…there is no thought, “I have attained something.” When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners.
— Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Now that I’ve spent over a year relearning how to program, it’s getting to the point that I can spend some spare time applying the system of shuhari to something I never learned: drawing.

The cynical me says if President George W Bush can do it, how hard can it be? But the real reason is I’ve always wanted to draw and admired and encouraged my friends who had the talent, but gave up trying myself around the sixth grade.

Later, I learned that “having talent” for something just means willingness to practice at it and fail, a lot. It was feeling embarrassment over the latter that kept me from seriously attempting to learn drawing.

The way to learn to draw that seems to be speaking best to me, personally, is Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain which, despite owning a previous edition of the book, I’ve only recently attempted to go through in earnest — the first lessons of pre-instruction drawing a self-portrait followed by a portrait from memory coupled with my embarrassment above stopped me for years.

2015-03-11 self portrait (mirrored)
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Chapter 2, Pre-instruction drawing

Wacom Intuos in AutoDesk Sketchbook on an iMac

Having a mirror with plumb and horizon lines really does work wonders to get accurate proportions even without instruction. I worked really hard and the difficulty of working on drawing tablet actually slowed me down to be a lot more thoughtful than if I were to have drawn this on paper. Shading was impossible for me, and the only thing I seemed to have gotten right to the point I was happy with is the assymetry in my face.

But as I never had to worry about Romanian hackers showing my failures to the world. What excuse do I really have?

As an added complication, I no longer want to draw on traditional mediums, but instead digitally as I did in my photography. After aborted attempts on a ModBook, later on a Wacom Intuos, I am now on an iPad Pro. Here is the lesson I learned if you are going to try to modify Drawing on the Right Side for digital-only drawing:


There is a major difference with working from the DRSB Artist’s Portfolio or Workbook with the recommended materials and trying to adapt things digitally. For instance, there is a 1:1 relationship between the Portfolio’s copy of the upside down Picasso and the 9″ x 12″ Strathmore drawing paper allowing one to do a natural and abbreviated form of sight-sizing. In addition techniques like pre-toning the medium just don’t work or apply well digitally. All of these barriers accumulate to make digital drawing based on books designed around traditional media a depressing slog.

2015-03-16 Upside Down Portrait (side-by-side)
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Chapter 6, Upside Down Picasso

Wacom Intuos in AutoDesk Sketchbook on an iMac

Without a properly physically scaled model next to me, the proportions started to get distorted as I moved down the page (down the page means starting at the legs and finishing at the head). I seemed to have still chopped off the skull even though I am drawing it upside down.

When you are truly a beginner, small barriers become large ones. When you are in the shu stage, you just want to do things by rote or by copying. Every exercise of your imagination beyond that takes away from that same imaginative energy needed to learn something new.

This resulted in me basically giving up just before the profile drawing of a sitter. I realized that I had no idea how to mimic any real-world modeling techniques like stumping, veiling, or crosshatching. All of these seem to get discovered organically when working in pencil and graphite stick in Edwards’s method.

2015-03-24 hand drawing
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Chapter 6, Modified Contour Drawing

Wacom Intuos in AutoDesk Sketchbook on an iMac

The shading on this one didn’t turn out horrible because I was still using Autodesk Sketchbook at the time and actually hand drew the pretoning. But drawing hands has never been a problem. This is because my friend Yan showed me a great way to pass the time in boring Physics lectures at Caltech, sketching my hand holding a pencil. Note that I am not left-handed so I’m not actually using the pen I am holding with my left hand in the drawing, I’m using a Wacom stylus in my right hand.

Attempting Keys to Drawing

If I don’t want to write off the eight Benjamins I dropped, and I can’t complete Draw Right digitally, then what to do?

I could try a book that based on different approaches such as volumetric construction, cartooning, or atelier, but they don’t speak to me. Besides, adapting them to digital is liable to be just as bad, or worse.

Female Front View
Mastering Manga Vol 1, Chapter 1, Female Front View.

Procreate on iPad Pro 9.7″

For the last two decades most comics/manga has been produced (and nearly all of it colored and lettered) digitally. Because of this, it is perhaps easiest to adapt manga to digital. But since I stopped drawing in the sixth grade, I find that cartooning comes relatively easy and it is drawing realism that creates the largest source of personal furstation.

I want to attack the source of this frustration first, not avoid it by continuing down the cartooning route.

What I needed was less structured exercises in the same vein as Draw Right and yet far more of them to practice on in order to deal with the slower learning curve in digital adaptation. The answer for me at the moment is the only other drawing book I happen to own: Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing.

