What I learned from “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.”

Yesterday I finished my five-day intensive Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain course. Zoikes, what an astonishing process.

Here is my pre-instruction portrait.

This self-portrait is so astoundingly bad that when we put up our pre-instruction and post-instruction portraits, people in the class jokingly asked if I’d really been trying, or if I was just aiming to have the most dramatic improvement. The crazy thing is that I was trying as hard as I could to do a good job.

Here is my post-instruction self-portrait. (Unfortunately, I can't get rid of the glare, so it's a bit hard to see.)

It doesn't really look like me, but it looks like a real drawing of a person. My instructor Brian Bomeisler gave me a huge amount of help, and without that my drawings would have been far different. But nevertheless – I still can’t quite believe I did these.

What a thrill!

Apart from the drawing, the class boosted my happiness in several ways: it put me in touch with new people and ideas; it gave me an adventure outside of my usual routine; by taking me out of my routine, it heightened my appreciation for my usual routine; it gave me the sense of “growth” so important to happiness; it gave me a sense of freedom to realize that I could decide to do something like this and carry it through.

Also – and I didn’t expect this – the class helped me to recognize what I’m actually interested in learning. Before this class, I thought of “art” as a vast subject in which I had an undeveloped but real interest. I wanted to learn something, but I didn’t know quite what.

Now I see more clearly what I’d like to learn.

I’d like to learn how to sketch. I like the idea of setting up to do a full drawing, but I know that I won’t. There are so many things I want to do with my available time; I know I won’t do this kind of drawing. My initial reaction was to deny this truth, try to convince myself that I’d keep up with my new skills, then I thought – nope. I’m not going to make myself feel guilty about this.

Instead, I’d like to learn how to make quick sketches. And as it happens, the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain program offers a one-day sketching course, so I’ll sign up for that this summer.

Also – and this makes perfect sense when I consider that I devoted an entire month of the Happiness Project to “Focus on books” – I realized that I really want to learn about graphic design. Page lay-out, fonts, cover design, the visual presentation of information…these things fascinate me.

That’s why I was ecstatic to discover the incomparable work of Edward Tufte. That’s why I bought Chip Kidd’s fantastic Book One. That’s why I’m telling everyone about one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (and why I’m reading his Making Comics, even though I don’t even like comics).

I’ve always been fascinated by how readers’ understanding of information can be shaped by presentation. In Power Money Fame Sex: A User’s Guide, I used tip lists, boxes, font changes, boxed quotations, photographs, all sorts of elements to make my information memorable.

In the forty chapters of Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill and Forty Ways to Look at JFK, I used straight narrative, and also the Q-and-A form, a timeline, a map, photographs, arguing both sides of questions, quizzes, and other methods to make my arguments in succinct and provocative ways. This sound tiresomely experimental, but actually, I think it did allow me to impart a huge amount about Churchill and Kennedy in relatively short works – and in an intriguing way.

So again I ask myself: why was it so hard to recognize my passions? Why am I only seeing this interest clearly now? Why couldn’t I see the clues in the books I loved, in the books I WROTE?

Oh, well. Now I know. I’m off to do some research on graphic design…any suggestions?

There’s an interesting new site, Insighta (oh, light dawns, I just got that pun…), that’s like a Digg with a focus on issues related to personal development. A great resource if you have a special interest in these subjects.

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