Tony Buzan would often start a lecture with the question, “By a show of hands, who here is an artist?”  Typically, very few people in a large auditorium would raise their hands. 

In popular culture, an artist is a flaky, unreliable, disorganised – lacking any time-keeping skills and apt to faffing about. They are a penniless and starving individual who spends far too many hours locked away in their ‘studio’ with only a blank canvas and pots of paint for company. Artists take pride on being on the outskirts of society often locked in a 1960s hippy time-warp. They will, of course, be a tad insane and often completely away with the fairies. The artist is to be found wearing oversized paint splattered shirts and denim dungarees with odd homemade jewellery, created out of things anyone else would class as junk. 

Sweeping generalisations and clichés stifle your creative talents and enjoyment of life. Tony explained that in reality, an artist is often highly disciplined – mixing precise colours, carefully building up a composition and thinking deeply. 

In my seminars, when I mention the use of images in Mind Mapping I nearly always get the comment “but I can’t draw!” This is a belief often fostered in school. Most children love to draw and paint until their work is assessed. They have the crushing pronouncement that what they drew doesn’t faithfully represent what they were ‘supposed’ to draw according to the teacher. Even worse, their failure is displayed on the wall with the rest of the class’s work and they have the humiliation of having to look at the proclaimed abomination for a whole term.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
~Pablo Picasso

The truth is that as long as you can see, you can draw and paint.

Tony tells the story how, even into adulthood, he was unable to draw something as simple as a cube. He conceptually understood it had six faces and eight right angled corners but no matter what he tried, he ended up with an odd jumble of squares. He met the artist Lorraine Gill who showed him that there are basically three types of line – Horizontal, Vertical and diagonal. Tony was awe-struck. He spent the next few days showing everyone he met that he could draw a cube. Much to their bafflement, asking him if he was feeling alright.

Learn to See 

“People look without seeing, 
hear without listening, 
eat without awareness of taste, 
touch without feeling and 
talk without thinking.” 

~Leonardo da Vinci 

When you look at s face for example, your brain starts to analyse the image. It says “There is a mouth, two eyes, glasses” and so on. When you come to draw the face you represent these characteristics in a kind of short hand. You draw symbols that stand for the features. A smiling mouth, that’s a ‘U’ shaped line, eyes are oval shaped, glasses are circles. None of these shapes are true if you carefully observe the face. Unless you’re drawing John Lennon or Harry Potter, almost certainly glasses are not circles. Eyes are always far more intricate shapes and nobody has a ‘U’ shaped mouth. One way to stop the logical brain from taking control and analyse the scene is to copy a photograph turned upside down. It is far harder to identify features and you start to copy the shapes and lines really present in the picture. 

Think about negative space. Negative spaces are the gaps between things. Take the FEDEX logo, nothing seems out of the ordinary. But look at the spaces between the letters and you will see an arrow between the E and the X. 

By drawing the spaces in between objects, you will once again draw more accurately. As Betty Edwards puts it, “The left hemisphere is not well equipped to deal with empty spaces. It can’t name them, recognise them, match them with stored categories, or produce ready-made symbols for them. In fact, the left brain seems to be bored with spaces and refuses to deal with them. Therefore, they are passed over to the right hemisphere.” [Left vs Right brain theory is regarded by modern neuroscience as a gross over-simplification but can still be a useful metaphor]

A good example of seeing without analysis is the work of Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic artist who specialises in pen and ink drawings of buildings. He is able to see a scene briefly and then perfectly reproduce it in fantastic detail from memory. Dr Oliver Sacks describes his abilities as follows: 

There is a strong tendency to see … the gifts of the autistic (and about 10% of these are so gifted) as stemming directly from their failures and deficits – their narrow ‘hyper-focused’ attention, and their supposed inability to process visual information, to pass from precepts to concepts, so that, in the visual realm, for example, it has been said that they merely ‘see’ what is there… 

A good practical technique for copying a picture is to draw a grid of squares over the image. Then on your paper draw the same grid (this can be smaller or larger than the original) and copy each square in turn. Breaking the image up in this way makes it much easier to tackle and keeps the correct proportions. 

Another alternative is to buy a light box. This is simply a box with a bulb or a small fluorescent tube in it with a translucent top allowing an even light to shine through. You place the original image on the box and lay your paper over the top. The light shining through allows you to trace the image. 

With a few techniques, a reawakened self-belief and self permission anyone can become and artist.

“Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards
and “The Power of Creative Intelligence” by Tony Buzan.