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"Only draw what you can see"

Winter is coming. Hmmm...what things can I do to keep my mind occupied this winter? I was discussing this with a mate and she suggested art classes. Now drawing is something I haven’t done since high school. So it’d definitely be a different way to spend a rainy day and a good opportunity to learn something new.

So I headed off to the Crowded Lounge in Latrobe to give it a go. As I was drawing an apple with charcoal I was struck by something the teacher said – “only draw what you can see, rather than what you know.” For example grab a bucket or Google a picture of a bucket and have a go at drawing a quick sketch of it. Does it look something like this picture on the left?

What is going on with the mind

What generally happens is that you draw the eclipse at the top of the bucket wider; it’s out of proportion and it looks almost like a circle. That’s because of what is happening with our mind. Basically complex shapes enter our brain through the eyes and are simplified by our intellectual brain into symbols that represent the original object. When we go to draw, these symbols are recalled, resulting in us drawing what we know (picture on the left) rather than what we actually see in front of us (picture on the right).

Conflict and compromise

So, going back to our bucket and the eclipse at the top of the bucket. We see an eclipse but the intellectual brain knows it is a circular opening and knows what a circle looks like; therefore interprets it as a circle. There is a conflict between what we see and what we know. When we draw the opening of the bucket we compromise by drawing something between a narrow eclipse and a circle. This makes the bucket look wrong and we’re not really sure what happened.

Did you draw a flat bottom on your bucket? This happens because our intellectual brain tells us that the bottom is flat because it’s sitting on a flat surface; resulting in another distortion in our drawing. Now that you’re aware of what the mind is doing you’ll start to look twice before you draw something. We have to train our mind to draw what we can see, rather than what we know.

What happened next

When I was drawing I began to really focus on the shading and shapes of what I was looking at, rather than what I thought an apple looked like. I found that as I was drawing I became focused and I was really observing everything about the apple; the way the light fell on different sections, the actual shape and the flesh getting browner the longer it was exposed to the air. That sounds very artist haha but it was actually enjoyable to only have to focus on what I was seeing. I could only draw what was in front of me. My mind was free from the chatter that usually goes on and I was able to focus and absorb myself with drawing.

Follow on impacts

I also found that during the rest of the week I started paying more attention to seeing and observing what was in front of me, rather than what I thought I knew. I found it particularly useful in situations when I was interacting with people. I was focusing intently on what they were saying and their body language. If something didn’t make sense I would ask more questions to get information from the person rather than adding in my interpretations and what I thought I knew. It was a good opportunity to be reminded of this. I haven’t signed up for any more classes yet but that one class gave me new perspective; particularly on how my mind is working and distorting what I’m seeing. Imagine what would happen if I did five classes!

Something to think about...

"Sometimes what you want is right in front of you. All you have to do is open your eyes and see it."

- Meg Cabot American Author

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