View Full Version : Ok, so where does it come from?

09-29-2011, 06:21 PM
You know when you are drawing something with no reference and it works and comes alive?
For me atm this is mostly smaller details such as when I have a poor ref photo and I have to fill in the missing detail or when I alter the eyes of an animal as I always seem to do.
But I know that many artists are able to just draw with no ref.

When you draw like that where does it come from? :confused:
And why does it often work better if you draw fast?
I find it strange and always worry I will wake up and it will be gone, how about the rest of you? :cat:

09-29-2011, 06:33 PM
"And why does it often work better if you draw fast?"

I think this is seen in a number of endeavors. How often has someone said, "I couldn't do that again if I tried!"? The shrinks probably have a fancy name for it, but I think it's letting your muse out.


09-29-2011, 07:27 PM
I find it strange and always worry I will wake up and it will be gone, how about the rest of you? :cat:

I used to worry about using it up, so I would parcel it out "wisely." Of course, it's best to use it, as it regenerates itself cyclically and one is a better artist for having used it. And so it goes. That way, you are your own muse.

Barbara WC
09-29-2011, 07:28 PM
Part of being able to draw without a reference photo is being familiar with your subject- as you are able to with your equine subjects.

I've seen artists do demos of landscapes, no reference, and I'm in awe. I can draw a recognizable head with good proportions and features without a reference but can't seem to draw a decent tree without a reference. But, people are my interest, not landscapes, and I regularly attend figure and portrait sessions and rarely go plein air painting.

Familiarity is key.

Oh, and drawing fast- that's because you're not thinking- when you slow down and think about things, the thought process gets in the way...


09-29-2011, 09:39 PM
But I know that many artists are able to just draw with no ref.
I don't think as many as you might think. My guess would be a very small percentage can successfully draw without a ref. And when they can it is because...

Part of being able to draw without a reference photo is being familiar with your subject- as you are able to with your equine subjects....Familiarity is key.

I think that most of our creativity (well, mine at least) comes from our subconscious mind. But the technical skills we learn to apply as artists are learned consciously for the most part. It is repetition and really studying what things look like that makes it possible for those things to become part of our subconscious and just "flow" after a while when we draw and paint.

Since at times the creative process seems mysterious and fleeting, I know that, I too, used to wonder if "my talent would go away." I have found that the more one learns and studies and practices, the doubt will go away because the ability to access the subconscious will become easier and easier.

That's my take...


Barbara WC
09-29-2011, 10:44 PM
I think that most of our creativity (well, mine at least) comes from our subconscious mind. But the technical skills we learn to apply as artists are learned consciously for the most part. It is repetition and really studying what things look like that makes it possible for those things to become part of our subconscious and just "flow" after a while when we draw and paint.


This is an interesting observation Don. When I first started with the human figure from life sessions a few years ago, I did things very consciously, and if someone asked about something in a particular figure painting, I could usually tell them the steps used in the process.

Now when I paint a portrait or figure, in watercolor or pastel, if someone asks how I did something in particular, rarely can I answer. At the end of each weekly portrait session, I feel as if I've woken up from a dream and don't remember exactly what I did. Guess that's the subconscious mind working? It's not me, that's all I know :lol:

09-30-2011, 01:09 AM
an in between learned a bit more solidly last weekend was doing something from thumbs only. some nice fun to be had in that.

painting faster shorts out the over thinking of things. but not so fast you make a real mess of things. that's why my sketches sometimes turn out so much better than my 'real' work, i've sped up, stopped worrying about making it 'right' and just dove in to 'just do it'. not to mention, its tons of fun!

the drover's dog
09-30-2011, 02:26 AM
What a coincidence! I just found a blog site that really made me sit up and think about painting from my imagination and how hidebound I am with my (hopefully) realist depictions of landscapes. In fact, this site had such a profound effect on me that I had to write about it so I've just finished blogging about the site, the subject and the art.


