|15 May 2000
YouCanDraw.com's Insiders Communique
In this issue:
1) Getting into r-mode: Art, Science, and Accurate observation
2) Warm-up exercises
Suzy Voye from Tennessee recently sent me an email (and a beautiful
realistic scan of "art brushes in a cup" - a drawing of hers - and made
two insightful comments about getting into R-mode. She says:
"I'm not able to get into the R mode at will yet. Most
of the time when I try, I try by reading an art magazine or
video, it absolutely zonks me out! I mean that I
couldn't stay awake, if my life depended on it! Yet,
when I do manage it, then I can't remember doing it!"
Very honest observation Suzy. And very typical of the kinds of reports I get
from students learning to draw. You could say the same about creativity in
general. Drawing, getting into "R-mode", creativity - are mysteries to
lots of people. Researchers in the field of creativity only exacerbate the
problem by making it such a mystery: "Are artists so much more gifted than
the rest of us?" I don't think so. Not in most cases. In my opinion
researcher's problem is they spend too much time analyzing and not enough
The big mystery of any art seems to be "where and how do they come up with that?" Great art, art with a capital "A" does seem to come from a different place. But "Great Art" and a fascination with it can get in the way. How? By always expecting great art to come out of your daily routine. We talked about those expectations a little 2 weeks ago.
Where does great Art come from?
Great art seems to come from at least two places - first it comes from
willingness, from an openness to what's bubbling up inside. Second is
having the skills to express what "bubbles up".
"Bubbles up", what does THAT mean?
Dreams, insights, tensions, little pictures that flash by and through your
minds eye. In conversations you often times plow over subjects and issues
that might be asking for attention. Sensations, emotions pass through your
body. How often do we really follow up on those threads? You have dreams in your sleep - everybody does, right? Some people have made it their task to
get inspiration from dreams - or nightmares - Salvador Dali did both.
Somebody once asked Paul McCartney "how hard do you work to get all those great songs to come out?" To which he answered "How hard do you try to conjure up a dream at night? No more effort than that." I think he was
referring to learning to listen to your own voice (whether it came at night
or at the drawing board.) Bob Dylan once remarked about Lauren Hill (the
1999 Grammy award winner), "She looks at it, She says what she thinks about it, and she doesn't look back. She's an artist." There's courage in there.
So paying attention pays dividends. Literally.
Are artists the only ones who pay attention? Hardly. Scientists say that
what they do is based on "pure observation". Sounds to me like artists and
scientists have that in common - the observation thing.
Drawing realistically - be it caricatures or mountain sides - requires the
same honest observation. In fact, the "work" of drawing, or writing or
learning martial arts - or science for that matter - is close, honest
observation. And "observation" isn't as pure as it sounds either.
Scientists have to ask always "how do I know I've observed without bias?"
Artist's have to do the same thing.
Add to that the fact our senses are "flawed", imperfect, limited in a way
that puts us always a step away from the "immediate" real world. The outside
world is nothing "but reinterpreted nerve impulses from encapsulated light
data encoded by the retina" or something goofy like that. That's the sterile
sounding but bare bones scientific interpretation of what's going on.
Lots of people want more - they want to experience the world directly - they
want immediate access - which is a lot more than what the Internet can give
us. None of us it seems have claim to "immediate access".
And what's that, what's "immediate access?" It's sensing the world directly
without your senses. Timothy Leary would want us to believe LSD could do
that for you. Bhuddist's have their ways. Seeing the world by eliminating
the intermediate step - the nerve impulse step, the hard wiring step,
removing the interpretation step - between the real world and our brains
seems to be what a lot of these "fringe" folks want to talk about. Those
ideas don't work too well for me. (Maybe they do for you - I'm not judging.)
Science offers the more mainstream, "acceptable" view of what the "real
world" is. Or might be. The models they're coming up with in Quantum
mechanics and all the "new science" is pretty fascinating stuff. In fact
they paint a pretty "unreal" picture. Still it's a representation. A "one
I think Plato and Aristotle were right when they said "all art is a lie".
Not in the mean, malevolent sense - in the "copy as a lie" sense. But then
everything we comment on, record, observe, experiment on, think about, use
language to describe, is a "lie" if you think about it. It's a
representation. It's second hand - always at least one step away from the
"real" thing. You can say exactly the same about science.
Does that mean not try? Heck no.
In my opinion that's where your own observations, your own experiences are
the best barometer, the best measure of what's really out there - even if it
is "second hand". And it's the funnest!
Interpretation and style is why Al Hirshfield drawings look different than
John Kascht's - or why Picasso's paintings were so unique.) We still know
who they're describing. Are they any less "true" than a scientist's
explanation? Heck, I don't know!
Anyways, the key to figuring what seems right and real and correct to you
brings us in a big loop back to the same starting point: honest observation.
We don't observe very well when we're thinking. That much we DO know. And that's what artist's of all types have made their job, consciously or
unconsciously: the most accurate recording possible. True to their own
personal "bias" - (read "interpretation").
