A bit of fun with W. B. Yeats
Look at this picture. What do you see? Abstract shapes or can you see arepresentation of something you know from the real world? I know what it represents,so it’s impossible now for me to see it fresh. I’m guessing you’ve probably twigged it too.
If you have recognised what this is a picture of, then don’t congratulate yourself too much.That’s exactly what you don’t want to do. If you’ve recognised it already, tryto see it just as a collection of dark, abstract shapes. If you haven’t recognised it yet, great – stop trying.I want you to see it as you now do, a collection of shapes. One trick to help youperceive a drawing just as patterns and shapes is to find something else it could represent,and make yourself see only that. Then shift to just seeing shapes. Another trick I use a lot when I’m drawing orpainting is to squint – it tends to reduce things down to patterns of light and dark tone. Squint.Look at the picture again, look around you. try to see your surroundings just as shapes of light and dark.
The point of all this to try to see from a non-verbal, spatial perspective. To try to see justshapes and relationships between them – is this one lighter or darker than that one? Bigger or smaller?How far away from that one? What shape is it?
If you’re lucky, if you have a highly developed spatial, pattern based visual sense, you may be able tojust do it, kind of slide into seeing it that way. If you can do that you can draw. Well, if you can apply thatsame mode of seeing to the real world before your eyes, then you can draw.
Buying ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ by Betty Edwardsthe other dayhas turned out to be pretty fortuitous.
As this project and the site develop, my goals become clearer and more defined. The name of the sitemakes more and more sense to me. I guess I had an intuition (right brain) when Istarted that what I had to do was not to learn to draw and paint again but to learn to see again.It also seemed like a pretty goodhook to hang the site on. But the full relevance and appropriateness of that decision is only becoming clear tome now, or at least its becoming increasingly clear.
What this all hinges on is the original left brain right brain research done byRoger W. Sperryinto the two different modes of perception we have. These two modes generally are processed in separatesides of the brain, and are used for different functions.
Left brain is analytical and verbal, processing language, analysing and categorising.Right brain is intuitive and spatial, pattern recognising, non-verbal. Sperry’s research has had abig influence oneducators,and it’s relevance to drawing has been explored by the book I bought the other day,‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ by Betty Edwards.
I’ve had a few light-bulb moments so far with this book. For Betty, drawing is a right brain activity. If you can reducewhat you see before you to patterns of light and dark shapes, then translate that pattern to paper, youwill produce drawings far better than you would if you thought ‘table’ and tried to draw a table.
So back to the picture. If you didn’t figure out what it was of before, here it is right way up:
Is that clearer? Maybe it’ll help to see the whole drawing:
Right brain upside down copy of
W. B. Yeats,by John Singer-Sergant.
This is a detail of a portrait drawing of W. B. Yeats by John Singer Sargent. The original is a very nice drawing.When I copied this detail of the portrait, I used my viewfinder toisolate a small area, the bit you see here. Then I turned it upside down and tried to see it as just shapes,and copy the shapes I saw on to my paper. I tried deliberately not to think ‘eye’, ‘nose’, as I was drawing.
Copying upside-down is a way to get our analytical, verbal left brain to shut up and sit down,and give the right brain a chance to do it’s thing. Try it. Take a drawing and turn it upside down. Justseeing it as shapes, copy the drawing. Now turn it right way up and copy it again – which one came out better?
Here’s the detail from original portrait :
All this is very closely related to what I’ve been doing with colour in the paintings. Trying to see thesubject as abstract shapes of colour in order to stop me painting what I think I see, and allow me to paintwhat’s really there. The experience I had getting the colour of the plate in theCarrots and Squash painting is thesame as what’s going on here. Using the colour checker is a way of seeing the abstract colour – divorced from theobject it belongs to. A way of getting the right-brain, visual and spatial mode of perception to dominate.
Fascinating stuff. Betty describes at length in the book the characteristics of what she callsR-mode perception – losing track of time, automatically blocking out distractions, a kind of relaxedconcentration unfamiliar to analytical thought processes. When I’m painting I usually have some music on. At the momentit’s almost always solo piano works by Philip Glass. But I only notice the music when it stops. It seemsto help me shift into R-mode, but once it’s done it’s job I cease to hear it, sorry Phil. It’s often struck me thatfinishing a painting is like emerging from a bubble of stillness around the easel, like coming back fromanother world. It all seems to fit with the ideas contained in this book.
With the Carrots and Squash, I had the definite feeling that the picture was painting itself. I wasdirecting things, but I wasn’t trying hard to paint ‘a plate’, ‘a carrot’ – I was just concentrating oncolours and shapes. I could see the painting taking shape before me, almost as if I was observing some oneelse paint the picture. Sounds like R-mode was in full effect to me. Thats still my favourite of the paintingsI’ve done so far.
Since this right-brain drawing idea fits so perfectly with what I’m doing here, Iintend to run with it for a while. Expect to see more upside-down old master copies adorning thedrawings page.
2nd December 2005
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