Sketchpad, charcoals and pencils at the ready, I begin the first lesson in Figure Drawing. I knew to expect an overall review of figure proportions, but I did not expect to learn about the science behind drawing and how the brain works to deliver the sketches on paper. And I really didn’t expect to learn about which parts of the brain that I should consciously ignore while drawing.
During my time as a fine art undergrad, I sweated over the finest of details to draw a realistic representation of the objects in front of me. I didn’t realize how my left brain interfered with the accuracy of the object’s proportions on paper. In all honesty, considering how the brain hemispheres interacted while drawing wasn’t ever on my radar. Not even when I decided to revisit figure drawing years later.
I’ve been searching for a way to brush up on figure drawing without having to drive out of the way to an open studio and something that I could do during my limited hours of downtime. When HOW Design University partnered with Sessions College, several of their courses piqued my interest. But what really jumped out to me was the Figure Drawing course. Now, I have a way to brush up on my drawing skills at my convenience.
This course has been an eye-opener for me; it has given me a new perspective on the action of drawing. I’m eager to share what I’ve learned about how the brain responds while drawing, but I’m not able to explain this process as well as Fiorella Carretti, the course instructor. I’m going to leave this little tidbit from the course here for your perusal:
Drawing: Science and the Brain
Scientists have found that verbal and rational knowledge is located in the left part of your brain. When you learn any new theory (such as the concepts of perspective, value, and anatomy) your left brain is profoundly involved. The left side processes information in a linear manner, analyzing and drawing conclusions based on any information it is given. Your left brain is a smart cookie that will help you gain an understanding of the rules and systems you need to create a good drawing.
When this information has been instilled in you (through lots of practice) you will want to begin creating from the intuitive side of your brain—the right side.
The right side of the brain senses relationships and patterns, which is what we will focus on in this lesson. You will then find that the left side constantly wants to have a word in what you are drawing. So you need to learn to either make the brain agree with what you see—or trick it, or wear it out.
Why should we ignore the left brain? Because our left brain is constantly trying to save energy and effort, it will try to take shortcuts by categorizing what it sees without really looking. It will create symbols rather then help you come to grips with reality.
To give you an example, it only takes two dots and a line for us to recognize a face. Or think about the stick figure—the symbol for a man. These are shortcuts—not born from the attempt to draw what the eye actually sees.
So, what can you do about this sometimes intrusive part of your consciousness? It is helpful to sketch as many pictures as you can—fast. Eventually, the left side of your brain will find it does not have time to give you all its input. It will give up, and you’ll learn to draw straight from your eye.
The Importance of Measures
Before you get started drawing the figure, it’s important you know something about proportion (one part considered in relation to the whole) and how to measure.
What you think you see (left brain) and what you actually see (right brain) are often very different. Your eyes must be trained to work with your brain to agree on what’s in front of you. Measuring as you draw is a way to encourage cooperation between these two halves.
To grasp the importance of measuring, try standing in front of a mirror and stretching your hand towards it. How long does your arm appear? How long do you think it actually is?
This is an example of foreshortening. If you were to draw your arm, your brain would insist that the arm is long, and must be drawn as such. But your eyes do not see the full length of the arm. You will need to learn how to make your brain agree to what you actually see, or to trick it.
Foreshortening is what happens to forms when they are seen in perspective. Absolutely everything you see is affected by perspective. If you sit down, the forms around you look different than when you stand up. What is closer to your eye will appear larger than something that is far from you.
For the time being, Carretti ends the discussion on the brain and perception with the promise of further information in lesson five.This particular lesson picks up with standard proportions for the human body and with helpful strategies on how to measure the proportions on paper. If you’re like me and desiring a refresher on figure drawing, you may enroll in the course here.
A fantastic complementary reference to the course is the book, Figure. It covers how to render stylish figures using minimal marks on the page with ingenious tips and techniques from one of London’s foremost figurative artists. Sharon Pinsker covers basic anatomy and musculature along with adding clothing, character and movement and working figures into full compositions in a variety of styles and media.