09-30-2011, 03:56 AM
Great replies thank you !

Its comforting to read this for a newbie like me, and I think you are right Don, great post.

I read a while ago that we should endeavour to draw something every day and do try and do so, especially try to find time for some sketches.

I like realism but it can be stifling to copy so close, its when I find freedom in an area that I really enjoy it but that only works with things Im familiar enough with as you say.
Off to read your blog Dale, thanks.

09-30-2011, 12:08 PM
Familiarity is key.

Oh, and drawing fast- that's because you're not thinking- when you slow down and think about things, the thought process gets in the way...

I agree with Barbara here. I think she has hit the nail on the head. Deep and intimate familiarity forged by hours and hours of keen observation and drawing from life. Once your hand/eye gets the knack for a subject, you can pop it out quickly and without too much noodling. But the dues you pay in order to get there are significant. It ain't a "gift", in my opinion. You can earn it by observation, study, and practice.


09-30-2011, 01:44 PM
well , i have to say that i've never made a painting
that i couldn't explain in some way , sooner or later .

i've made ' no ref ' pieces , that come out of idea sketches ,
but geometry, colour, time progression , texture ,
or something is always involved .
> just because i didn't say/preconceive, ' i will do thus and so '
doesn't mean that it's subconscious (whatever that means) .

i admire the Impressionists' concepts
and Jackson Pollack for his epiphany of process/energy ,
and other points in time/history ,
aspects/milestones from different cultures ,
but i wouldn't presume that i'm carving the next milestone .

okay , that's resolved .

i'm still learning about how the sticks/colours of the pastels
that i've been able to gather
work together as colour , colour mix , and line
because i could not find a schooling for colour theory with wet media .
= learn by doing .

and , as is said , ' i'm okay with that '
and will happily plod along .

Ed :}

09-30-2011, 01:56 PM
something from the workshop is using a thumbnail to get the concept of place. you can like the shapes, but then put away your ref. (or turn away) and do several value thumbs using the same shapes/composition.

using 4 values (saving white and black for tiny accents) assign different values than the originial concept. so if the photo shows the sky bright and the trees dark, turn it around! or make the ground lighter, dark trees and a middle value sky. marla had us do a few of these and it made art making a bit more fun, a bit less 'photo copier'. play with it, have fun.

then once your values are decided, change up the color schemes. go for an all blue or how bout all neutrals? all warm or all cool? or do them all!!!

It ain't a "gift", in my opinion. You can earn it by observation, study, and practice. oooh, this is so well put!!!

09-30-2011, 04:02 PM
I've always wanted to draw from imagination. What led me to draw in the first place was a desire to take images from my head and share them with others. I have been trying it on and off all my life.

I get better at it the more I practice and the more familiar I am with the subject. If I want to sketch Ari, I can do that on anything no matter where I am and whether he's in sight. If I want to sketch a sabertooth cat, I compare its anatomy to Ari and give it a good feline build.

That seemingly unconscious, confident, happy state of drawing without thinking about it may not be the subconscious. It could be a period of time when the artist's consciousness is entirely focused in the right brain - the nonverbal, visual, perceptual, intuitive side. It feels good. It's a wonderful state of mind that always results in better art than I produce if I'm concentrating on art in a left brained way.

As a writer I try to train my mind to function in both hemispheres simultaneously. So I can describe and interpret what I'm doing even while I'm drawing in that state and making wordless artistic decisions. That took a lot of work. It first started getting effective when I did street art in New Orleans because I could concentrate on the painting with my right brain if I occupied the left side with giving the client and audience an interesting patter about my process.

The more often you get into that wordless, intuitive state of mind, the easier it is to wake it up and get into that state. It's a big part of what learning to draw gave me. What I learned from books and classes and examples comes back easily during the painting and I complete it much faster.

There's a way to test this too- try drawing with your off hand. It may come out better than you expect because your left hand is usually connected to your right brain. I don't know if the brains of left handed people are reversed, it'd be interesting to hear from a southpaw about whether that happens when they try drawing right handed.

