“I’m gettin’ old, man. Heard the gun for half-time go off when I turned 40. I’m at half-time in my life. My life is half over. And I played a sloppy first half, man.”
Self-introspection had begun in earnest. I was looking at my paintings through the eyes of a critic and what I saw was work that didn’t match my vision. I simply wasn’t producing the caliber of work I was striving for.
The first problem I identified was my drawing ability. I have been drawing ever since I could pick up a pencil. Throughout my life, I’ve been told by friends and family that I was a good artist and until last year, I believed it too, whole-heartedly. Once I began viewing my work more critically, it became apparent my drawing skills were lacking. In the past, I settled for these inadequacies because I always managed to tell myself that I could do better if I wanted to, if I really tried. The reality was that regardless of whether I could or couldn’t, I never made a concerted effort to improve my drawing skills and thus, I had yet to prove to myself that I was as good as I thought I could be.
As I was driving one day, I listened to a radio interview with an author who had written a book exploring whether talent is something inherent or can be learned. If my memory serves me correctly, I am thinking of David Shenk and his book called The Genius in All of Us: New Insights Into Genetics, Talent, and IQ
. The particular subject discussed was “Why many childhood prodigies never fully live up to expectations.”
He referred to a study where a grade-school classroom was divided into two groups: Group A was told at the beginning of the grading period that they were straight A students, that their work was exceptional, and they were doing very well in class. Group B, conversely, was told their grades were average to below average, and if they hoped to improve, they would need to work much harder. Riding on infused confidence, Group A proceeded to coast through the semester, turning in very average work while Group B worked substantially harder in order to produce better grades. In the end, Group B outperformed Group A. I could immediately see the lesson and how it applied to me. I’m embarrassed to admit that until my realization, I never worked at becoming a better draftsman because I accepted that I was talented and therefore had no drive to work on my skills.
I needed a resource to help me improve. I looked up possible classes and workshops, but they were either filled up or too expensive for me to attend. During an evening making canvas boards with Tony
, I explained my recent revelation and that I was interested in improving my drawing skills. He suggested I pick up a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
by Dr. Betty Edwards who has a master’s degree in art, a doctorate in psychology and a passion for education. In her book, Dr. Edwards breaks down five levels of visual comprehension, followed by basic brain anatomy, function, and visual cognition to provide an excellent foundation of understanding. She then provides various techniques to help counter those obstacles to obtain objective perception; a new way of seeing. All of these concepts are referenced in one form or another in all drawing training material I have found, such as: utilizing negative shapes, determining a basic unit within the image and using it to compare and measure other, larger shapes within the same composition, determining angles, and several other methods. I therefore believe this book is the best place to begin if you are interested in improving your drawing, whether you are a beginning or advanced artist, because it is the most comprehensive.
Understanding brain anatomy and function piqued my interest and after reading about them, I was prepared not only to utilize different measuring and self-checking techniques to develop better drawings, but to continue learning about how we learn and other concepts that related to and transcended the world of art. I also became aware of how much effort needed to be put into practice. Drawing is a discipline- you can’t merely study it and expect to get better without actually working at it. Again, a discrepancy I noticed between reality and my perceived reality.
I began doing the exercises diligently with an eye on revisiting the fundamentals of composition.