Considering the relation between words and images, and specifically how we tend to break this relationship down in our heads, it really got me thinking about drawing. Specifically, how much I enjoy drawing. Furthermore, how terrible I was at drawing for a long time, and how many people seem reluctant to get into drawing because they just “can’t do it.” Malarky, I say!
When I was but a wee lad who was trying to figure out how to make my homemade doodles of robots and aliens look less like this
and more like this,
a smart man passed on a book to me that would forever change my life. The book is called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and it is less of a book about drawing techniques as much as it is about learning how to properly see the objects that you are looking at. You see, the reason why many people claim that they are incapable of drawing is because our brain tends to make baseline associations with objects in the world. By that, I mean that people tend to try to draw robots as being a couple of boxes stacked on top of each other, birds flying through the air look more like McDonald’s arches than living creatures, and the sun is always a circle with wavy lines emanated from it. The reason is not necessarily because that is what we actually think these objects actually look like as much as it is because our brain compartmentalizes these objects into symbols, to the point that the circle with wavy lines is equated with the sun in our minds. When we try to draw them, typically with our more analytical, dominant, and generally more developed left side of our brains (that side sucks at drawing, btw), these symbols come out on the paper instead of the images that we actually want to draw. And when the casual observer looks at the circle with wavy lines on a sheet of paper, even though it looks absolutely nothing like the the gigantic mass of gas that our planet orbits, the observer still knows exactly what it is that the person was trying to convey.
The point of all of this is that our brain works in crazy ways. We are taught in schools to foster our left brain skills, such as reading and arithmetic, generally at the expense of the development of our more visual and creative side of our brains. As McCloud puts it, “We all started out…using words and images interchangeably.” He continues talking about cave paintings, saying “Some of this art shows considerable attention to detail, very much concerned with pictorial representation. But others were very iconic, acting as symbols rather than pictures. Almost like a primitive language!”
Its funny to think back to being in kindergarten, or perhaps early first grade. I know for me personally, I learned to start drawing long before I ever started reading. This seems to be a pretty common occurrence, given the sheer number of scrap paper containing children’s doodles that I have to throw away at work everyday (I’m a waiter). Before I ever learned what letters were supposed to symbolize, and this is something that Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain really emphasizes, I was making symbolic relationships about the world through the pictures I was drawing. Circles with squiggly lines = sun. McDonald’s arches in the sky = flying birds. This was my alphabet when I was a young child, and with those silly symbols I could tell whole stories about what was going on in my mind. It looked like shit, but hey, at least I knew what I was talking about!
I will leave you with this, though. For all of you out there who are still stuck in symbol mode and refuse to believe that you can draw well, it is possible (easy even) to break the associations you have in your mind. Here are a few pictures of before and after drawings of people who read through this book. None of them had any formal training, they just learned to see things a bit differently.
So don’t ever tell me that you can’t draw! You just have a hard time seeing things 😉