drawing, the perception of relationships, to be extremely challenging.  In this unit, the emphasis is on learning to sight, essentially learning how to draw using perspective and proportion.

The skill of sighting is made up of two parts, comparing angles to the constants of imagined vertical and horizontal lines and comparing sizes (proportions) to the constant of a basic unit chosen at the start of the drawing. All of this action takes place on the imagined picture plane and a pencil is used to measure proportions and angles.  Subsequently, this “sighting” is then applied to the drawing.  It’s hard to describe without visuals, so check out this link if you’re interested in having a look at this concept with a bit more depth.

I believe I understand the concept. However, I start the exercise (drawing a corner of my room) with great intention and anticipation, only to find that somehow, despite my best efforts to follow the instructions on how to sight, that things do not come together quite as expected. A portion of the drawing is way too big or way too small or at a completely wrong angle–why is my television floating in the air?–and by the time I realize my error, which is far too colossal to “work around,” the only logical resolution is to abandon the drawing and start over.

This wouldn’t be so bad and I’d resign myself to a “practice makes perfect” philosophy except I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing wrong so I feel like I’m potentially just learning how to execute the same mistake more efficiently.  (Not only that, but my drawings are less “in perspective” and more “out of proportion” than the drawings I was doing previous to this unit and it’s uncomfortable to feel like I’m going backwards.)

It would appear that I am stuck.

And I am also frustrated.

However, in my experience, learning and frustration often go hand in hand.  So, although I have experienced a decided increase in procrastination and resistance to this project, (I can’t blame my lack of recent posts all on illness,) and the voices of doubt seem to have significantly more to say than usual, I am determined to climb my way off this plateau some way or another.

I will learn my prepositions.

I have a couple of ideas to explore and will do so, but before I return to the task at hand, I am taking a small break in an effort to create some new momentum and am currently trying a different exercise, which also focuses on using the perception of relationships in its execution.

(To be posted soon.)

Without Judgment

The greatest lesson I have learned when it comes to meditation is that it should be practiced without judgment.

Minds wander; that’s just what minds do.

And if while doing a meditation that requires focusing on the breath, the mind wanders a thousand times, then it is gently brought back to focusing on the breath…a thousand times.

Without frustration.

Without judgment.

This understanding opened up the world of meditation for me. I no longer felt like I was doing something wrong if I couldn’t keep my mind where it was supposed to be. I no longer silently scolded myself for not doing what I was supposed to be doing. More significantly, I no longer felt that I didn’t know how to meditate. My wandering mind was simply part of the meditation experience and a function of being human.

It was a very important lesson.

Just as it is challenging to remain focused on the breath while meditating, I found it hard to stop drawing the lines of positive forms in favour of drawing the lines that create the space surrounding those forms. Frustrating, but not surprising. The focus in Western culture is on objects, not space. It makes sense that our minds, particularly our dominant L-mode, fight hard to return to what is familiar and can easily be processed.

“Studies of Arms and Legs” by Peter Paul Rubens

My Copy of “Studies of Arms and Legs” by Peter Paul Rubens

While I was working on these drawings, the battle going on inside my head and the ensuing self-chastisement were largely reminiscent of early meditation sessions. I would enthusiastically start by drawing the negative space, and then somewhere along the line, I would find that I had inadvertently abandoned spaces and was trying to draw the positive forms in front of me. Initially, I was extremely irritated and frustrated whenever I realized this shift had occurred and rapidly found myself slipping into a whole different kind of negative space.

But then, I recalled my experience with meditation and I decided to apply the “no judgment” principle. From that point on, every time I found myself focusing on the lines of an object, I calmly noted that my mind had wandered from the task at hand and simply returned to the drawing of spaces. Frustration averted.

It made for a much more enjoyable (and I believe successful) drawing experience.

And I only had to do it about a thousand times.

Drawing Chairs

When a person just beginning in drawing tries to draw a chair, that person knows too much, in an L-mode sense, about chairs.  For example, seats have to be big enough to hold a person; all four chair legs are usually the same length; chair legs sit on a flat surface, and so forth.

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

The time has come to share a page from a sketchbook past. I have not looked forward to this day.

