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Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition

Betty Edwards · 8 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
A revised edition of the classic bestselling how to draw book. A life-changing book, this fully revised and updated edition of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is destined to inspire generations of readers and artists to come. Translated into more than seventeen languages, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the world's most widely used instructional drawing book. Whether you are drawing as a professional artist, as an artist in training, or as a hobby, this book will give you greater confidence in your ability and deepen your artistic perception, as well as foster a new appreciation of the world around you. This revised/updated fourth edition includes: • a new introduction; • crucial updates based on recent research on the brain's plasticity and the enormous value of learning new skills/ utilizing the right hemisphere of the brain; • new focus on how the ability to draw on the strengths of the right hemisphere can serve as an antidote to the increasing left-brain emphasis in American life-the worship of all that is linear, analytic, digital, etc.; • an informative section that addresses recent research linking early childhood "scribbling" to later language development and the importance of parental encouragement of this activity; • and new reproductions of master drawings throughout
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Can you expand a bit? I've been meaning to go through "Drawing on the right side of the brain" [0] for years, but still haven't done so. How does Inkscape help? Isn't it just a set of "pencils and brushes" if you will?


I use it, maybe once a year since 2008 or so, in order to create illustrations for technical documentations, however I found myself playing with it.

It is way more than a set of pencils and brushes, as it eases up many fundamental actions (managing which object is over/under another, scaling/rotating something up/down, aligning...) in an (IMHO) intuitive way.

Suggestion: install it and progressively explore embedded tutorials ( ).

> I'd love to be able draw decently

OT, but if you are interested in learning to draw, read this book:

There's an entire book about this, well-known to many artists, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". [1]

One of the exercises is to draw a tree. Then to go outside and look at a real tree, and draw what you see.

The two could not be more different.

Many artists will talk about when they "learned to see". Which means: understanding that reality isn't the simplicity of what our brain constructs, but rather the seemingly infinite detail of what is actually out there.

It changes the entire way you look at the world.


A relevant quora answer:
An interesting and tangentially-related concept is learning how to access "Right Brain Mode" for creative work, popularized in the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain".

Jun 06, 2019 · dmos62 on How to Draw Animals (1930)
I don't know about you, but I hate this cerebral type drawing, where you take a subject, analyse, restructure and reduce it into some components, etc. It's no fun and uses faculties that I want to rest when drawing. If I draw like this, what happens in my head is pretty much the same as when I work. I'd definitely not teach kids to draw this way. If anyone is interested in alternatives, check out Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards [0][1]. First edition came out quite a long time ago, and it has some popular neuroscience sprinkled in there from that time, but if you get through that, the actual learning material is very good. You'll be surprised how effective it is.

[0] [1]

> I'd definitely not teach kids to draw this way.

Seconded. Drawing from life is orders of magnitude easier than illustration. You can learn to draw your own hands quite realistically in a matter of hours, from a baseline of nothing. Learning to draw a realistic human hand from memory takes years of study and practice; you need to memorise every bone, muscle and tendon, you need to understand the elasticity of skin, you need a deep intuitive understanding of perspective. If you're drawing from life, you're just transcribing lines, shapes and shading - it's basically tracing with your eyes.

Our visual memory is really very poor, because it's evolutionarily tuned to remember rough silhouettes and distinguishing characteristics rather than a complete and detailed image. People who can remember images in photographic detail are invariably autistic and invariably have serious difficulties in coping with normal life - the highly lossy compression most of us apply to sensory information is an essential survival skill.

Most professional artists can't draw purely from imagination - it's a highly specialised skill reserved for expert illustrators. They rely on reference photographs, models, mannequins, preparatory sketches and all sorts of other visual aids. Why would we try to teach children a skill that most working artists think is beyond their ability?

That's a good take on drawing from nature. My focal point on this subject is how good it feels. When you get over that bump, which like you say takes little time, you become so relaxed. I actually don't care about the drawings I make, it's the state of mind that I get from doing it that I like.

"That bump" I mention is something like changing gears in your head to see the pixels on the screen, instead of the text, windows, and other things that the pixels "make up", to use an analogy. It's actually hard to even describe this phenomenon; I guess that says something about how foreign it is to us. It's a bit like, when someone is talking, being able to distinguish the pure sounds you hear, and the interpretations you (involuntarily) attach to those sounds. When drawing in the "naturalistic" way, you want to suspend the interpretation or symbolisation of what you see.

