Editor’s note: We’re happy to introduce to you Brent Eviston, one of our newest instructors at Artists Network University. Read his fascinating view on seeing with an artist’s eye in this, his first guest blog post with us. Stay tuned–Brent will be back soon with more drawing insights. ~Cherie
Drawing and Visual Trickery
At the age of 15 I experienced a brief and sudden illiteracy. After hours of copying anatomical drawings I opened a book to read a bit before bed. I, a voracious reader, could not make out a word. Instead of legible letters and words, I saw only a collection of abstract vertical, horizontal, diagonal and curving lines and marks.
A successful drawing requires the artist to leave behind the names and often meanings of familiar objects and places. Instead the artist sees a collection of shapes, relationships and values. I had glimpsed the world as pure, elemental form and for a moment I had difficulty shifting back to seeing things as I always had.
My drawing induced illiteracy lasted only a moment, but that experience formed the foundation of my work. For two decades I have explored drawing from the classical to the contemporary with a focus on how the mind interprets, and often misinterprets, information.
I remain fascinated by drawing’s ability to alter perception. and the visual trickery required to produce a successful drawing.
Here are some examples of my recent work. These three drawings differ in style and subject, but they are conceptual kin. Each one explores the visual trickery inherent to drawing in a different way.
The first, a two-hour representational figure drawing (see above) utilizes the classical techniques of rendering form through light and shadow to produce a believable figure.
The second piece from my Apophenia series (see above) relies on the phenomenon of pareidolia wherein a viewer sees people or faces in meaningless form. The subjects of this drawing are random crumpled pieces of paper that are positioned in a way that triggers the minds mechanism for recognizing faces and figures. From there viewers often experience apophenia, or the perception of meaning in meaningless or random information. Viewers report assigning genders, ages, activities, relationships and even narratives to the drawn collection of twisted torn and contorted piece of paper.
The third piece is from my A is A series. A is A, one of the classical laws of logic, states that a thing is itself and not anther thing. Ergo, an aardvark is an aardvark, not a barracuda. The image on the left is an italicized letter a. The image on the right is a drawing of a human brain tilted to mimic an italicized a, which the mind quickly accepts as text. This piece states a is a, and simultaneously contradicts the law that says a thing is only itself. The series demonstrates the inherent perceptual flaws that hinder humans relationship with logic.
It is easy to assume that traditional drawing is more honest or uses less visual trickery, but a quick examination reveals that traditional representation is just as duplicitous, we’re just more familiar with it’s tricks.
As artists, we must always remember that we are illusionists, scraping dirt across paper, and depositing it in a way that we fool ourselves and our viewers into thinking they see 3-dimensional form and space, and, beyond that, life, emotion, meaning and narratives.
WATCH Brent Eviston at TEDxEureka: “How Learning to Draw Has Taught Me How to Live”