By Carolyn Pons
One lovely spring day I picked up my eighth-grade granddaughter from middle school. As soon as we reached my house, Maddie went to the patio and pulled out her canvas and a set of acrylic paints.
Fascinated, I watched her paint, and I was compelled to question Maddie. “How do you know which angle to paint, Mad? What do you do to make shadows? Is size determined at the start?”
Hearing Maddie give clear, concise, and intelligent answers pleased me, as much as her beautiful artwork. “Oh Maddie,” I said, “I could never do that.”
Fourteen-year-old Maddie turned her head in my direction, looked up at me seriously, and immediately replied, “How do you know, Meimers, did you ever try?”
Thus began my sojourn into unfamiliar right brain activity. Soon after Maddie hit me between the eyes with the truth of the matter, I enrolled in art classes at the Lafayette Art Association. I told my instructor that I wanted to draw, thinking that to be easier for a beginner. I then worked on a drawing in class each week, and also at home, until I declared the drawing finished. Basically, I drew and our teacher commented, giving me hints and direction.
“You need to quiet your left brain, Carolyn, and let your right brain take over,” the teacher told me over and over. At her suggestion, I drew upside down, in an attempt to “not see” the named object that I was drawing.
The instructor told me about an art teaching method that uses techniques based on left-brain versus right brain. Our left-brain is our analytical side; my whole life had been spent analyzing. Our right brain is our creative side, the side that sees lines, contours, shapes, color, and negative space—but does not see the named object itself. I continued to search for my right brain and teased it to come out in my drawing.
Mostly I worked on my own. I struggled, because my left-brain learning style required more teaching. I kept at it. After about four months though, the rest of my life interfered, and I dropped out of class.
“Amazing” was what I thought of my accumulated drawings. I was genuinely surprised that I could recognize what I drew. Some looked better to me than others, but overall they pleased me. My struggle had paid off, but I wanted more and knew that I needed more.
Other activities, writing and traveling, seemed to take all my time. My interest in art sagged. I wondered if I would ever return to it. Suddenly, another of the Art Association studio artists offered a class called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” I immediately knew that I had to register for this class. I felt like it was meant to be.
The six weeks of lessons energized me. The method did not squash my left-brain; rather it allowed me to use it in my drawing. I drew from life, progressing from drawing my own hand to drawing a profile of a real person. I also did an amazing architectural drawing, this one using my right brain for measuring. I drew fruit, bread, vases, and even shoes. I copied pictures, with a likeness that thrilled me. Until my self-portrait at the end of class, my family was as impressed by my drawing as I was.
I know that I am not a natural artist. If I were, I would continually make art. Something inside me, an instinctual force, would push me. I am a learned and learning artist. The work does not come easily to me. I have to push myself, and be in the correct frame of mind, to start drawing. The few times that I painted, I dragged my heels even more.
The best part of my foray into doing art is that I see so much more than I did previously. After my initial look at a piece of art, I wonder at the artist’s technique, at the struggle to achieve. I note the lines, color, and depth. In many ways, despite my years of museum and gallery visits, my eyes have been suddenly opened.
Thank you, Maddie, for asking if I ever tried.