School is in session, where do I start?

It’s sometimes necessary to 
remind ourselves that 
Shakespeare at some point 
learned to write a line of prose, 
Beethoven learned 
the musical scales, 
and...Vincent Van Gogh 
learned how to draw.

Betty Edwards

Shae and I both officially kicked off our MFA coursework yesterday. We both want to work on our core art skills and drawing is high up on the list.

Learning To Draw

I am definitely an artist who used to think that in order to actually BE an artist, you had to be able to draw, and you had to be able to draw from memory anything. It was never explained to me that “real” artists use reference pictures all the time. Or that while drawing was definitely something that some people can just “do,” it’s not something that is out of the reach of everyone else to learn.

I have owned the book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards for many years. (Honestly, it’s the 2nd revised edition from 1999 and I probably bought it somewhere in the early 2000s….and I may have gotten talked in to ordering the most recent edition plus the workbook….)

I pull it off my shelf every so often and thumb through it, and then stick it back on the shelf because it is a LOT OF WORDS. I just want to learn how to draw, why are there SO MANY WORDS.

I mentioned this to Shae and her response was basically, get over yourself and read it.

I did not appreciate being called out.

Because she was right, darn it.

As I was trying to decide what to do last night for my first day, I realized that because I was most resistant to it, this book needed to be where I started.

Brains are weird

And…it turns out that all of the words at the beginning are actually quite interesting. There’s a lot of information about the brain research that she used as the basis of developing her techniques. Human brains are so wild. Our brains do so many things that we are barely aware of and one of those has to do with how we SEE.

We tend to see what we expect to see or what we decide we have seen. This expectation or decision, however, often is not a conscious process. Instead, the brain frequently does the expecting and the deciding, without our conscious awareness, and then alters or rearranges–or even simply disregards–the raw data of vision that hits the retina.

Edwards, p. XXV, The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Revised 2nd Edition

No wonder I can’t make my drawing look like what I see if my brain is mucking around with the data it’s taking in! I’m sure a lot of you reading this are nodding your head, thinking, I can SEE it, but I can’t make that same thing come out of my hands through my art tools. But how do other people know how to do it? And why hasn’t anyone shown me?

Probably because it’s hard to put it in to words for many people. And they probably don’t understand the underlying process anyway.

Learning to See

According to Edwards, the issue isn’t even about teaching people how to draw, it’s about teaching them how to see. How to shift your brain to a different way of processing the incoming visual information.

And that’s as far as I got last night. I’m almost ready to do the pre-instruction drawings. Which should be entertaining! The drawing instructions spend a lot of time on the human form, so the first exercise is to draw a self portrait.

Have you worked through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain? What was your experience? Do you think “real” artists need to know how to draw?

What’s Next

I need to do those pre-instruction drawings. And then get to work on retraining my brain. I’m also working on the introductory material for an art history class. I’m also looking for more resources for women in art history, so if you have any suggestions, be sure to comment or send me a message. You can email us at Or visit me on Instagram!

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