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Thread: Betty Edwards

  1. #1
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    Betty Edwards

    I finally got a chance to look at the third edition at her "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". On page 250 I find this gem:

    "Drawing is a visual task and most artists have great problems drawing from memory except for those images they have drawn before. If someone asked me to draw a picture of an antique railway engine, for example, I could not do that because I donít know what it looks like. If I could see a picture, or go to view the object, then I could draw it. Curiously, this occasionally comes as a surprise to people who donít draw. They seem to think that an artist is someone who can draw anything."

    Am I the only one who finds this sort of attitude insane? She actually seems to think that to draw something you need to have reference or else it does not happen!

    Now people, everyone stop drawing from your imaginations NOW. You need to go to view an object in order to draw! Betty Edwards says so!

    Someone has to explain to her that artists routinely use their knowledge and experience to create and recreate images of things they haven't seen before, indeed, of things that do not exist. You have seen dozens of images of antique railway engines before - in the movies, on old photos, in children's books, as Thomas the Tank Engine, if nothing else! If you are an artist, you should be able to recreate a good likeness of one, not to the last tiny rivet, but it would be a workable likeness as long as you remember how these things operate. If you are as dependent on reference as Edwards says, you are a human photocopier, not an artist.

    And no, "most artists" worth the title have absolutely no problem working from memory. The precision of their works may improve with reference, but they are not crippled without it.

    It's even worse than I remembered from the first edition...

    (I was actually moved to put other things aside and rework my old review of that book in light of the newly discovered inanity. You can read it at http://chiseledrocks.com/main/musings/topics/snakeoil , but beware, it is scathing.)

  2. #2
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    Hi arenhaus, that's an interesting point that you raise here.

    As a beginning artist, I am one of those people who can only draw something that I see and not from my imagination. If I try to draw without a reference I end up with something that looks like a kindergarten drawing. I can manage an outline that's the right shape but not the details or the shading.

    I find it encouraging to hear your opinion that an experienced artist can draw from memory and imagination. Of course it makes perfect sense, otherwise all imagined images couldn't be. I'll be working towards the day when I can draw something that way too.

  3. #3
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    I would think it all depends on the artist and what they're doing. Also what stage of development they're at. Animation folk draw out of their heads all the time but it's simplified. But many use model sheets until they can do those few lines in their head. Many have inspirational reference that they use for structural ideas and surface quality and so on.

    So it all depends on how adept is the artist, how many like things have they done and so on. I think early students who have never looked at a subject carefully may not be able to include some critical elements because they may have not consider that detail which may or may not matter. And until they look, they may be stuck doing it the same naive way over and over.

    But I get your point. Blanket statements are difficult to defend for all.

    There were a lot of art classes that I took that could have not taken and as a result become a better artist who was more true to himself. I was actually really good at drawing like Ingres and his ilk before I went to a high end art school. I got there by looking at those kinds of drawings in books and doing a lot of life drawing. It was my natural style I suppose. And I was very dependent on reference because I got the results I did because of what I was looking at in the moment of doing it. But I was a beginner who suddenly got serious.

    Much to my aggravation, I had to sort of unlearn it because the teachers I was given didn't do that and realism wasn't fashionable at the time. Not sure that was an altogether good education. I don't think it essential to have an education in which one is trained to do everything perfectly. It's good to know about it. But it's important to be a thinking responsive creator who evaluates things along the way.

    Unless one is being trained for a specific job, buying into one person's teaching wholesale is dangerous unless one is sure that is all they want to do. The people we want to emulate doubtless got to that point having absorbed lots of art. And what they themselves do is how it distilled for them. And their students, given that same exposure, were it possible, could form different methods and conclusions.

    I think teachers worth their salt have reasons for what they do. And some methods are right for us and others not for some but great for others. Different school rivalries. I feel a king fu school challenge coming on, haha.

    Anyway, I do see your point. Helps to think and imagine with clarity. And be free enough to use as a springboard the last few marks to dictate the following. More personal and creative, without a doubt.

