The 21st century brought about a kind of an artistic wilderness for me. For most of my life up until that point, drawing was so habitual I didn't think much of it, but as I got more involved in software development, I moved further away from pen and paper. If you don't have the opportunity to maintain a habit, then it eventually withers.
But old habits are also hard to break, and whenever I did have a pen and paper, a doodling distraction was never far away.
One evening while working on a web site project I randomly sketched out a figure that fired my imagination. This was going to be the template for a Kapitar, a mercenary assassin in the world of Iapetus. I'd doodled bits and pieces around this idea before, but this was the first time I had a complete picture.
It slipped back under the surface though, and not much happened for years after that. Until, some time around 2007, I got my hands on a Cintiq tablet, and started wondering what it would take to produce a comic entirely digitally. I started sketching out some ideas, but I was so out of practice, it took hours and hours to produce them, and I figured it would take a lifetime to produce a comic book this way.
Once again, things subsided.
Years later, the advent of cinema quality digital cameras - within the reach of everyday folk - and some inspirational short films, made me wonder about trying to come up with a small film around Iapetus. A few summers ago, on holiday in Bulgaria, I got about writing a short script. But my thoughts were dominated by how I was planning to do the miniature special effects..
Plumbing the depths of your imagination
As a fan of Science Fiction and Action movies, I've always had a keen desire to draw. Along with 3d software packages, it's the most practical way to explore ideas and concepts. It's also a key skill to have as a film maker, for storyboarding, production design and visualisation. And apart form all that, drawing is fun, its a very rewarding way to spend time. As I found out, there's actually a strong psychological reason for this, but more on that later.
Can anyone learn to draw?
There is a pretty common belief that a person is born with a particular talent which you either have or haven't got. While there may be some truth to this, surely it cant apply to drawing? Can someone be born with the skills to make specific marks on paper? Or can you learn to do something, the same mechanical actions as another person, and achieve similar results?
I've been very interested in human performance and the ability to learn over the past few years. Its one of the key reasons that I decided to launch on this enormous undertaking. I'm assuming that I can develop all the skills I need through deliberate practice. A big basis for that assumption is the belief that skills such as drawing, cinematography, scriptwriting and editing can all be developed to a high standard, with dedicated passion, over a long period of time.
Suffice to say, I'm very motivated to develop good drawing skills, which is why I was delighted to stumble across Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain in a local bookstore a few weeks ago. Before I go on, here's a quick before and after.
I like the first image, but the second image seems a lot more confident. The lines are a lot more solid than the first. There's a difference of about 4 or 5 hours of specific lessons between the two.
Draw what you see not what your brain thinks you see
This is a pretty common message in instructional drawing, where the teacher will simply tell you to 'draw only what you see', but what does it really mean? I wondered myself after reading some books on the subject. It seems the advice is to simply continue your attempts to draw in the hope that you will improve. That's like handing Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason to a 3 year old and asking them to stick with it until they can read.
This book offers a different approach, and one that appeals to me because it offers some rational explanations for the ability to draw, and how your brain perceives objects. As many of you surely know, the brain is divided into two hemispheres, or halves. The left hemisphere (which controls the right hand) is primarily tasked with logical and symbolic processing. The right hemisphere is concerned with relationships, patterns and 'gestalts' or whole impressions.
When most people sit down to draw an object, they look at the object, decide what it is, and then they draw what they think the object looks like. This is key, if you look at a chair, and then try to draw it, you draw what your internal symbol system thinks a chair looks like. This symbol system is formed primarily in childhood which explains why many peoples drawings of real objects appear 'childlike'.
How to bypass your left brain
The key to drawing then, is to allow your self to 'see' with the right side of your brain. To actually observe the shapes, contours and spaces which form an image, instead of attempting to logically understand the object. The author coins this as slipping into 'R-mode', which is characterized as a form of concentration where time seems to pass without awareness. I recognise that as flow, and it fits perfectly with all of the great artistic experiences I have had.
The question is, how do you enter this state? This book takes an interesting approach, with the idea being to avoid the dominant left brain from handling the perception of what you see. For example, drawing images upside down is enough to confuse your left brain and allow the right brain to 'take over' the visual processing.
Another technique is to practice blind contour drawing. This involves following minute details on an object, such as your hand, very intently. You make marks on the paper which correspond to the movement of your eye over the details, without looking at the paper. It seems the intense concentration on these minute details will eventually cause your left brain to recede, almost out of boredom, and allow your right brain to step in and take over.
Maintaining perspective, the importance of goals
Its all to easy to lose focus when you start out on any kind of improvement. Looking at some incredible artwork is truly inspiring. It's also a little sobering. As much as I would love to develop those skills myself, I simply don't have the kind of time that would take. Having (and regularly reviewing) goals really shows its worth here, where it would be all to easy to become engrossed in the development of a particular skill.
Everyone can and should learn to draw
I'm a firm believer that any form of creative expression is its own reward. Producing images from your imagination is an amazing experience. Couple that with the benefits of a way to alter your visual perception of the world around you, and you have an opportunity to make a real impact on your life.
If you have been wondering whether or not you can learn to draw, I'm pleased to say that if you can write your own name, you can learn to draw. So what's stopping you?