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Archive for the ‘Upside-Down Drawing’ Category

Up-Side-Down drawing is counter-intuitive. It’s crazy. It’s crazier than you think.

If I ask you, a beginning drawing student, to draw the complex figures in this Caravaggio painting, you’ll give me a blank stare that says “are you kidding!”  Too many bodies, too many limbs, hands, faces…and all that anatomy and all that overlapping…no way.

Now, if I ask you to duplicate this drawing (right), you’ll hesitate, because it’s also a pile of complex anatomical forms. But at least, the clear lines make the prospect approachable.

(I made the drawing while looking at the Caravaggio painting in a book, positioned up-side-down.  I used a marker, without corrections.)

If I turn the drawing up-side-down and ask you to duplicate it, you’ll just think I’m crazy, but you’ll definitely see that this is doable.  The reason is simple:  now you’re not looking at anatomy, you’re looking at lines and funny spaces created by the lines. You’re glad your family isn’t in the room to talk you out of this, as well they might.  You came here to learn how to draw, after all, not put some nonsense on the paper.  You start.  You get into it.  Your mind goes into visual.  Wow, this is wonderful, you can do it.  You turn it over after a half hour.  There it is, something you could not have done drawing right-side-up.  Amazing?  I told you so.

Not only that, the drawing you will do right after this exercise will be easy.  You’ll see so much more clearly than if you hadn’t done that crazy up-side-down thing.

Here’s proof, students’ drawings from that class. These were done from photos of Michelangelo sculptures, Roman heads and magazine clippings.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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On August 1, 1979 the Chicago Tribune printed a drawing by Picasso.  It filled more than half the page.  Picasso fans immediately identified it as representing Stravinsky, but they would have been in the minority and that’s not what matters.  What matters is that the drawing was upside down.

The caption read:  “Can’t draw? Try copying this upside-down drawing.  It’s one trick art teacher Betty Edwards uses to get students into the right-side brain mode.  Because the left hemisphere cannot process inverted information, the student is forced to draw what he sees, not what he thinks should be there.”

As she was doing a demo in her drawing class one day, Betty Edward, a fifty-one year old art teacher in California, had to admit that she couldn’t talk and draw at the same time.  Her dilemma had a physiological explanation:  the left hemisphere of the brain controls verbal skills and the right side of the brain does the visual work.  Since one has to dominate at any time, the two get into a conflict if you try to draw and verbalize what you’re doing at the same time.  In order to subdue the verbal side, she made her students practice upside-down drawing.  Within three months they could draw with astonishing skill and complexity.  The before and after examples she prints in her books are breathtaking.

Three months!! !  Upside-down drawing is the most valuable exercise you can do if you want to learn to draw.  Practice!   Practice daily.

See previous post for how to set up your drawing exercise.  Save your early work in a folder somewhere.  Three months later, pull it out, place it next to your accomplished drawing and remind yourself that learning to draw was easy.  Granted, it takes a rescheduling of your time, but an hour a day and two hours on Saturday or Sunday will do it.  Congratulations!  As Edwards says, if you can write your name and ride a bicycle (not at the same time) you have the necessary motor skills and hand-eye coordination it takes to draw.

In 1986, Edwards published “Drawing on the Artist Within.”  Both books are recommended for their insights and instructions.  But it’s not about quoting artists, dropping names and technical term, or knowing theory.  It don’t mean a thing unless you set time aside to practice.  Astonish yourself!  Get into the buzz of drawing.

To quote Edwards from the Tribune article:  “It can be a life-changing process in the sense that it’s not just learning to draw but learning to look at things differently, to see more.  Many of my students say that life seems richer, that they look at people differently, not  in the verbal way of naming—old, young, ugly, pretty—and dismissing, but that they stop and look at people’s faces and trees and plants.”

(I could not find the Tribune article by Connie Lauerman online.  More on Betty Edwares at    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_Edwards)

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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At the end of the class, one of the new students said, “this is crazy.”

He had been trying to draw what I had tacked up on the wall, a line drawing of a person sitting on a stool with legs pulled up.  The part that was crazy about this was that the drawing was upside down.

Not crazy at all. The only way to draw is to first see and in order to see you need to stop labeling what you see.  You have to turn off the verbal part of your brain and switch to visual.  Easier said than done.  In fact, this is very hard.  Your brain does not want to shut down the verbal facility, which it has worked so hard to refine.  The upside-down drawing exercise subverts your verbal impulses and over time allows you to enter a visual state.  When you’re in this visual mode, you get a buzz, a kind of high, an altered state, and, behold, you will see.  It’s so corny to talk about this.  It has to be experienced.

My new student listened to some of this left brain/right brain talk and my reference to Betty Edwards’ 1979 book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  Oh, yea, he said, I have a copy of that book.

Right.  Lots of people have copies.  Or had, before they dumped them at some used book shop.  If you’re not familiar with this book, you can pick up a copy at a used books store for, oh, about a dollar.  When it first came out in 1979 it was all the rage and it raised hopes that everybody could learn to draw.  Well, yes, everybody can.  You know what I’ll say next, don’t you:  you have to practice.

Upside-down drawing is the most valuable exercise you can do.  Here’s how you do it:

• Find a complex drawing by an admired artist or a magazine photo that shows clear outlines.

• Tape it upside-down  on your drawing board above the drawing paper which is also taped down.

• Observe large shapes and general directions.  Draw these as guide lines. Keep them as part of the drawing.

• Start by drawing lines that relate to the edge of the paper.

• Observe aspects of a line: beginning and end, where it bends, relation to other lines. Observe negative space.

• Pull the pencil without scratchy backstrokes. For large drawings, hold the pencil so that your thumb is on top. Lean back in your chair.

• Leave faint lines in place. Erase if the lines are too confusing. You’re not aiming for a neat, “perfect” page.

• Do not invert the drawing until you are done.

The value of this exercise is in the concentration and the process, not in the result.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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