Saturday, June 22, 2013

Drawing with the brain side of the brain

In this previous post I made two points I said I would elaborate on. The first of these I''ll discuss here.

"1. Drawing and animating are mainly mental processes."

This on the one hand seems obvious. But because art is associated with evocative feelings in the first place and appears to be done with the hand and the eyes, we tend to forget just how much the brain is involved. Science indicates different parts of the brain do different things. So the visual centers are definitely helping out, as are the areas that motivate the motor skills of the hand to work the pencil (or brush or clay or IK handle or armature or whatever).

Another part of the brain at work however is the part that just "knows" and furthermore understands. You have to know what you are drawing to be able to draw it. You have to have as thorough as possible an awareness of an object's contours, mass, weight and so on to fully execute a sufficiently acceptable image. This takes talent and inspiration of course, but it also involves a good bit of life experience, research and practice.

Think about the word: "draw" for a minute. It can mean things other than drawing pictures. You can draw water from a well, you can draw a puff from a cigar, you can even draw a salary from a job. These things all mean basically extracting something from someplace where it inherently exists, out into the open. You could even say into your capture (the current phrase "image capture" comes to mind). But in the case of drawing a picture you are drawing something basically out of nothing. Nothing but your brain, your knowledge, your understanding, your memory, thoughts and feelings. How well you draw will depend on those things. Drawing deficiencies are in part due to a lack of them. This understanding has intellectual components, but it also would appear to involve emotions, memories and ideas about the object that can be incorporated into the image.

LDV v "Finn Family Guy"
On the more mechanical brain/hand level, the issue has to deal with training the hand, fingers and eyes to execute the correct strokes for the desired effect. It took me years to understand that that was not simply an art, but it is it's own language, in some ways almost like handwriting. There's almost no way to get around it: whether it's somebody drawing "Family Guy" or Leonardo drawing a detailed self portrait, the strokes involved are their own kind of symbology. The mind translates those symbols into the images (and then into one "meta" symbol of the subject itself). Both the mind of the artist and the viewer each play a part. The symbology has universally accepted cues, but almost like music, so many different ways of being expressed that it seems as infinite in possibility as the number of people who ever will pick up a tool to draw with. John Updike (i think) Chris Ware wrote a very compelling piece on Charles Schulz for THE BELIEVER  McSWEENEY'S QUARTERLY,  describing his drawings as a kind of "handwriting" - meaning that for all their simplicity, the "PEANUTS" characters were very difficult to "forge" by anyone other than "Sparky" because Schulz's singular relationship with the symbology of the strip was so personal. In Updike's parallel: like a signature.

People who have a good eye and substantial familiarity with certain mediums (like comics or animation) can tell various subtleties in the works of different artists, sometimes with amazing accuracy, even when uncredited or when working in concert with many other artists. In the case of some animated films I can do it to a limited level, some people's "signatures" are more obvious than others. By and large I am content to let the work speak for itself, the historical details of who did what seem less important to me.

I will address point 2 next time:

"2. A real drawing master knows his or her way around a piece of paper."

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