The first time you make the shift, to me it feels like "wow, I don't know this feeling, it's great". Then you have to redo it every time you sit down to draw, and usually multiple times in the midst of a session too, because you loose focus and fall back to the symbolistic-perception mode.

The question for me is whether someone who has learned to draw some animal in this way will then be able to draw the same animal in a different pose, from a different angle, in a different style, etc.

My intution is that- no. These sort of techniques literally teach you were to place your lines. And that's the lines of a set of very specific drawings, and only those drawings, ever. It's like the difference between learning a lookup table relating numbers from 1 to n to their sums, versus learning an algorithm to sum arbitrary numbers. The kinds of learning become equivalent as the size of the lookup table approaches infinity... but since here we're talking about images of complex forms it would really have to approach infinity before it's very useful at all.

I'm also a bit concerned that this is meant to be used to teach primary school students how to draw animals. Does this sort of instruction really serve to help a child understand how to represent an animal?

And, I guess, is it really a good idea to take human beings at the very time in their lives when their relation with the world is at its most fluid and try to teach them that, no, you don't need imagination to be creative, there's this one simple trick that you can use to always get the adults to pat you on your head and say how talented you are?

Well, I personally like the approach of the article because it allows one to first get the pose correct, and all the proportions, before filling in the details (which can save a lot of work and especially frustration).

Also, if you want to draw convincing animations, then I think that a structural approach is absolutely necessary.

I hope you see the irony in this comment!
Because I'm coming off as cerebral myself? Haha I didn't see the conflict there when I posted, but thanks for pointing it out, and that's kind of my point: I need something to offset it, and drawing can be that thing, but it entirely depends on how you do it.
I see what you mean, you want your drawing approach to be more free-form because it lets you "take a load off" the constant categorising and logic and so on. On the other hand though, tips like those in the link could help someone to just start drawing, and might lead to making creative adjustments to those forms (like encouraging your children to try making a monster version of a deer, for example).
There's also this other dimension to it that is often overlooked, and it's behind my saying "I wouldn't teach this". The analysis and reduction based method relies on your ability to digest what you see mentally and that has limitations. For example, if you asked a child to draw a rough sea, hair on somebody's head, the clouds, the forest or whatever, he would become frustrated with the sheer complexity and probably degrade to what we call "child's drawing", which is a misnomer, since most adults draw this way. Child's drawing is when you draw symbolistically: this is a head, these are lips, this is a tree, this is a bush, etc. On the other hand, if you "draw what you see" which is another horrible term, coined by me this time, you're not bothered by complexity, you celebrate and marvel at it, in a frictionless way. Again, I'm recommending that book I linked, great stuff.
I disagree, this is how I learned by myself (no book, no adults) and it was so much fun! The book just makes a system of it: you identify basic shapes to create an envelope then enjoy tracing beautiful lines.

People used to say I have "a gift", that was annoying. So many times I offered to teach anybody (using a similar method as the book) but no one ever accepted. "See? It's not a gift, some people just want to put the hours".

Well, I've put in the hours also- in a past life I studied art and traditional animation (hand-drawn) so I've learned a thing or two about framing. It has its place in a production setting where the emphasis is on finishing a drawing within a deadline, but as a teaching tool to show kids how to draw I'd really question its use.

For me the goal of teaching kids to draw should be to allow them to "unlock" their ability to communicate their experience of the world using form and colour. They should be shown the cave art from Lasceaux and Altamira, and inspired to look for their own internal representation of what their eyes can see and the ways to reproduce it on paper (or whatever medium). Not to follow closely someone else's set of lines.

So what if a kid learns to draw the same pretty butterfly, and only that one pretty buttefly, again and again and again, for ever? What has she achieved?

Here, this is the kind of art that should be taught to kids:

I see the book more as a method than as a recipe collection. In my case it wasn't animals, it was spaceships and then motorbikes, lots of motorbikes.

As for the expression based goal, I'm sceptical, also from experience... not mine obviously, but close.

That's a cynical way of putting it. This kind of approach, repeated over many permutations until I have various arrangements of shapes available in muscle memory, makes for good mileage, relative to many other ways that one could practice drawing. It isn't the "only" technique, it just presents one more option.