Anyway, the right brain doesn't understand language and is all about shapes, forms, color, composition. So it can feel like it comes out of nowhere and is unconscious. It's just a different kind of consciousness, a beautiful one that can be cultivated.

There's my understanding of it. I love painting in that state, it always comes out much better than I planned.

09-30-2011, 04:43 PM
I think it can be either.......you are blessed with a 'right brain' that is extremely creative or you can study, work hard and develope a sence of artistic ability.......so many good artist come out of the many workshops that exist worldwide......

in answer to Robert about the developement of the right side, I agree that a good engineering/scientific/business left side enhances the finite decision making process for the right side........but the creative process still emulates from the right.......it truly is a 'gift'.......and I personnally utilize it that way.....I was given it and I utilize it to give back......

09-30-2011, 07:03 PM
Thanks for all your replies, I find it really interesting to get everybodies different take on this. :thumbsup:
I love your post Robert.

As to whether its earnt or a gift, I can see and agree with the reasoning behind it being earnt but I also think there is more to it than that otherwise we would all draw/paint exactly the same with the same amount of practise and we would also all be great at anything we put enough effort into but I dont believe that is the case.
People have different mediums for art-and I include all art in that not just painting but music dance etc.
They also have things which resonate strongly with them and those tend to be the things they do best.
So I think its more complicated than just putting in the work.

10-01-2011, 09:36 AM

That could explain why sometimes when I learn a new technic and I start a new painting it takes forever, like if I had no clue on how to deal with a pastel stick. Its me thinking too much!

And other times it goes so fast, but when I look back I cant remember what I did.

I will try to "turn off" my logical way of being 100% of the time.

10-01-2011, 04:18 PM
One of the best ways I have for turning off my critical logical left brain is to distract it with a task like describing what I'm doing. Or sorting and organizing my pastels by hue and value. Anything that requires organization or logic will give that a stretch and leave you ready to dive into pure right brain creativity easier.

10-01-2011, 04:32 PM
So, do I need to distract it first, and just then start painting?
Or you mean I can talk to myself and describle what Im doing WHILE painting? Does singing a song while listening to it helps?

Maybe thinking about bills while painting? lol
Is the intention to distract the right side FROM the painting?

10-01-2011, 05:28 PM
Since I was a Nuclear Engineer early on, I smash atoms on the left side while painting which makes the right side very creative, just trying to keep up!.....:lol:

10-01-2011, 06:57 PM
Bluefish, so you generate your electricity whilst you paint? wow ! :lol:

Thinking about this, would it still work when you need accurate detail? :confused:

10-01-2011, 08:20 PM
When I paint, I'm in the moment of paintings, and enjoy it to the fullest. It's the only time I can truly say I'm in complete charge (even when doing a commission, believe it or not). It's my painting, created by me, and I want my brain enjoying the entire process. No need to clutter it up with all the nonsense of everyday clatter, it's my opportunity to break away and be in the moment. No splitting atoms and making electricity for me! :lol:

And, I can be a very left-brained person when handling the mundane tasks of life, I'm organized and good with numbers. So, when I'm painting, I don't want to think about all that stuff, I want to escape from it! I feel lucky to have art in my life, and the opportunity to escape whenever I need to!

Where does it come from? I do agree with Sarah and 'blue that this art thing is a gift. There is more to it than just putting in the time and effort. I've seen many people over the years put in the time and effort, and they've reached a plateau and not really gotten much better. They've spent the time and put in the effort, yet the results are not there. I've seen others just pick up a brush or pencil or pastel, and from the beginning they start making remarkable art. Not much instruction, yet they have a vision and they get it. JMHO, I know others will disagree. I just know what I've seen over the years. People can be taught, but it doesn't necessarily mean they will be great at it, acceptable maybe but not great. Two people can put the exact same time and effort into it, and get totally different results. One can become a great artist, the other just okay. I think this probably applies to most everything in life. Different people are just good at different things, which is what makes the world go 'round!