    Been fun watching your opinions of Betty Edwards over time. I think it's very useful to know what one doesn't want.

    Quote Originally Posted by arenhaus View Post
    I finally got a chance to look at the third edition at her "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". On page 250 I find this gem:

    "Drawing is a visual task and most artists have great problems drawing from memory except for those images they have drawn before. If someone asked me to draw a picture of an antique railway engine, for example, I could not do that because I donít know what it looks like. If I could see a picture, or go to view the object, then I could draw it. Curiously, this occasionally comes as a surprise to people who donít draw. They seem to think that an artist is someone who can draw anything."

    Am I the only one who finds this sort of attitude insane? She actually seems to think that to draw something you need to have reference or else it does not happen!

    Now people, everyone stop drawing from your imaginations NOW. You need to go to view an object in order to draw! Betty Edwards says so!

    Someone has to explain to her that artists routinely use their knowledge and experience to create and recreate images of things they haven't seen before, indeed, of things that do not exist. You have seen dozens of images of antique railway engines before - in the movies, on old photos, in children's books, as Thomas the Tank Engine, if nothing else! If you are an artist, you should be able to recreate a good likeness of one, not to the last tiny rivet, but it would be a workable likeness as long as you remember how these things operate. If you are as dependent on reference as Edwards says, you are a human photocopier, not an artist.

    And no, "most artists" worth the title have absolutely no problem working from memory. The precision of their works may improve with reference, but they are not crippled without it.

    It's even worse than I remembered from the first edition...

    (I was actually moved to put other things aside and rework my old review of that book in light of the newly discovered inanity. You can read it at http://chiseledrocks.com/main/musings/topics/snakeoil , but beware, it is scathing.)
    "Not a bit is wasted and the best is yet to come. . ." -- remembered from a dream

  4. #4
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    Not sure how you managed to extrapolate

    'She actually seems to think that to draw something you need to have reference or else it does not happen!'

    From

    'If someone asked me to draw a picture of an antique railway engine, for example, I could not do that because I donít know what it looks like. If I could see a picture, or go to view the object, then I could draw it. Curiously, this occasionally comes as a surprise to people who donít draw. They seem to think that an artist is someone who can draw anything.'

    Seems to me the only person who could do a detailed drawing of an antique railway engine without a reference would be a gifted savant.

    I believe Da Vinci did not sit in a room all day with his head up his posterior, he went out and got models to pose for him... a reference. he made sketches another reference and would, I dare say, have used a poloroid camera had he been able to.

  5. #5
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    I don't extrapolate at all. Have you read the book? The whole book is about copying what you see, using a grid. Then in the final chapter, there is that quote.

    In the context of the book, it makes perfect sense. It's just that I had not expected to see such a direct, blatant confirmation that Edwards doesn't even think outside the direct copying.

    I had thought it was because she was dealing with beginners. But then I saw that quote and realized that she really thought that drawing was not possible without seeing what you draw. This is not the only quote confirming it, in retrospect. I recall she appeared convinced that realism is solely about her brand of sight drawing, for example. Many realist artists would have been very surprised if they heard that.

    (As for "memory is reference" - maybe your memory is photographic, but I know that mine is not. In my case, memory is knowledge, not reference. My drawing improves with some reference as anyone's would, but I can draw any number of recognizably antique railway engines out of my head without ever looking one up, because I have seen many and I know their structure and operation. I could also design fantastic machines more or less closely based on such engines. Reference would merely add precision to my work, or help make it more exactly like a particular model of the locomotive.)

  6. #6
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    Sweedie: "It is totally impossible to make a picture of something you know nothing about"

    I think James Cameron's concept artist team would want to discuss their life sessions with the wildlife of Pandora with you.

    Nice of you to pull the bicycle trick on the newbies... but it proves nothing. It is a part of artist's education to actually look at things in order to know how to picture them. The bicycle trick is exactly that: a demonstration that your students only think they know a bicycle. It is needed to shake them into the necessity of actual artistic observation, not simple recognition of a layman. Such observation then fuels artistic invention.