And it is difficult to get beyond "trace these shapes" and start using abstractions of structure and proportion as a way of seeing. It's the same barrier that happens in gaining technique on a musical instrument: you can pick out some notes at the beginning, but if you want to feel really comfortable and have the fluidity to sight read or improvise, you have to start drilling scales. But once you have those skills available and try to compose, the problem is with having a stagnant reportoire, and then music theory drills gradually become more important.

But most kids do get stuck after learning a few songs.

Sorry if my post comes across as cynical. I didn't mean it that way.
Drawing and painting is almost entirely a visual skill. The mechanical skills of wielding a pencil or mixing paint are almost trivial; the hard part is being able to see what's actually there.

A bicycle is an incredibly simple visual form. You can doodle one in about five seconds. They're not rare or unusual objects and they're relatively homogenous. Nonetheless, most people have never actually seen a bicycle. They've looked, but they haven't understood its form, they haven't decomposed it into lines and shapes. They know that it has two wheels, a chain, a saddle and some handlebars, but they've never actually noticed the shapes that join them together.

>The mechanical skills of wielding a pencil or mixing paint are almost trivial

I strongly disagree. Try drawing a large shape without using a template. If you move the pencil with your fingers, you quickly run out of range of motion, and have to reposition your hand and join the new line segment without visible discontinuity, which requires extreme accuracy[0]. If you move it mostly with your arm then you have to learn the difficult and unnatural skill of fine motor control using large muscles. In practice the only good option is using a combination of both, which requires great coordination. The visual part is easy after you learn a few simple tricks like looking at negative space. The mechanical skills are the difficult part.


Completely untrained people can trace a drawing with a good degree of accuracy, yet fail completely to draw even simple forms with any degree of verisimilitude.

Teachers like Betty Edwards and Bert Dodson have proven that pretty much anyone can learn to draw to a high standard in a remarkably short space of time once they understand the visual principles of effective drawing. Mastering draftsmanship requires a lifetime of practice, but competence can be achieved in a matter of days with the right instruction.

> Mastering draftsmanship requires a lifetime of practice

Draftsmanship is quickly learned by young people. I sat next to a 20 year old at Boeing who was very competent at making engineering drawings (and Boeing had high standards - they didn't want any ambiguity for obvious reasons). Though perhaps you mean something else by draftsmanship.

draftsmanship (noun)

1) the art or craft of a draftsman

2) the skill of drawing

Draftsmanship refers to both technical and artistic drawing skill.

Come on, mechanical drawing and 'artistic' drawing are totally different skills. The best technicians, with the highest level of mechanical drawing training and experience, wouldn't be able to draw a portrait.

RISD asks applicants to draw their bike as part of the application. It's tough because both originality and observational skills are needed (google "risd bike").

But OMG it is important to realise that being able to make measured, technical drawings is not the same as being a renaissance draftsman, capable of the most incredible evocations of the human body etc.

I'm not saying that they're the same thing, I'm saying that the word "drafting" applies to both. Art history books frequently make reference to the draftsmanship of an artist like Da Vinci or Dürer. The words "draft", "draw" and "drag" have the same etymological root and all three are partial synonyms.
>Teachers like Betty Edwards and Bert Dodson have proven that pretty much anyone can learn to draw to a high standard in a remarkably short space of time once they understand the visual principles of effective drawing.

As someone with pretty much zero ability to draw, that caught my attention. What would be "a short space of time"? Are we talking days, months, years?

It depends. Drawing and programming share some aspects. You can do a short program in "oil painting language" easily, but it takes years to master the media.

You need to keep the focus on it for a long time and build it in small steps. A telephone or somebody breaking in the room and your work could be permanently damaged and you will need a lot of effort to keep the focus again. Sometimes the image just "dies" in the way of being painted.

Painting is often done in imperative style and can be a painful, demanding and really tiresome work. Some people underestimate the effort needed to do it right. You need to "declare" all your tones in advance, fill the shadows and keep in mind a rigid frame to place it. If you do it in several sessions you will need to obtain the same exact tone again (or have a plan B in advance), so you'll need to make a lof ot comments and document your work.

And there are bugs. You will find a lot of bugs in the process and will need to fix it in a short time. Some mediums dry fast and crack easily. Different pigments spread in different ways. Some tones are notoriously complex to obtain also (realistic 3D gold for example) and you can't learn the right way in a week. The eyes of your public have evolved to detect abnormal tones for good reasons (would denote diseases or people faking emotions so is survival relevant). A skin too pale or with a greenish tone or a slight curve in the rictus and your picture can enter in autopilot mode or just sink.

