"Drawing is Fun !"
By Kristin Newton [10 February 2003]

Maybe you are 100% certain that you can't draw, or maybe you are very competent and confident in your drawing ability. Maybe you are one of those who have had the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" on their book shelf for the last 10 years, or maybe you are one of those who have never even heard of it. My students have come from both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between. I've been teaching with this method for over 10 years and even now I'm constantly amazed at how it makes people just blossom with abilities they never imagined they had. It's for everyone, from people who can't even draw a stick figure to professional artists, from children to grandparents. Everyone makes progress. We all love to draw as children but most people quit by the time they become teenagers. However, drawing is as natural as breathing when you know the magical 5 steps to develop your perceptual skills. It's just like learning to ride a bicycle or drive a car.

Twenty years ago, Betty Edwards took away the mystery in her ground-breaking book that rocked the art world. The book, first published in 1979, has two principal messages: that artistic proficiency can be taught to anyone; and that to awaken one's latent artistic power, the brain's underused right hemisphere must be activated. The basic principles of the book are contained in a five-day, 40-hour workshop. This intensive workshop proves over and over that learning to draw well isn't only for those lucky few with inborn talent. On the contrary, the basic perceptual skills of drawing don't take years of hard work but can be learned in as brief a time as five days. It's not a soon-to-be-forgotten intellectual activity , rather, it permeates your muscles and from that point onward, as with any newly learned activity, the more you practice, the more you improve.

As students finish their self-portrait on the last day, I hand them back the pre-instruction self-portrait they brought with them on the first day. The air is filled with screams of disbelief and astonishment. They have invariably forgotten how much progress they've made. There is proof, before their very eyes, that they can indeed do something they were positive they couldn't

I've found that children especially benefit from the course, since they already love to look carefully at things and can draw wonderful detail when given a chance. Children make progress much faster than adults and only need about 15 hours, rather than 40. They just jump right in and do it instead of worrying that they can't. Unfortunately, now manga cartoons are so popular, it starts affecting kids from 5 years old. If they just learn a shortcut symbol, they stop looking, and there goes their drawing ability, just like that. They just crank out stereotyped cartoon images without any originality. Kids really want to make things look real and if they can't by the age of 13, they usually give up art forever. What a tragedy! In addition, medical research has been discovering recently that drawing is important for brain development and even the prevention of Alzheimers.

Many in the art educational establishment feel threatened and have said that the Right Side emphasis on realism in art can only be at the expense of imaginative expression. There was one teacher who didn't want me to teach the method to her class as she thought it would stifle the children's imaginations. But she soon changed her mind when she saw what was happening to the kids. If you don't really look carefully at things, how can you draw from imagination, because it's through looking that the imagination becomes rich and true. We take in information through all of our five senses, but 80 percent through our eyes.

I once attended a conference for elementary school art teachers. The participants were given an exercise similar to the one above. The leader wrote words on the board like lion, giraffe, elephant, cat, dog, carrot, maple leaf, etc. We had to draw them. Then she had us draw a plant of our choice, step-by-step, from seed to the finished product be it fruit or flower. It was a big revelation to realize how much we look, but don't see. What amazed me most was that the kindegarten teachers in particular, just drew simplistic cartoon characters, very much like one expects 5-year olds to draw. That's when it hit me! Do children really draw that way naturally, or are they copying the way the teachers draw? If that's the only exposure kids get to drawing, no wonder they can't draw anything else. How many teachers are afraid of drawing? They pass that fear directly to their students!

Last year an 8-year old girl took my class and later her mother brought a drawing of a tulip the girl had done in school. She said all the other children had done typical tulip symbols, but her daughter had carefully looked at how the leaves curved and the petals curled at the edges. It was a beautiful drawing of that particular, unique flower, not a stereotyped tulip shape. She was so impressed. In the US, some teachers use drawing to teach geography, biology, and other subjects. When you draw something you remember it much better that if you just look at it or take a photo. It also improves concentration a lot.

One very interesting experiment you can try is to ask your children to draw their pet or favorite toy from memory. They will draw a rather symbolic cartoon-like shape. As they draw, ask them how many claws and whiskers does their cat or dog have, how exactly does the ear connect to the head, what shape is the nose, how many tail feathers does their pet bird have, and so on. You will see a look of shock on their faces as they realize they have no idea. Then have them draw a picture while looking at their pet or toy. They will really look carefully, since they have become very curious to see how many whiskers, etc there are. I'm sure you will be very surprised at the difference between the two drawings. You might try it for yourself, as well. Can you draw your own face or your child's from memory, faces you see every day?

Just giving children calm, uninterrupted time to draw, without judging or criticizing or feeling they have to "produce a product", is so important these days, when everyone is constantly being bombarded with noise and unending activities. If kids could just learn to enjoy drawing and painting for it's own sake, and be able to draw or paint what they like, that will stimulate their imaginations and enrich their lives. Learning to see is the key to drawing and painting.

Birgitta Dallwig-Yajima, a counselor and physical therapist based in Tokyo, took the workshop in 1997 and started using it for the children she counsels for attention-deficit disorder. She is impressed at how it holds their interest and calms them down. "One child took the workshop and he changed quite a lot," she said. "He really started to look. Looking, and learning to process what you see, is so important nowadays, as children have so much information directed at them. Kids who have done this course do well, there's really something happening -- though then, of course, parental backup is needed."

Kristin Newton, certified Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain teacher, has been living in Tokyo for 25 years and teaching her popular workshops for 13 years. Classes for adults and children run regularly throughout the year in Azabu Juban. Instruction is available in English and Japanese. There are also regular weekly classes for kids.

Summer for Kids 2006
June 26 to 30 and July 24 to 28
Time: a morning class from 9:30 to 12:30, and an afternoon class from 3:00 to 6:00 (plus many other classes, as well)

E-mail: kristin[at]rbr-art.com or info[at]rbr-art.com, Web site at: http://www.rbr-art.com/en
New address as of January 2007:
RBR, INC. The New Center for Creative Arts
3-1-23 Moto Azabu, Minato Ku, Tokyo
tel: 03-5770-7401

Related Discussions:
Art Classes for Kids and Adults
Enrichment Programs/Montessori
Moving to Japan

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