    But if your students finish your course with the same attitude as they begin it with, and still can't draw a bicycle without looking at one, I should dare to say you are missing something utterly important in their education...

  7. #7
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    I took some art classes about 10 years ago where the teacher used ďDrawing from the Right Side of the BrainĒ as a guide to develop the curriculum. It was very much about learning to really look at what you were drawing. There were different exercises to try and trick yourself into looking at things in a new way so that you saw what was there and not what you thought was there.

    But I do have to agree with arenhaus about the having to have a reference to draw is just ridicules. Some of my favorite drawings are Science Fiction, and there are no references for much of them. I would think if you understand perspective, shadows, and highlights you can make a fairly 3D looking drawing of many things without a reference.
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  8. #8
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    I feel like I am back at school with an overbearing teacher. Art should be fun if it wasnt I wouldnt be playing around with AR and having fun. Surely there is a nice way to talk to people without talking down to them. Oh and by the way, I have the book.
    Sometimes...I remember better with my eyes closed

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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by arenhaus View Post
    I don't extrapolate at all. Have you read the book? The whole book is about copying what you see, using a grid. Then in the final chapter, there is that quote.

    In the context of the book, it makes perfect sense. It's just that I had not expected to see such a direct, blatant confirmation that Edwards doesn't even think outside the direct copying.

    I had thought it was because she was dealing with beginners. But then I saw that quote and realized that she really thought that drawing was not possible without seeing what you draw. This is not the only quote confirming it, in retrospect. I recall she appeared convinced that realism is solely about her brand of sight drawing, for example. Many realist artists would have been very surprised if they heard that.

    (As for "memory is reference" - maybe your memory is photographic, but I know that mine is not. In my case, memory is knowledge, not reference. My drawing improves with some reference as anyone's would, but I can draw any number of recognizably antique railway engines out of my head without ever looking one up, because I have seen many and I know their structure and operation. I could also design fantastic machines more or less closely based on such engines. Reference would merely add precision to my work, or help make it more exactly like a particular model of the locomotive.)
    I quite agree with the last bit.... you need a reference to get a precise and exact drawing... Oh and yes I have a copy.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by coops View Post
    I feel like I am back at school with an overbearing teacher. Art should be fun if it wasnt I wouldnt be playing around with AR and having fun. Surely there is a nice way to talk to people without talking down to them. Oh and by the way, I have the book.
    Drawing what you see can be fun and the Betty Edwards book teaches you some tricks that allow you to do that - to some extent. It's the first stage of learning to draw. But it's only the first stage.
    At best, if you are a super sharp observer it allows a superficial technical proficiency. But as the student examples in the book demonstrate, most people just aren't good and accurate enough observers to do this particularly well (especially with challenging subjects like the human figure) - you need basic knowledge of human anatomy, perspective, colour, lighting etc to allow interpretation of what you see into a coherent whole.


    Of course there are people out there who can observe superbly accurately and as a result have less need of the framework provided by basic art training. That didn't of course stop these great masters from spending years as apprentices studying perspective, anatomy, light and shade.

    I find it curious that people can argue that it's impossible to draw anything without a (direct) reference. Even I can do it some extent and I'm no artistic genius. It's not actually that difficult- if you have studied what you are drawing. Good illustrators of the human figure study anatomy so that they have the working blue print of a human body in their head. They know how the joints and musculature move in different positions. They do immense amounts of life studies to practice showing light and shade and perspective on the human body in different positions and from different angles. So when they need to draw a figure from the imagination they have this mental blue print and can slide the mechanics into place and draw them from the minds eye, using their knowledge of perspective and shading under whatever light source they have in mind.

    I can't do that! Or at least not to my satisfaction - I've not done enough anatomy. Stuff you can reduce to squares and cones and spheres I can do reasonably from my imagination- citiscapes etc and mechanical devices where I'm familiar enough with them to know the structure as I have a reasonable working knowledge of perspective and shading. I'm pretty good at floral illustration from my imagination as I've spent so much time drawing flowers (they stay still and don't complain about it...)

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