Right-brained thinking in a left-brained world

I just attended a four-day “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” workshop and am exhausted. I never expected to be so fatigued – after all it was a drawing class! I feel like I ran four marathons.

The premise is interesting: that we lose our right-brained view of the world by about the time we become teenagers, once the language skills and quantitative training we receive in school really start to kick in. That’s why most of us (myself clearly included) as adults continue to draw as if we’re in about the fourth grade.

This training was based on the book of the same name, originally written in 1979 and still available as a book as well as a workshop. Interestingly, I purchased this book some three years ago but had not cracked the cover until a week before the class started. I read it as the class I was taking was taught in Hungarian and I wasn’t confident I’d understand all of the subtleties of the lesson, although I did fare rather well!

The class centered on looking at the world anew, suppressing the left-dominant logic when it comes to looking at shadows, faces and perspectives. Over the four days we learned how to look at objects leveraging our right brain hemisphere. I have to tell you it didn’t come easy for me and I consider myself to be pretty right-brained.

Beyond the overall lesson in drawing learned – and the vast improvement in my drawing in just a few days of practice – I also took away some more subtle lessons:

Use all the tools you have available. We were given six pencils – H, HB, H2, H4, H6 and H8 – that ranged in hardness and functionality. I found myself choosing a “favorite” many times versus leveraging the range of options available, and my drawings reflected this closed-mindedness. Several times I had too much graphite on an image and had I chosen another, better suited pencil, I would have fared better. We were also given three erasers: a basic one good for massive erasing, an eraser “pen” for more detailed corrections and a kneaded eraser for final touch-ups. All three had their role and I used them all extensively!

Look for what’s not there versus what is there. The left-brain tells you what is there and what’s logical. The right brain shows you what isn’t there – the negative spaces in an image that make an image an image. Really searching for what isn’t there was huge in helping render images as they really are as you learned the true spatial relationships between various objects. I observed one classmate (who happens to be in IT – serious left brain dominance) struggle with the assignments, even arguing with the teacher at one point about what he needed to do. He struggled with suppressing the left hemisphere more than some in the class and was extremely frustrated most of the time. We had to trust the teacher in looking for what was not there versus grabbing onto what was obvious in front of our eyes.

Have patience and persistence – and believe in yourself – and the image emerges. Many times I questioned myself about how I was shading part of a picture or what highlights I was leaving on the paper. It seemed counter intuitive at times, yet when I would step back from the image just a foot or two, the logic became clear and image would indeed appear as it was supposed to. Being patient and persistent were key and, coupled with choosing my tools well, made the difference between realizing an acceptable image (I’m no Vermeer mind you) and one that needed a big eraser or, better yet, a new sheet of paper.
I’m sharing here the before and after images I drew – click on the image to see it larger. Each of us was given a photo to draw as our first assignment on day one. On day four, we redrew the image and, well, the difference a couple of days of training makes is obvious. Everyone showed marked improvement in their drawing skills no matter where they started from, just by learning how to use the right side of their brains.

P.S. Also, welcome to the new home of my blog! Better name, better design, better focus (pun intended) and more functionality with this site. Please feel free to join the conversation!


Up at the crack of noon

Usually. I still need an alarm clock to blast me out of bed in the morning. Unless I can’t sleep which usually happens in the middle of the night when my brain is racing – like when I wrote the first draft of this post actually!

Except for the other morning. I was sleeping peacefully when an intense orange light illuminated the bedroom waking me. I mean it was electric orange with pink and purple tossed in for added effect and was such an intrusive light that it actually woke me.

When I opened my eyes the bedroom was bathed in the light streaming in from the windows. The sky was such and intense palate of pastels – with the intense orange dominating – created by the long-absent rising sun. After weeks of endless clouds, the sun was breaking out and taking full advantage of the situation. There were still clouds mind you, but the sun was the dominant player for this show.

Knowing the fleeting nature of light, especially in the “golden hour” just after sunrise and just before sunset, I quickly tossed on just enough clothes to stay warm (despite the warm colors of the sky it remains the middle January) grabbed my trusty Nikon and flew outside to grab the precious few minutes of this show. Trying to get my just-opened eyes to focus I dialed in my settings as I headed down the stairs and out the door.