Sometimes the painting turns in a such mess that you just trown the code away and start again.

Automatic drawing is drawing in functional style and is a totally different creature.

You can improve your drawing about a thousandfold in the span of a couple minutes by learning to observe things instead of just what you think they look like.

Go grab something as reference material, anything moderately complex will do. Now when you look at this thing, ignore what it is or even what three dimensional shape it has. Look for edges. The edge between the background and the object, The edges internal to the object. Look for the position of these features relative to the others. Keep doing this while you draw exactly what you see. Resist the temptation to draw without looking at what it actually looks like.

Of course once you've managed to look at things properly you'll still need tons of practice with drawing, but just doing this is going to stop you from drawing pictograms instead of pictures.

I'm a terrible artist, not even a doodler, but I remember one time sitting in a long boring meeting where I stared at the profile of someone's face and carefully drew it with amazing accuracy (relative to my utter non-ability, not relative to a good sketch artist)
> Completely untrained people can trace a drawing with a good degree of accuracy, yet fail completely to draw even simple forms with any degree of verisimilitude.

I always felt this was an argument against what you are saying. Tracing doesn't require much fine motor control because you can rest your hand on the paper and go over the existing image with very small strokes.

For example, try drawing the simplest of all forms: a straight line. I always found that good drawers can draw an incredibly straight line, freehand. My "straight" lines look like I was standing on a boat in rough seas. Yet certainly visualizing the properties of a straight line seems very simple to me. Even, for example, drawing a straight line smoothly between two other lines on a piece of filler paper is something that a good drawer could do much better than I.

> Tracing doesn't require much fine motor control because you can rest your hand on the paper and go over the existing image with very small strokes.

Drawing requires exactly the same motor skills as tracing, except that the thing you're tracing isn't there yet.

Only if you can track your absolute position with exceptional accuracy.

I know a lot of artists that talk about the importance of learning how to better draw longer lines in one go. Are you saying they're all wrong, and that skill isn't important?

> try drawing the simplest of all forms: a straight line

My high school algebra/geometry teacher, Fr. Arnold Perham, taught me this crucial skill almost 30 years ago and I use it frequently still and teach my own students how to do it. The trick: put your chalk/pencil/marker at the start of the segment; then look at the other end of the segment and keep your eyes there; and then draw the line. It's like magic.

Huh, this sounds strongly related to target fixation. Look at your target and your body 'knows' how to go there (or throw there, or...)

The classic example is if you're riding a motorbike and you start worrying that you're going to run wide, or hit a tree, or whatever, so you start staring at the side of the road, or the tree... and that's where you go.

Also in tennis: look there the ball should go, not at it as you hit it.
Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain is an astonishing book that revolutionized my own artistic practice. The simple but difficult emphasis on drawing what actually see and not what you think you see takes real presence and mindfulness to master. I would recommend this book to anybody interested in art. Even if you don't go through the exercises, the principles in there can really inform different ways of thinking.
I went to lessons in the spirit of this book (Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain), but I didn’t have the patience. What kind of artist are you if I may ask? Do you think it is of substantial value for an aspiring UI designer starting literally from scratch to focus on learning to draw well?
I also whole-heartedly recommend it.

When I took my first drawing class, the teacher didn't use it, but I kind of went through the book in parallel (excuse me, concurrently :-) with the class. That helped SO MUCH when he was (wildly) inarticulate, and occasionally near-incompetent at explaining things. (I say near-incompetent based on the results of the other student's drawings... they did what he said, and failed utterly).

So if you're incredibly lucky, you can find a class that uses it. By all means, ask around and find out about teachers in your area. I recommend Art-League (i.e., artist-run groups) instead of community colleges (like my first class), but those can be good too.

And, yeah, do all the exercises in DotRSotB in order, and practice a lot, and you'll get somewhere.

I'm a painter, mostly oils. I got burned out in the film industry and switched to CS as a career (distributed systems mostly) and then took up painting very seriously on the side as the outlet for my expression.

