Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Why do My Drawings Look Childish? Answer: Your Left Brain is Ruining Your Drawing

During my term teaching life drawing, I came across students who struggled to draw. These were adult students who had plucked the courage to begin drawing after bringing up children or pursuing a career. Others were young adults who had yet to move on from cartoonish drawings that are highly stylized. This is often a disguise for frustration at capturing what is really in front.

So why so some intelligent adults who have great skills or talents in other sectors find it hard to draw?

Shut Up Left Brain!

Hemispheres of the brain
The answer lies in how the brain is wired, causing a sort of picture dyslexia. Our brains are split into two hemispheres, the left and the right. The left hemisphere is where the speech centre is located, and therefore is verbal, bossy, labels things and edits the world to make it make sense. The right hemisphere is silent, has great spatial awareness and sees things how they really are.

Hemispheres of the Brain and Drawing Ability

Skewed ellipses
Ever noticed how hard it is to draw whilst having a conversation? This is because the speech centre in the left brain is being engaged, but it is the right brain that possesses drawing ability. Drawing whilst talking is like juggling several balls at once. This is not desirable for drawing.

The right brain does not label things, but sees the world as it really is. It has good spatial and visual awareness. In order to draw well, the left hemisphere needs to be subdued and the right brain promoted.

This means to stop seeing the world with ‘objects’ with labels, such as, ‘this is how a how a house looks. It has windows, a door, a roof and a chimney.’ From some angles, none of these might be visible. Some houses look odd from certain vantage points. Photographs will testify, yet our left brains insists upon making things make sense.

Signs the left brain is interfering with the right brain whilst drawing might some or all of the examples:
  • Limbs on figures are too thin and/or short. Similarly, hands and feet too small.
  • Eyes on portraits are too far up the head.
  • Skulls of human profiles are too shallow.
  • Angles on buildings recede at impossible angles in foreshortening.
  • Ellipses on objects are wonky or skewed.
  • Impossible vanishing points in streets.
  • In general, the drawing might appear lob-sided squashed up or just plain wrong, for no identifiable reason.

Drawing is cornerstone to painting
You see, the left brain edits the world. Facial features are perceived as more important than the spaces between, such as the forehead or the depth of the skull, so these are rendered smaller than they actually are. The same applies to hands and feet, as they are noticed less than the other features of the body.

And so it can be seen that those who struggle to draw are experiencing a dilemma between the two brains. They see the world in different ways. Betty Edwards’ book, ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’, as well my book ‘Draw What You See Not What You Think You See’ explores this dilemma in full.

For now, be assured that a lack of drawing ability is simply due to a lack of brain training. This means recognizing when the pesky left brain is ruining your drawing.

Tips for Improving Drawing

Try the following exercises, designed to forestall the left brain. These will subdue your left brain and encourage your right brain to come through.

During the drawing process, turn your drawing upside down now and again. This will cut off the left brain’s familiar view of the world, and render your drawing into a series of lines and contours that are less familiar. You may notice skewed angles, wonky lines and accuracy issues.

View your drawing through a mirror. In similar fashion to viewing it upside down, this will create an unfamiliar view of your drawing.

Get some distance. Yes, get out of your chair and look at your drawing from afar. Your right brain sees things as a whole rather than in its parts. Getting a distant view means mistakes can more easily be spotted, as it will be seen in context of the rest of the drawing.

Leave the room for two minutes. Not looking at the drawing for a few minutes will have the effect of rebooting the brain and gaining a fresh view. You can also leave the room periodically during drawing to improve your visual memory.

Remember to keep looking at the objects in front whilst drawing. Often, I have seen my students sit close to their drawings without even looking at the subject matter. They are more concerned with polishing off the shading or straightening a line. Disappointment awaits once they stand back and realize their perfectly-fashioned drawings are inaccurate.

Handedness and Drawing Ability

I personally don’t believe that handedness has any relevance to drawing ability. This is to quash the pervading belief that left handed people are better drawers than right. I don’t find this to be true, although creativity and style are a separate matter.

Right handed people can be as good at drawing as left handed people, as drawing entails good hand to eye coordination and accuracy. Having said this, I have noticed that people who have ambidextrous tendencies, i.e., those who have low lateralization in a preference for which side of the body they use to perform tasks (brushing hair, kicking a ball, etc..) experience difficulty with drawing. Low lateralization also seems to come in tandem with poor coordination, incidences of dyslexia and directional difficulties. After research, I have also found higher frequency of drawing difficulties within people who have low lateralization.

More Articles on Drawing Exercises

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