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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.

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