A million years ago in 7th grade a well-intentioned art teacher tried to lead us through DFTRSOTB and my classmates were having none of it. I remembered a few of the points from that, and then I took a drawing class in college as an elective where DFTRSOTB wasn't used directly but lots of the exercises were clearly derived from it. When I took up painting, I started drawing as a discipline to augment my painting and finally got myself a copy of the book.

I think the book would be of tremendous value to a UI designer, but in a sideways manner. You don't necessarily need to be able to draw and render realistically to do UI design, but the practices and exercises in the book build your ability to dig through layers of your own perception, assumption, and cognitive bias when you're _really_ looking at something. That's a big concept, but this bike project provides a pretty good "for instance" illustration. All the participants drew their mental conception of a bike instead of really looking at and studying a bike and all the components and how they fit together.

As Sherlock Holmes would say to Dr. Watson: "You see, but you don't observe".

So I quite agree with you - but it feels surprising that so many people just don't do any validation of their model in their head. _How_ the author was asking to draw the bicycle probably mattered. E.g. "immediately draw me a men’s bicycle, by heart" vs: "think about how a bicycle actually works and draw that".

BTW - In all honesty, it took me, too, a second to spot what was missing on the first picture.

At least for me, the mechanical skill with the pencil does hold me back for non-organic shapes. I have trouble sketching things I can see clearly, but its not significantly harder for things I am only familiar with. For example, if I tried to sketch my bike, I would have no trouble getting the structure correct, but I would have trouble getting smooth wheels.
You don't have to draw freehand. A t-square, a pair of compasses and a set of French curves are pretty much essential if you want to accurately draw precise geometric forms.
This seems like moving the goalposts.

You also don’t have to draw “free eye”. There are plenty of tools you can use like tracing paper, photographic references, coloring books with the lines already drawn, ...

None of my illustrator friends use french curves or compasses to do their sketching, and usually even skip using a straightedge, but through practice can make very nice straight lines, right angles, circles, other curved lines, etc.

Hand-eye coordination at the level that professionals have takes an incredible amount of training/practice. It’s hard to imagine how you would even disentangle their practice at mental visualization vs. practice at proprioception, etc.

Most people can accurately trace a line drawing, but can't accurately copy it by eye. Try it for yourself and you should see that your manual dexterity isn't a meaningful bottleneck in your ability to draw.

Drafting tools might well be a crutch, but they were considered essential in the days when engineering drawings and technical illustrations were routinely done by hand. If you need to use a spline to draw smooth curves or construction lines to draw perspective, so what?

By the same token, if you need a computer to draw [this or that] so what? Or for that matter, if you need to hire a trained draftsperson to do it, so what?

> Most people can accurately trace a line drawing, but can't accurately copy it by eye.

Yes, tracing a line drawing has much more direct feedback. The correct line is right there, and there is no need to synchronize imagination with hand movements. (Untrained people are still very slow and error-prone at tracing though, compared to professionals.)

In a similar way, people have an easier time playing a piano tune if you directly show them which notes to play on a physical piano a few at a time right before they press the keys themselves vs. if you let them hear a whole tune and then try to play it from memory a few minutes afterward.

That doesn’t make piano playing an “almost entirely audial skill, with almost trivial mechanical skills” involved.

> That doesn’t make piano playing an “almost entirely audial skill, with almost trivial mechanical skills” involved.

I'd say it does. I have terrible hand-eye coordination but can play piano at a decent level (whereas I'm distinctly bad at e.g. tennis). Playing a piece I already know on the violin on the piano (or vice versa) is a much simpler exercise than learning a new piece from scratch.

”The mechanical skills of wielding a pencil or mixing paint are almost trivial”

Trivial? Painting a single shape everybody knows got Giotto a job (

There are huge differences between humans in drawing ability and training.

But yes, in the case of these drawings, it seems the main difference is that many people apparently have never looked at a bicycle frame. I expect that to be somewhat different in countries where bicycles and people repairing their own bicycles are more common.

The Giotto story is almost certainly a myth. It's also largely irrelevant; anyone can draw a perfect circle in two seconds with a pair of compasses or a piece of string.

There are huge differences in drawing ability, but going from "I can't draw" to "I can draw quite well" takes days, not years. Becoming a confident and capable draftsman is a skill that anyone can learn to a surprisingly high degree of proficiency in a remarkably small amount of time. Most of us won't become Albrecht Dürer, but we all have the innate capacity to draw well if we simply understand the process.