My resources for composition were limited to what I could find within a few meters of my door as there were literally just a few minutes of this light available before the sun rose a bit more washing out the celestial effect. But there’s always a photographic composition available, you just have to look for it.

When I looked at the capture time for the photos, from the first image to the last, the entire show lasted but four minutes. Had I taken time to think about whether to go outside or not, what to wear (I looked pretty much like I was homeless) or any other second-guessing, time wasting consideration, I would have missed the moment.

Light is fleeing and time to take an image is when you see that it’s there. Wait and that image is gone forever.

Be in the moment

This thought carries through all aspects of life, doesn’t it? Be in the moment at all times – with family or friends, when you’re playing a game, doing something creative, traveling – whatever the situation, be there at that place at that time. Soak it up.

I woke this morning to a world of freezing fog on everything. If it wasn’t warm-blooded, it had millions of delicate ice crystals extending from its edges. Simply lovely.

Considering the conditions conducive for fog are fairly constrictive, find a convergence of those with the right freezing temperature and you have a special moment in time. I’ve seen freezing fog many times and it usually lasts but an hour or two before temperatures rise or the wind picks up and the world returns to its normal winter grey void of any ornamentation.

On this occasion I happened to have a camera handy and within just a few meters of my home found some amazing sculptures. My everyday landscape was transformed into a magical land and given that it was winter and a workday, the street was silent. Just my wonderland and me.

With photography, the time to take a picture is when you see it. Waiting until later means the light and situation – or crystals in my case today – will not be there hence the composition and image that you saw will also not be there as it was when the moment was right.

As I came inside, it was just starting to snow and I knew the moment I had was over. And the “moment” I took to enjoy the sights? 10 minutes out of a busy day. Ten magical minutes.


Half of photography is luck, the other half is looking

Which half do you want to rely on?

Photography is naturally about seeing. Looking for the right moment – the right angle, the right light, composition, everything – is critical so when that moment presents itself, you’re ready.

You’re present in that moment.

One doesn’t need to walk about all day long with camera pressed to face, finger on the shutter release, but one does need to be looking at all times. Have his/her eyes truly open to notice that certain something that makes a moment an image.

Looking doesn’t require any special skills or special training. It’s just about being aware of where you are and what’s around you. Sorting through the clutter to find the essence. Thinking in terms of borders – what’s included in an image and what’s not. Being this aware takes some conscious practice, but it’s doable without being an intrusion on one’s life. Rather, it becomes the way one normally sees the world. Being in the moment at all times.

Being in the moment is about consciously using one’s senses – all of them, to absorb that point in time. A five-senses test so to speak: How does where you are right this minute look, sound smell, taste and feel – and how can that be captured in an image?

Being aware ensures that one is ready when life presents “the decisive moment” as Cartier-Bresson taught us. The difference between capturing golden light or grey. A telling expression or just another face. Being ready to
capture exactly the image that needed to be caught.

Then the other half – luck – takes its turn by helping you be in the right place at the right time. Or is it luck?

The return of instantcy

Polaroid – the company that missed the jump from instant photography to instant digital photography died a rather quick death. Within a short span of time, that magical experience of watching your photo develop before your eyes was gone…

Until now. The film is back. An enterprising group called The Impossible Project has redesigned and is producing instant film again. In this digital era, the beauty of one-off images is refreshing. The fragility of having only one copy of an image makes that image all the more special. The energy that comes from seeing an image develop is still here.

Digital images cost virtually nothing: the first image costs as much as the camera; after that, they’re all free. Each image from a Polaroid costs. On a comparative basis to printing digital images, they’re really expensive. But oh so lovely.

I love playing with the box, not just playing outside of it. Polaroid images have inherent restrictions as a result of the medium – square images, no zoom, no ISO adjustments, and on and on. A classic version of what-you-see-is-what-you-get that forces the photographer to really think through the picture before he presses that button and blows a few bucks on one image.

Sitting in attics, garage sales and thrift shops are Polaroid cameras awaiting someone to find them and love them again. I have a couple somewhere (I think in a box in Omaha) but recently ran across an SX-70 and have started shooting Polaroids again.

Instantcy and the world of one-off images is back.

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