The right way to draw


Right in so many ways, yet the proportions to some eyes may be questionable. Artist Colette Clegg

We all know when a drawing looks wrong. In a portrait it is usually something about the mouth and in a figure the head is often the wrong size for the body. Proportions are one of the most infuriating challenges we face when we draw and there are any number of systems artists have developed to tackle them.

Then when finally we do get the proportions ‘right’ we discover that there is more to a drawing than proportion. ‘Right’ is one of those utility words that has many meanings, correctness is one of them but correct against which measure? We can for example get the value structure right and hang the proportions. The anatomy could be right, the colours, the texture, the rhythm, the composition, the harmony or intended conflict may all be right and yet the petty accountant in our head latches on to one measure, proportion, and finds it lacking. To the extent that we fail to see the many virtues in our work and our desperation for dimensional accuracy puts a brake on every other aspect of the drawing. It can feel like trying to fly whilst tethered to the ground.

If we think of the word ‘right’ as contrary to the word ‘left’ rather than ‘wrong’ we may feel an easing of this burden. If we read Betty Edwards we can learn that the brain processes information in different ways depending upon the task, she talks about drawing on the right side of the brain being very much easier and freer. Confusingly the right brain is attached to the left hand (God obviously got the wiring tangled up when he was designing us) so does that mean that most of us who are righthanded are doomed?

Not really; thanks to the joys of neuroplasticity there is no limit to what we can learn to do. We are actually able to sense how it feels to be in a left or right brain mode and with familiarity we can return to where we want to be. It won’t be a spoiler to say that when we fuss that our proportions are wrong, we are in left brain mode: useful to notice but “move along”. When we delight in all of the other things going on in our drawing we are probably happily ensconced in the right brain, like a child playing with plasticine, enjoying the squishiness and the smell, allowing the medium to be an expression of our imagination without censure.

The irony is that if we can love our drawings as they are, to see them without judgement, we will find more energy and creativity and we may even notice that our eye for proportion becomes stronger of itself.


Drawings that are dramatically right whilst being wonderfully wrong! Artists is @andreabasmagi