> There are huge differences in drawing ability, but going from "I can't draw" to "I can draw quite well" takes days, not years

Maybe for some people, but not everyone.

I have developmental dyspraxia, a.k.a. developmental coordination disorder. I'm never going to be good at anything that requires fine motor control. Maybe at best I could get the first few strokes of a drawing to look good, but after that it's going to fall apart. I know this from my experience with seriously trying to improve my handwriting back when I was 24 because I was tired of writing chicken scratch all the time: I can now make the first few words of a paper—maybe if I'm lucky even the whole first line—look fantastic, but after that I just lose any sense of alignment and proportion and everything starts slanting in random directions and changing size all over the place. [0]

It is a medical condition, and there is no cure.

[0] This image on Wikipedia sums up my handwriting pretty well. It's specifically about motor dysgraphia [1], which is part of my dyspraxia.

[1] From

> Motor dysgraphia is due to deficient fine motor skills, poor dexterity, poor muscle tone, or unspecified motor clumsiness. Letter formation may be acceptable in very short samples of writing, but this requires extreme effort and an unreasonable amount of time to accomplish, and it cannot be sustained for a significant length of time, as it can cause arthritis-like tensing of the hand. Overall, their written work is poor to illegible even if copied by sight from another document, and drawing is difficult. Oral spelling for these individuals is normal, and their finger tapping speed is below normal. This shows that there are problems within the fine motor skills of these individuals. People with developmental coordination disorder may be dysgraphic. Writing is often slanted due to holding a pen or pencil incorrectly

Uh. I'm a professional artist and my handwriting looks about like the bottom half of the sample most of the time, unless I am explicitly focusing on making each letter look pretty.
There are a number of excellent artists who have cerebral palsy or tetraplegia. If you have limited fine motor control, you can paint or draw in large-format using gross movements. If you shake or twitch, you can work in mosaic, collage or pixel art. If you can't grasp objects, you can use a typewriter to make pointillist drawings.
To be fair, I've recently gotten into typesetting anime fansubs, and I've found it to be highly rewarding.

It doesn't require any fine motor skills, as it's all done in a really janky scripting language called ASS. I can do all kinds of four-dimensional text transforms just by writing code, and I've been able to produce some wonderful-looking effects.

>going from "I can't draw" to "I can draw quite well" takes days, not years

Only if you consider a messy "chicken scratch" style good. I can draw things that look acceptable when you blur your eyes enough (which is indeed easy to learn), but I wouldn't claim to "draw quite well" unless I could do it with clean lines, which takes years of practice. When evaluating difficulty of a skill it's more usual to measure by difficulty of mastering it, not difficulty of getting beyond the very basics, and by that measure the mechanical side is much more difficult than the visual side.

here's a pro tip that I learnt in the animation scene

1. grab a wooden pencil 2. hold it so that the broad side of the lead touches the paper, not the point - you'll get a broad, pale grey line 3. rough in your drawing this way 4. when you feel like you have a solid drawing, switch to the tip of the pencil (or to a pen) and trace the lines you made in step 3

This will make it a lot easier to have a nice, clean drawing done with bold, clean lines. You will also probably end up with a silver patch on the heel of your hand from dragging it across all those light lines, along with a gray haze - a delicate touch with a kneaded eraser can fix that, or just draw with a col-erase pencil, finish with graphite, and abuse the levels in Photoshop to drop out the color.

Being able to knock out a drawing with precise lines and no underdrawing does take years, but being able to simply create a drawing with precise lines can happen a lot earlier once you've picked up a few One Weird Tricks.

If you understand how a bicycle works it's easy to draw. Most people don't care to understand things on a deeper level.
Uh if you take the time to imagine pedaling a bicycle and turning the handlebars it's easy to draw. Even people that understand bikes probably default to a visual representation rather than a "mechanical" representation because they're confident in their visual memory
> Nonetheless, most people have never actually seen a bicycle.

This is culture specific. In The Netherlands, kids see bicycles as they grow up. They see children going to elementary school on them, they see them after school, they're an important part of our culture and in large cities they're practically everywhere. Heck, I got brought to kindergarten on... a bicycle. You can be sure as hell any kid of age 4 or higher has seen a bicycle (4 is the age they enter elementary school). In the Catholic area of NL, its very much a tradition that after communion the child gets their own bicycle. IIRC that's around 7 or 8 years. Whether kids (from NL, of whatever age) can draw a bicycle is a different matter, I cannot judge on that one.