Project 1 – B – Hand
Keys to Drawing, Chapter 1, Project 1B

Procreate on iPad Pro 9.7″

Without a viewfinder to trace over and an explicit instruction not to erase, things get a bit uglier than in Draw Right’s contour drawing of my hand earlier. I took out my frustration out with a half-hearted attempt at shading (I was still blending using the Apple Pencil when I drew this).

To digitally adapt the book, it looks like the only major things I’ll have to do is skip-and-come-back-to-later the exercises in Chapter 2 on artists’ handwriting, and creating a separate layer containing the Edwardsian “basic unit” when learning sighting and proportions, already painfully discovered from adapting Draw Right’s perspective lesson digitally.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Chapter 8, A “real” perpective Drawing

Procreate on iPad Pro 9.7″

I discovered it’s nearly impossible to hold the viewfinder and get a reference image with the same perspective. For this drawing, I chose the former. I found that saving the basic unit (in this case the foot of the doorway) colored and in a separate layer helped as I was resizing a lot in Procreate. Without this, it became difficult to measure against. When completed, I simply hid the layer. Again, I soon gave up on shading because it was so frustrating. Notice also that Procreate has a hold-replace straight line tool which makes one aspect of this drawing much easier than traditionally.


But I’m not so far as to worry about these things. I’m still on Chapter 1. Obviously I’ve already completed the third exercise as I’ve already written about my frustrations with it.

The fourth is to do a drawing of your own eyes in 3/4 view as they are reflected in the mirror. The idea here is to learn individualism in Dodson’s “seeing vs. knowing”, or what Betty Edwards would call avoiding the L-mode symbolism of childhood, by replacing symbolic drawing with real seeing in a view where the two eyes are forced to not to be identical.

Here is a video of my attempt.

I used Procreate on my iPad Pro. Here are some lessons learned in adapting it.

  1. It didn’t make sense to me, personally, to dig up a Draw Right self-portrait mirror when I have a $800 mirror I’m drawing on. Instead, I used the front-facing camera to snap a photo of myself and then used the iPad’s Slide Over multi-tasking feature to have the reference image available. Because of this, the image is not mirrored, but I think of this as a plus because it doesn’t look like “me” to me and I can show the drawing to others to see if they recognize it as me.
  2. Another side effect is the photo is severely foreshortened versus looking at a mirror. I’m not sure if this is an advantage, but it does make the differences between the right and left eyes more distinct. (Look at the size of the pupils in the drawing.)
  3. (Something I learned just after I finished) is that since I’m right handed, it’s better to start in the Photos app and Slide Over Procreate than the reverse. This way your arm doesn’t constantly block the reference. This is a well known trick adapted from sight-sizing, but I didn’t know it at the time. Because of this it took much longer to draw and I spent a lot more time drawing _literally_ blind (to both the drawing and the reference image). Did you know because I am right-handed, when I taught physics, I would always start on the right side of the right most chalkboard and work my way left? This is because of the frustration I felt trying to follow my professors in college when their body kept blocking the equations they were writing. Empathy 101.
  4. Procreate’s “4K” canvas isn’t a traditional 4K video dimensions (aka UHD), but “cinema” 4K meaning 4096 pixels across with no vertical specification. I cropped my reference image in Photos to 16:9, but didn’t realize that Procreate was using a different aspect ratio until I got to the right side of the drawing and the proportions started to get out of whack. At the 15 second mark in the video you can see me realize this and do a dramatic resize, measuring, and repositioning to try to fix this.
  5. I still have tentative, nervously self-conscious strokes in sketching. This is pointless in a medium with multiple layers and infinite undo, but these strokes do reveal the insecurity and embarrassment that has prevented me from learning how to draw all these years.
  6. Most sites and books that mention digital drawing claim you should avoid using the undo feature. Even this book encourages “restatements” (redrawing a contour without erasing this previous). I think this is bad advice for the beginner. Digital comes with a host of compromises of its own separate from real world media. Why exclude yourself from the benefits of digital and burden yourself only with the compromises?
  7. To do the shading, it’s great that I can monochrome my reference photo. My shading is still in a terrible state and I haven’t figured a digital substitute to toning that works for me beyond finding that it feels much more natural to do stumping/blending with your fingers than with the Apple Pencil, something I realized halfway through the drawing.
  8. I almost forgot to sign and date it. I now realize this is a very important ritual since I don’t know when I drew a lot of my previous exercises now. I simply dated the file when I was on the computer, but find this inconvenient in Procreate. (I forgot to change out the brush I was using when signing this drawing. Going forward I hope to remember to use a small calligraphic brush for this task)

    Project 1D Eyes
    _Keys to Drawing_, Chapter 1, Project 1D

    Procreate on iPad Pro 9.7″

Next up: Tinted Glass.

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