The Day Was March 10, 2013

A recollection of learning to draw

By Zed A. Shaw

The Day Was March 10, 2013

My right hand lay on the bed while my left hand traced the contours of the palm, fingers, nails, skin, and bed sheets. My eyes were fixated entirely on my hand, not the paper, as this was a blind contour drawing. My face was contorted into a wide, weird looking, and intense smile. My brain kept saying, "This is so hilarious! Hahahahahaha!" There wasn't anything actually funny about a blind contour of my hand. For a reason I cannot explain, when I did this exercise and any drawing I felt an intense feeling of euphoria similar to being tickled, hearing the greatest pun I've heard, or being unable to stop laughing.

I'm not left handed, but I was teaching myself to draw from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition, and Betty mentions that I can try drawing with my left hand to convince my brain to actually see what I'm trying to draw. On a whim I decide to try it for the blind contour drawing exercises and end up in a black hole for two weeks experiencing this bizarre giggling euphoria drawing left handed without looking.

This day though, while I was drawing left handed and giggling I also felt an intense feeling of frustration. My right hand kept twitching, my giggling slowed then stopped. I felt this overwhelming urge to use my right hand to draw what I'd been staring at. Now! Fucking let me do it! I grab the pencil out of my left hand with my right, and in 10 seconds right-handed draw a complete fairly accurate drawing of my left hand. I didn't even think about it. My right hand was on auto pilot and now knew what to do. It sounds like total psuedo-science bullshit, but my right hand had learned the difference between "writing" and "drawing", and it wanted to be in charge again.


Even before this I had uncontrollable giggling fits when doing the exercises in the book. At one point I'm instructed to draw a vase that looks like two people kissing, but to do it by naming the parts of the face as I do it. At first I can't start it, I shake uncontrollably and giggle with a grin that hurts my face it's so intense. I get this under control and complete the exercise and then immediately do the next one. The sensation is intense, strange, and nobody else I know has this reaction. I asked around, and everyone thinks I'm insane. Nobody reacted that way to learning to draw, which makes me wonder if I have something wrong like frontal lobe epilepsy or a tumor.

In the middle of this left-handed-contour obsession I find out about classes taught by Betty Edward's son, Brian at Brian teaches a five day intensive course that follows Betty's book and teaches you to draw. The class is eight hours a day and involves some lecture in the morning followed by 4-5 hours of drawing based on the lecture. I immediately sign up as I realize this would accelerate my drawing skills and is a rare opportunity. Brian's even teaching the class at Fort Mason in San Francisco, so I had no excuses left. I had to go.

The third day of the class I'm sitting on a bench staring at the piers of Fort Mason drawing them in perspective. The first two days of class were full of effort and straining to perceive what was there. This third day, drawing this pier, I felt a doorstop get kicked away from a door I'd been trying to push through. Half-way through the drawing, I calmly, without giggling, but with the euphoria, draw the pier in perspective with measuring and trying to be accurate.


Right after that, I felt the need to do another drawing of both piers, so I sat there and did a whole drawing without measuring and without any effort.


I like to say March 10, 2013 was the day I learned to draw, which seems weird that someone would have such an exact date for when they learned to do something. The next day we did portraits, and even today I'm not so great at drawing faces, but the day I drew the pier I felt I had finally learned to do it.


Ever since then I've been obsessed with drawing and painting. Over the last 19 months I have taught myself to paint and draw in oils, watercolor, acrylic, charcoal, pastel, and even Photoshop of all things. I've taken classes to get even better at these mediums. I've done a weekly figure drawing class to get better at drawing the figure. I spent months going through book after book of every subject I could. I watch more art training videos than I do porn now.

When I was younger, I was told that I didn't have a single artistic bone in my body. I was a nerd, and nerds to math and aren't creative. Now I know, that's total bullshit.

Pastel Figure Drawing

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