If you Google "learning how to see [like an artist]" type of queries, you'll find lots of useful information, like this:

> The mechanical skills of wielding a pencil or mixing paint are almost trivial; the hard part is being able to see what's actually there.

Cool, now draw a picture of a hand wielding a pencil. :-)

> A bicycle is an incredibly simple visual form

I disagree, compared with most objects a human daily interacts with - doors, furniture, lifts, cars - a bicycle is one of the most complex visible forms. I'm talking about what can be seen from outside, since obviously a car is much more complex on the inside.

Most of the stuff we deal with is composed of square/boxes and circle/tubes. Triangular shapes are quite rare in human spaces (I don't have any in my house), and the bicycle critically has two triangles at it's core. Chains are also very rare. So I don't think it's a surprise that many struggle with the core - two triangles and a chain.

> Triangular shapes are quite rare in human spaces (I don't have any in my house)

Triangles are essential in low-weight rigid structures. Look at any exposed steel construction around you (a bridge, perhaps) and you will see many triangles. The utility poles and streetlights in my neighbourhood use triangles. Unless your house has a flat root, the upper most floor is likely composed of triangles (called trusses) that you can't see because they are hidden. (They would be easy to spot in barn.) Even the desk I am sitting at now has triangles to ensure the legs don't collapse if the desk is shoved sideways. If you happen to live in a seismically active place, you would likely see triangular bracing on many buildings. And finally if you (or your kids) have even done one of those engineering challenges in school where you have to make a tall, load-bearing and light-weight structure on a budget you likely used triangles. Triangles are everywhere, if you learn to see them.

And as for the main point of this post - one reason to learn to draw is that it forces you to really see what you are drawing. Drawing from your imagination is no substitute.

> Triangular shapes are quite rare in human spaces Not a football fan, eh? Triangles are the essential building block for breaking down defenses. </bad_joke>

As for what you actually meant, triangles (and other variations of 3) play a very import role in visual design. Admittedly, these might not be obvious to most. I know you really meant physical items. However, it might be a style of design of a more modern era. I have a glass coffee table that has a triangular raised extension, from the 50s I believe. I also have a round two tier table, built by my grandfather in the 50s as well. The top tier sits on an X shaped pier with 90 degree notches cut out of the verticals leaving a very distinct triangular shape, plus the gaps of the X shape as well. Just from memory, the cars from the 50s had lots of triangular shapes/markings, specifically thinking of the fins. I wonder why the triangle seems to have fallen out of favor?

Even for cars, it's hard to get the relative positions of wheels and windows and the hood right on the first try.
Clench your fist. Take a moment to notice the complexity of the geometry. Consider how you might reduce that shape to simple geometric forms. Consider how you might represent the three-dimensional form as a set of two-dimensional lines. Turn your hand around and look at it from a different angle. Open your fist and make an "OK" or a "peace" sign.

Go to your refrigerator and take out a lettuce leaf or a piece of broccoli. Look out of your window at a tree or a bush. Go to your bathroom and look at the toilet or the faucet. Look in the mirror and make a funny face.

A bicycle is more complicated than many rectilinear man-made objects, but it's a relatively straightforward collection of lines. Even the drawings in the linked article with their horribly mangled geometry are immediately recognisable as a bicycle. It's not a difficult thing to draw, relatively speaking.

> Look out of your window at a tree ...

> Even the drawings in the linked article with their horribly mangled geometry are immediately recognisable as a bicycle. It's not a difficult thing to draw, relatively speaking.

I guess, the point is that a bike is easier to draw that natural objects.

I bet if people had been asked to draw a tree, 100% of the pictures would be recognisable as proper tree. Conversion from reality to visual representation is not only a function of object complexity it is much more complex (pun intended).

Ah, this is where it gets interesting.

I suspect the author of the (wonderful) book linked above would suggest that 100% of the pictures would be recognizable as a _picture of a tree_ -- a form which we all learn by age 5 but which does not actually correspond to a physical tree much, if at all.

Exactly. We don't learn to draw the tree we see out of the window, but the idea of a tree. Children don't really draw - they write in pictograms. We teach them icons that represent things, but we don't teach them how to translate seeing into drawing. The bicycle drawings show how quickly that habit of drawing the idea of a thing breaks down.

