The following originally appeared as a TEDx Eureka talk on drawing by Brent Eviston. Sign up for his online drawing course at Artists Network University today!
Images are the native language of the imagination. This is why most people don’t dream in text. Making images is not only an art, but a visual form of communication that is as rich and as complex as written language. The most fundamental way to make an image is to draw.
I’ve drawn for my entire life. I’ve taught thousands of people to draw and I am convinced that it’s a skill that is as important as literacy and numeracy.
Specifically I’m talking about observational drawing: observing something and creating an accurate representation of it.
Observational drawing is more of a science than an art. It requires learning how 3-dimensional forms occupy space, how they interact with light, and demands that every attribute of the subject be analyzed and recorded.
Light Lines and Mistakes
People often assume that good drawings are accurate from their start, but this is absolutely not the case. The first lines are rarely accurate so they’re drawn lightly, often so lightly they are hardly visible. Light lines can be drawn, evaluated and attempted again as many times as necessary in order to arrive at an accurate representation.
This means that drawing trains our minds to see mistakes as an essential part of a process. Too often people experience a sense of shame regarding their mistakes. Imagine what might have been different in your life had your failures in any area, been viewed as normal, temporary, and holding vital clues to your eventual success.
In addition to being fundamental to drawing, this is also the mindset that is crucial for innovation to occur. The ability to innovate is essential in a global economy where almost anything can be commoditized except the process of innovation. New ideas only occur when we take risks and our failures become productive. Drawing habituates that thought process, embedding it in the mind as a perfectly natural way of finding solutions.
To Design is Human
I often hear people say that drawing doesn’t have a practical use outside of art and design. I actually agree. With one addendum: if you’re human, you’re a designer. To design is to analyze and solve problems. Limiting ourselves to words and numbers leaves a gap in our problem solving skill set. Human beings have a powerful imagination that, when tempered with the design process, can solve any problem. Drawing is a tool that allows us to visually tap into the imagination and extract ideas so they can be developed. When combined with language and mathematics, it offers a complete set of tools for exploring and solving creative challenges as well as communicating those solutions to others.
In almost every class I’ve taught, there are students who are convinced they cannot learn to draw because they’re not talented. In 15 years of teaching I have never had a student who couldn’t learn the fundamentals.
The concept of talent is that of a skill-based aristocracy that if we’re not born into, we’re doomed to mediocrity. This idea creates a dangerous mental block to human potential. Fortunately, researchers are proving that mastery in any field depends much more on passion, and practice than innate ability.
Just like language and mathematics, drawing can be taught. While learning to draw you may wonder what else you’re capable of that you used to think required talent.
There’s a sense we often get when we see an old drawing that it was done because the camera had not yet been invented. But the act of drawing is much closer to solving a mathematical equation than to taking a photograph. Drawing is an active way of engaging reality, to observe, analyze, and record it with the possibility of reimagining it.
Forty percent of our brain is devoted to processing visual information, more than all of our other senses combined, but most people never gain a conscious understanding of how to communicate visually through an image-based language, which is a universal language.
In my own life, drawing is how I make sense of the world. To borrow from Thoreau, it is my way of driving life into a corner and reducing it down.
I encourage everyone to participate in this fundamental human experience.
I am calling for a widespread VISUAL literacy. Whether it’s on paper, tablet, or any other form of technology, visual literacy begins with drawing.
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