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See like an artist

If you would love to be able to create a drawing that you are proud of and one that will be admired by others who see it, then first you need to learn to see like an artist.

Drawing is the basis of many types of art from painting in oils or watercolour, to cartoons and animation. Once your confidence in drawing has been raised, you will be able to progress into many other rewarding media with ease.

Why do I have trouble drawing?

The problem for most of us is that most of the basic building blocks are never taught in school, so although we may be interested in drawing, we were never taught the basic skills to get started. When we tried to copy other people’s drawings, our versions never seemed to be as good or as artistic. Teachers often expected us to be able to do basic drawing, and so we were encouraged just to ‘have a go’. This is a bit like asking us to read a book without being taught, just by saying what we think the words are.

What you need to know is that drawing is a skill that can be learned, just as easily as learning to read or learning to ride a bicycle. If you can write, then you have enough control of a pen to be able to draw a portrait. After all, the basic skill of drawing is simply to put on paper an image of what we see in front of us.

Actually that is where the problem lies. Most of us have not learned to see things with an artist’s eye. Our brains have been programmed to see things as objects using a short hand code, so for example, we know what a book looks like, and we know what a face looks like, so that when we try to draw these things, our pre-conceived ideas get in the way, and we draw them from memory instead of looking at what is in front of us and drawing what we see.

By changing the way we see, anyone can learn to draw.

Seeing and drawing

Drawing is not difficult if we can see things properly. Learning to see like an artist is the key to successful drawing but we need to change our normal way of looking at the world, and that takes some practice. Our brains are remarkable in the way that they process millions of pieces of information from our senses and allow us to experience the world around us. Partly because of the complexity of our surroundings, our brains have developed a sort of short cut to assist in processing information faster. To start with, we only see very small part of our field of vision in sharp focus, and the surrounding areas of our peripheral vision are slightly blurred. We have to move our eyes or turn our heads to look at them. In addition, we use our memories to ‘name’ bits of the scene in front of us so that we do not need to take as much notice of it to be able to recognise it.

Imagine yourself walking down a street. We see people walking past us, but we take very little notice of exactly what their faces are like or what clothes they are wearing unless they draw special attention to themselves. We subconsciously ‘name’ them as a man, woman, or child, someone carrying a package, a man with a dog on a lead, and so on. By ‘naming’ them, that is sufficient for our brains to be able to recall the scene, but without the majority of the detail.

The same thing happens when you come to draw.

If you look at a face and try to draw it, you tend to draw what your brain is telling you faces look like from memory – what an eye looks like – where the nose comes and what shape the lips are – instead of seeing the exact detail of the real face in front of you.

This comes about because our brains have two halves – a left half and a right half – and each half is dedicated to certain tasks. The dominant left half deals with things like speech, symbols, analysis, logical argument, and thought progression. It is this half that interferes with our ability to draw by dragging back symbols from our memory about what things look like. On the other hand, the right half of the brain deals with things like awareness, ideas, likenesses, special relationships, patterns and intuition. These are the aspects of our brain that we need to engage to improve our ability to draw.

How to engage the right half of our brain when we are drawing is the problem we need to overcome.

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