While in the "Artist's mode" it seems we're in the most open and honest
frame of mind, the most "observational" frame of mind, the most "ready to
take dictation" frame of mind - from whatever source we choose. I know,
that makes the "artist mode" or "R-mode" sound like some kind of all
encompassing, salvational thing. Is it? No. But it does offer a different
opinion, a fresh opinion.
Scientists CAN measure distinct brain wave patterns that are different from
the "thinking" or language patterns when we're in the drawing frame of mind.
Getting into "the zone"
Heres' the real issue in today's communiqué: how do you as a caricaturist or
as an up and coming caricaturist artist get into "R-mode", or the artist's
mind or wherever the heck you're supposed to be when you draw? How do we stop thinking and get in to observing, in to perceiving, in to "the zone" as
Here's the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (DRSB) approach summarized:
"present the verbal, linear side of the brain with a task it will avoid or
reject, thus allowing the non-verbal, spatial-oriented part of the brain,
(the right brain or mode) to takeover".
With a paper and pen on a desk in a room with nothing but bare walls and a
window, Paul Simon, the songwriter, on his feet, bounces and catches a
handball off the wall. Bounce and catch. Bounce and catch. Bounce. Catch.
For hours. Rhythmically. Repetitiously. Until out of no where the words
The ancient Romans walked. In fact they built covered walkways, kind of like
strip malls without the mall. And usually in a place where there was a great
view. Pacing back and forth for hours, in silence or in conversation,
shoulder to shoulder. Or solo. Again: rhythm and repetition.
In pre-christian times "Witch doctors" and tribal leaders lead long rituals
that involved drumming and dancing hours upon hours. Again: rhythm and
Julia Cameron, a contemporary writer, artist and teacher, promotes daily
writing and daily walking as antidotes to a stuck mind. Ironically there's
rhythm and repetition to bringing about something new. Athlete's tell you about getting "in the zone" and so will caricature artists. And so will comedy improvvers. And so will musicians.
One thing observable in all of these is this: it (getting into r-mode,
getting "in-the-zone"), seems to happen best while you're in the middle of
the activity you've chosen. "In the zone" seems to be a little different
than the great "A-ha!s", the "eureka" moments. But "Eureka" moments seem to
come after long intense "in the zone" spells. And if getting into "R-mode"
is the day-to-day, "in the zone", where-you-got-to-be-to-do-the-most-honest -observing, pay the most attention, non-spectacular brick-and-mortar of art, than that's where you want to be. So...To get good at drawing, you need to draw.
Suzy Voye makes a great observation about getting into your drawing mind:
"Yet, when I do manage it, then I can't remember doing it!"
Like falling to sleep, the shift into the Artist's Mind is out of the
conscious realm: like falling to sleep you know you've been there, you just
don't know when or how you got there. Which brings me to the real point of
what I wanted this communiqué to be about before I started THINKING about it. Just 3 or 4 short little tips on getting into your right brain:
What can you do until you find your own method?
Here's a few suggestions (you can do all of these in 10 minutes or less). On
1) doodling; just whip out a paper and doodle. Cross-hatch (like in lesson
9), let come out what wants to come out;
2) quick walk ten minute walk before you start drawing;
3) Keep a separate sheet of paper to the side to write a "to do" list -
because for sure, your
left brain is going to do every thing it can to keep you from the task at
4) Do a "worst possible drawing" TRY to do a bad drawing - you'll invariably
end up laughing and take the pressure off.
On better days:
5) Do a pure contour drawing for 10 minutes; Do a drawing of anything with a
complicated edge like:
- a crease in your hand
- grab a sheet of heavy paper. Tear it. Now, with the paper almost up to
your face, or under a magnifying glass, try and draw the edge of the tear.
Notice the tiny shreds of pulp that are pressed together like sticks piling
up in heap around a turn in a creek, a log jam - whatever it looks like to
- Suzy Voye says her grade school teachers had her drawing maps - pull out a
map. Pick a highway. Pick just 4 inches of it. Make a photo copy of the map
section if you don't want to draw a square on the map. Draw the same-shaped square format on a sheet of paper. Now draw the section of highway on your blank (but formatted ) paper.
-See these links for maps:
-take a string. Maybe two feet worth. Drop it on a paper with a square
format. Draw the string as it lies on a blank sheet of paper.
-Review lesson four, Pure Contour Drawing at:
These are quick, short, non-threatening warm-ups you can do to get into
R-mode. Once you're warmed up, get into a good drawing session. What
warm-ups exercises have you found? Email them to me and I'll post them here.
Even if its "just" caricatures you want to draw, great art (i.e. ART) will
come out of your daily discipline. Out of rhythm and repetition. And that's
the point of this email today: not to try to do great art, but to do the
daily tasks that lead up to it. The great stuff will come - if you're open
and you've done your homework.
Until next time, (and I promise the next communiqué will be much shorter
:-)), take care and keep on drawing.