Here goes…

“Sketchbook Past,”Circa 2010

I am not proud.

My drawings appear immature, and undeveloped and as can be seen, my attempt at drawing a realistic looking chair was not so successful.  And in the spirit of full disclosure, it wasn’t a more challenging “drawing from memory”—there was a chair right in front of me that I was trying to copy.

This page is from a sketchbook a couple years old, but the sketches are pretty indicative of most of my drawing attempts of the past 30 years.  It’s clear that I didn’t put much time or care into any of the drawings, far less a result of laziness or inattention, and much more from the sense of despair I have so often felt (as described in Drawn to Drawing, February 17, 2012). I couldn’t remotely recreate what I saw, or worse yet I had no idea what to draw, and what I did create provided no joy or sense of satisfaction. Rather, I found the experience dreadfully embarrassing, and stressful, and out of desperation, I gave up.

(And no, I have no memory of what prompted the drawing of druid-like ducks.)

The second component skill of drawing introduced in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the “perception of negative spaces” and the first exercise presented to build this skill is to draw a chair.  The exercise directs the student to “focus only on the shapes of the negative spaces” while drawing the chair.

In drawing, the positive form is the object in the picture, for example, a chair.  The negative space is the space that exists surrounding the chair.  If the chair were to magically disappear, the edges and spaces remaining would represent the negative space.

Not surprisingly, L-mode isn’t really interested in negative space.  There’s nothing there, after-all. Nothing recognizable to L-mode, that is.  In drawing, the shapes of the negative space are just as real and important as the positive form, and with the opting out of L-mode, R-mode takes over.

By focusing on using negative space to draw, it is possible to relinquish established expectations of what an object should be like, as it is not the object that is being drawn at all. Because there are no expectations of how the spaces surrounding an object should appear, it is possible to see them as they really are and as a result, create a more accurate representation.

So, newly armed with this knowledge, I sat down to draw a chair.

Or rather, I sat down to draw the spaces surrounding a chair.

It wasn’t easy to let go of seeing the chair and to focus only on the spaces (or to use only the “language of relationships” as is always important for R-mode activities,) but I kept reminding myself of the exercise instructions: “Try to convince yourself that the chair is gone, pulverized, absent. Only the spaces are real.”

Eventually, I found myself focusing more on the spaces than on the positive form and completing the drawing became less challenging.  All in all, I was satisfied with the outcome–particularly later, when I dug up the old sketchbook and viewed my previous attempt at chair drawing.

For further practice using negative space, it is suggested that the student copies Winslow Homer’s drawing of “Child Seated in a Wicker Chair,” a drawing in which the use of negative space is very apparent.

And thus…I sat down to draw yet another chair.

“Child Seated in a Wicker Chair” by Winslow Homer

My Copy of Homer’s “Child Seated in a Wicker Chair”


I am finding that the more I read about the concept of left brain/right brain processing and associated functions, the more confused I become as to the current state of affairs.  What I gather is that it is a complex and evolving topic, and although there is a tendency towards lateralization of certain brain functions, many of the broad generalizations prevalent in pop-psychology are flawed.

My concern is that I am going to be following a method that may rely on outdated theory, and I hesitate to record information as “fact,” without first exercising due diligence, by verifying information with actual scientific research and refraining from using Wikipedia and random blogs as resources.

And, although I find this concept very intriguing and am interested to know more, I would prefer to spend my time learning to draw and sharing my experience, rather than sourcing out and reading scientific journals.

So, my disclaimer is this:
I am going to be working through the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and at times will be referring to the underlying theory as it is, as presented by Edwards, and if there are occasional holes present in her theory, I am not going to be too concerned. From what I have read so far, I believe most of what she has written is considered an accurate representation of the science; and indeed the most contentious issue I can surmise surrounding this topic is still the “location controversy,” which as noted in the preceding post, was pro-actively addressed in later editions as new scientific developments came to light. Although criticism regarding her application of scientific research does exist, I have yet to read a review that does not support the efficacy of her methods.  And ultimately, this is what is most important to me.

That all being said, I do very much appreciate fact-based knowledge and if I refer to theory that is outdated or erroneously applied, I welcome comments and critique highlighting more accurate information.

And now…To the drawing board!