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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Is Riding a Bicycle Like Riding a Bicycle?

Are there things you just don’t forget how to do, if once you’ve learned them? David thinks playing the violin is “like riding a bicycle,” in that anyone who ever played the violin can pick it right up again after years of not practicing. Oh, no! I told him that playing the violin is not like that at all! Even singing isn’t like that. The voice is an instrument, too, and not practicing has consequences. Really.

For most of my life, I only dreamed of being able to draw, but then I read Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, and became convinced that even I could learn to draw with a teacher using these methods. At last Elizabeth Abeel offered a drawing class in Traverse City in the evening, when I could get there to take it, and so, three years ago, my lessons and practice began.

Three years ago. I kept at it through July 2014 but subsequently lost my discipline, only picking up a pencil or pen a few times during our following Arizona winter.

I’ve missed those sessions with paper and pen or pencil. Photography, another blessedly wordless activity, offers moments of relief from mental chatter, but drawing is more like yoga than it is like (amateur) photography in that regard, centering one’s focus and slowing subjective time. Really, taking time out of consciousness altogether.

It will take time, however, for me to work back into the wonderful discipline of losing myself in drawing. That’s okay. I fully intend to get back to doing it again on a regular basis – and making that decision, simply anticipating drawing, brought joy to my heart. Waking up Saturday morning, before opening my eyes, I was already seeing lines on paper – branches, leaves, facial features – simple lines growing organically into living forms. What a simply luscious way to wake up! A little later, then, driving along familiar country roads, I began seeing again as I had when morning drawing meditation was a regular part of my life. Seeing more, seeing with joy!

My hand is rusty, though. My mind still wants to jump around, and so do my eyes. What I need to do is go back to those first lessons with Betsy, drawing vase-faces and copying drawings upside-down. The purpose of those exercises is to turn off the part of the brain that has names for objects and wants to take a short-cut by producing a prototype. Oh, no you don't! We want that naming brain to shut up and let the eye and hand follow contours wordlessly.

This is going to be good medicine. I feel it already. Don't you feel the need for a break from talk-talk-talk this season, too?

...I venture to say that learning to draw always seems to help and never to harm. My students’ most frequent comment after learning to draw is “Life seems much richer now that I am seeing more.” That may be reason enough to learn to draw.
 - Betty Edwards, Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence


Barbara Stark-Nemon said...

I've been so word-centric these last few years, I had a similar epiphany that it was time to return to the right side of my brain! Brava!

P. J. Grath said...

Let me hear how you're doing with it, Barbara!

Dawn said...

I am happy you are going back to drawing. I didn't know there was a part of our brain that derails the drawing process by assuming it knows what shapes you want to draw. Interesting.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, the Edwards book assumes the right/left brain distinction now fallen into disfavor in the scientific community, but from a practical perspective -- If someone says, "Draw a face" or "Draw a tree," what do you do? -- her techniques and results make sense. I went back to basics this morning, first the "vase-faces," then turning someone else's drawing upside-down and trying to copy it upside-down, then finally copying rightside-up, focusing on proportions and lines. As stress-free a way to start the day, it's terrific!