We falter when we try to draw something that we haven't learned the "correct" pictogram for, because our mental concept of the thing is completely divorced from the appearance of the thing. Most adults can just about draw a chair isometric projection, because they learned how to draw a cube. That crude model of perspective usually falls apart when they try to draw a dog - they know that it's supposed to have four legs, but they can't work out where to put them. You end up with a drawing like this:

That dog's legs seem fine, once you consider the (over-constraining) constraints of drawing using a single outline with no 3-D / z-layer structure.
> The bicycle drawings show how quickly that habit of drawing the idea of a thing breaks down.

That's because the idea is vague in most people's mind. The don't really care (and they shouldn't need to of course). Ask a bike engineering to draw it, and they will be pretty accurate. However, the people whose idea is vague doesn't know it's vague, which is interesting, and I guess that's the point of the article.

In fact, this translates to much more than drawings, but for all facets of any complexity. You often hear people claim that a particular problem is easy, "just" do X!

If your goal was to point out how much more complex a hand is than a bicycle, I don't think that logic follows. Drawing hands are hard too!

Drawling lettuce? Lettuce doesn't have obvious structural flaws if you get the veins wrong. A green blob with a few lines will pass the test a lot easier than these bicycles.

If you want to draw a line-drawing of a hand vs a bicycle, the hand is much easier - four parallel fingers off a palm, with a thumb off at an angle.

The bicycle is much more complex geometrically - wheels in tandem, triangular frame, relationship with seat, handlebars, tire forks, sprockets and chain, pedals, brakes & brake handles if you're picky...

A photorealistic hand is hard to draw/render because of the complexity of the materials and curves, fine texture like hairs, freckles, pores, fingernails, etc., but you wouldn't expect or get those asking your 30 people to take two minutes and draw a hand.

You conflate geometry and topology * . The topology of the human hand is right in front of you to examine. A lettuce leaf is like a disk plus a wavy boundary and noise. Broccoli is a tree. A bicycle is topologically complex object with high genus. A bad drawing of a hand can still has the right connectivity, it could be smoothly deformed into a realistic hand. Not true for most of these bicycle drawings.

* using "topology" to refer to the graph structure of the skeleton of the solid, not the typical mathematical meaning.

> it could be smoothly deformed into a realistic hand.

It's probably a good thing that this isn't what defines a drawing as good. A bicycle frame has a couple straight lines and that's about it. A hand, or broccoli, has complex compound curves all over the place.

Ask any artist to draw a bicycle and it'll probably end up pretty good. Ask any artist to draw a hand and there's a good chance it'll not end up good, even when using reference material.

There's a reason a lot of artists have problems drawing hands.

They just need to pull the Escher trick and draw a hand that can draw hands.
That maybe because hands have a dynamic form/shape while a bicycle has a static form and is thus easier to remember or draw.
Hands aren't hard to draw because hands are super complicated; hands are hard to draw because humans are evolutionarily finely tuned to recognize and be disgusted by distorted human bodies, which in nature is a signal of disease. Look at the diversity of broccoli proportion at the grocery, then imagine hands with the same diversity -- grotesquely long or lumpy or twisted, which too few or too many fingers. OTOH, cartoon hands, outside the uncanny valley, look fine, even when (as is common) missing a finger.
>> This skill is super valuable - anyone having similar problems and ideas on how to improve it?

In my very limited experience, I think this skill is made up of two components: finer details [1] and emotional expression. [2]

I find drawing to a be a great way to learn the art of going into finer details. For emotional expression in animation, you will need to study the classic principles of animation. [3]




This is the point I was hoping others would bring up. The base reality is that we're all atoms and energy, and there isn't a clear boundary between the water in your body and the water you're swimming in, and (to quote Dr Manhattan) a recently deceased body has as just many atoms as it had when the body was alive 10 minutes ago.

On top of this we've built all these abstractions... like how to socially interact, how to recognize membranes as a face, etc. (also interesting: those with severe autism seem to lack some of these abstractions)

When buddhists speak of seeing reality or things as they really are, they speak of discarding these abstractions and seeing raw experience.

I started learning how to draw because part of the process is discarding these abstractions (oh that's an eye, I know how eyes look) and instead drawing in terms of shapes and lines: moving down, closer to physical reality. This book has been very interesting for this:

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