Lessons in creativity from the great masters

I wish Davinci had also taught Portugal to use steps for their trains…

I recently read the art instruction book Drawings Lessons from the Great Masters. Via examples from art legends like Davinci and Rembrandt, the author demonstrates how the masters approached creating art.

My biggest takeaway: they rarely drew exactly what they saw. They’d leave out shade on an upper lip from a nose because created a mustache, omit the tip of an ear for a tilted head portrait, or create light sources from nowhere.

Beginners, on the other hand, often aim to copy exactly. The author uses the example of a student drawing a nude model…complete with the shadow on her chest from a cat asleep on the skylight!

Beyond drawing, this makes me think of general creative expression. With piano, I aim to learn a piece true to the tempo and dynamic markings of the composer. But when I play the piece, I often vary the piece depending on my mood. With writing, I often break Grammar Rules to fit my voice or to be bombastic. (HEY, IT’S MY NEWSLETTER!)

This “bend the rules” approach works with storytelling too. Who sticks exactly to what happened? *yawn* People enjoy stories for the lessons they contain or the entertainment, not for 100% factual regurgitation of an event.

Try it out with your creative projects! Take it from Davinci…he knew stuff.

Tom Jobim portrait

January Portrait Challenge, Week 2

Alexis Ffrench

My January portrait challenge continues! I know it was tough to wait an entire week to see who I’d draw next, but your wait ends now! Portrait party time. (Check out the first round here.)

I still haven’t made the time to actually study how to draw portraits. I’m just diving in. However, I’m finding that my eye for proportion is developing from just 30 minutes a night.

My focus this week was shading and blending. If I say so myself, there’s some improvement happening.

Still so many things I notice I’m messing up, but 1) I don’t want to spend hours a day on this and 2) I want as many repetitions as possible, not perfection.

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In order, these portrait subjects are:

  1. Ernesto Nazareth – Brazilian composer from 19th century and a fine handlebar mustache wearer.
  2. Alexis Ffrench – contemporary British composer and pianist.
  3. Tom Jobim – Brazilian bossa nova composer (can you tell I have a Brazilian piano teacher?)
  4. Florian Christl – contemporary German composer and pianist. Love his song Vivaldi Variation!
  5. Clara Schumann – brilliant 19th century pianist and composer.
  6. Víkingur Ólafsson – contemporary Icelandic pianist with SKILLZ. His interpretations of songs are fabulous (check Bach’s Prelude in G Major out.)
  7. Claude Debussy – Impressionist French composer with a strong mustache game, but weird shaped head.

Onward!

Rediscovering the right side of my brain

As part of my quest to not only draw stick figures forever, I’m reading the classic book Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain. The section on brain development in children is fascinating.

When we’re infants, our brain hemispheres are not clearly specialized for different functions. That “lateralization” for left and ride brain doesn’t complete until age nine or ten.

This coincides with when kids start obsessing about “getting it right” and become sharply critical of their earlier drawings. They start regarding failure as anything less than perfect realism. I HATE THIS HORSE!!! *paper crumpling*

“Discontented with their own accomplishments and anxious to please others with their art, they tend to give up original creation and personal expression. Further development of visualizing powers and even capacity for original thought may be blocked at this point. It is a crucial stage beyond which many adults have not advanced.”

Miriam Lindstrom, Children’s Art

Not surprisingly, many kids abandon art completely at this age. And when adults are asked to draw many years later, they often generate work at a 9-10 year old level.

This is SO sad. How many blossoming Picassos and little Mikey d’Angelos have stopped making art because they couldn’t draw a perfect horse? Perhaps even worth, how many billions of people curtailed personal creativity at that age and never returned?

Guess who also stopped making art at that age? Yup. ME. Oh, and I even have two parents with advanced art degrees! Instead, I pursued athletics, scholastic achievements, and Warcraft 2 or Mario Kart proficiency.

My mom recently sent me this drawing I did around age 4. Did I care back then there were 7 legs on my winged hell dog? NOPE.

It’s Never Too Late

In case it’s not obvious, I’m not sharing my amateur beginner drawings for extrinsic validation. Nope, I’m merely hoping to demonstrate that anyone, even left-brain dominant engineers like me, possesses a font of creativity to draw, play music or whatever strikes your fancy.

We don’t need to sell (or even share) our work. The rewards are intrinsic and so palpable. Instead of passive consumption of media, we can create something that didn’t exist. How cool is that!

As I’m scratching away at a portrait each night this month, I’m experiencing the glorious melting of time. It’s marvelous: My right brain takes over and my Type A productivity self disappears into the background. The same thing happens when I look up from piano practice to discover an evening has zinged by unnoticed.

Here’s to turning off that decades-old criticism that your 10-YO self perhaps experienced. Give it another chance. Order some watercolors. Buy a sketchbook. Start a blog. Sign up for piano lessons.

You won’t find perfection (ever). But perfect is boring. The magic lies in the process, the ritual of creating.

Any eight-year-old kid knows that’s true.

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