Have you ever experienced a paradigm shift?
Have you ever had that moment where everything you saw something changed drastically, and was replaced with a completely and entirely new way of looking at it?
That’s what I experienced after reading the book “Drawing on the Artist Within” when the author, Betty Edwards, challenged my way of seeing what I was looking at when I was drawing.
It’s been years since I read it, but I remember clearly the exercise she instructed in the book.
Betty was able to make me realize that even though I was “seeing” everything I was drawing, I wasn’t really SEEING it as it truly is.
What I realized was that in my brain, I have images that I have created in my mind for all of the different things I’m looking at. It’s kind of like my own personal file cabinet of memories – not very accurate memories, apparently!
For example, if I were to think of an eye, I would have wanted to draw an oval shape with a circle inside the oval. Very simplistic and inaccurate.
If I were to think of hair, I would want to draw individual hairs in strands from the top of the head…maybe if it was curly hair, I would have drawn many scribbly circles to indicate that.
Now, what I learned from the book was this intriguing exercise in which you turn the picture you are drawing upside down!
This idea was so new to me that I was really excited to try it out.
There are a few different example images she used in the book to try drawing upside down. I think they were chosen specifically because unless turned right side up, it’s kind of difficult to make sense of what you’re drawing.
For example, here is one she chose by Picasso (Portrait of Igor Stravinsky):
What happened when I drew the first upside down picture, it was like a lightbulb moment happened in my mind. I was absolutely dumbfounded when I turned the picture right side up and realized how accurate it was drawn on the paper.
I knew that if it had been right side up when I had drawn it, the proportions would have been completely wrong. Why was it that I was able to draw it so well when it was turned upside down? What could possibly account for that?
I felt this sense of awe of recognition of the fact that all along, I had been doing it wrong!
All along, I had never been SEEING what I was drawing.
I had been only seeing what I had stored away in my memory and was translating on paper!
But NOW, what I started recognizing was that EVERYTHING – and I mean EVERYTHING – that we see in life is all the same. It all consists of the same lights, darks, shapes, and lines!
Once a master this one thing- SEEING things the way they really are- you will be able to translate what you see on paper with confidence!
Let me show you some examples of one of my drawings of a face before learning this technique (2001):
Notice some things in the picture above. The eyes are almost symmetrical, which is almost never the case in real life.
The top of the head is smaller than it would be in reality and my hairs are all drawn individually.
There is no depth or dimension in this drawing at all…it is very flat! I didn’t really look at my reference picture as much as I should have but mostly drew from my memory of what I believed her face should look like.
My drawing skills began to improve that year as a result of this small but life-changing experiment. This next picture is also from 2001. (I practiced with magazines such as National Geographic all of the time):
Over the years, I kept drawing and kept practicing and learning from my mistakes:
I’m still learning and progressing, but it’s so much fun to look back and see improvement. And I know without a doubt, if not for this simple experiment to draw upside down, I possibly never would have drawn a single face.
For years, this is how I used to draw, because even though my dream was to be able to draw faces, I falsely believed that I “just didn’t have the talent for that.” I can’t tell you how many times I had repeated this to myself.
If you’re ever telling yourself that you can’t do something you have always wanted to do, stop doing that right now.
Change that thought process and realize that you can do so much more than you realize!
I have a challenge for you!
I would like to challenge you to find a picture -you could go outside and take a picture of a flower, some still life on your table, maybe find a postcard or whatever it is that you would like to draw…and turn it upside down, and see how well you do!
I would also really love it if you would share your drawing here and let me know if this exercise has helped you as much as it helped me!