10-01-2011, 11:56 PM
Hi Guys,

I've just been lurking for a while, working too hard with the left brain doing paperwork, and not having any time for the creative right brain stuff. Darn!

Anyway, at the last Northwest Pastel Society Meeting, the speaker was Diana Sanford www.dianasanford.com She has some lovely work in her semi-abstract "Passages" series. And she recommended this book:

The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist. An incredible book! And of course Robert is spot on! :-)

McGilchrist's point is that both sides have to be separate, but the creativity starts on one side (right) then is pushed on a bit with the left and then back to the right for non-linear insight and ah-ha! So everybody is right....errr...correct! It takes the whole brain. He also quotes some very interesting research about artists and musicians who have had strokes on one or the other and how it has affected their work and function.

Diana said that when she wants to get more involved with her right brain while she is painting her wonderful work, she will call her mother, and chat, with her left brain active and occupied, then the right brain continues on with her creative side.

(We asked if her mother KNEW that Diana was painting while she chatted, and Diana said, "No," with a little smile. (So don't tell! :-))

I highly recommend the book....Although my husband (I don't know how he evolved with TWO left brains!) asks, "Are you STILL reading that brain book!?!?"

Yep. :lol:

Ed, I agree that it's a gift, the gift that makes us prescient human beings. We got to see some of the prehistoric cave paintings in France last year, and the emotion of the drawings, deep down in the caves, touched my heart (and right brain!) across those 18,000 to 10,000 years. Empathy and art, and essentially human.

Chris, I agree that we all have our differences, our strengths are on many different bell curves (a VERY left brain measurement tool!!! :-)) So we are all using so many different talents and skills to learn and create. But there are some objective differences in output (left brain, measured by our objective selves <or other people's left brains>); that do not reflect the creative emotion and pleasure in the creative process perceived intrinsically by the right brain. So it's all good!

Still on call this weekend, so probably back to lurker status, but thanks everyone for a great stimulating topic!

the drover's dog
10-02-2011, 01:12 AM
Thanks for the book info Karen. Will try to source it here.

Chris, I so agree with you about some people being just naturally good a something or other. When I look at the art being turned out by some young people under 15-18, it can make me feel so hackneyed and inadequate. They just seem to have an inner vision and ability that comes naturally to them and they have not yet had the time to hone their skills and learn the "rules" that make a painting great.

I used to teach dressage and I found that not all students are equal in ability even though they have been riding horses from the cradle. Some have a natural knack to communicating with their horses using the lightest of aids, and others are stiff, with bad hands and confuse their mounts. You can improve the bad ones a little, but they will never progress like those with natural ability. I think the same principles apply to artists and writers.


10-02-2011, 01:43 AM
I love this thread :D

Chris, that is me too! I am 'otherwise absent' when I paint, Im sure a bomb could go off and I wouldnt notice :lol:

Karen, thanks for a really interesting post!
Funny about being on the phone too, I cant do that unless its a really simple area Im working on but maybe it depends what kind of painting you are doing? I could do it with a BG or something but not precise detail work.

Dale, you have a similar angle to me in that Ive been riding dressage all my life and seen just what you describe, I also see the parrallels with art, very much so.

10-02-2011, 08:35 AM
My daughter and I were just discussing that I can't listen to audio books and paint at the same time. She says, of course, you can only do one mindless thing at a time when you want to do audiobooks, like knitting, which we do a lot. I can sing or listen to music but that's all. I, like others, go to another place and the time disappears. I have 3 little doggies who sleep in my studio and they are the ones that keep me on a time schedule. Usually about 2.5-3 hours of painting and they are ready for a break. I find it's a good time for me, too.

I think I stand on the side of gift, as well. I have been taking drawing classes for about a year now and I'm amazed at how well I draw and how quickly I get better. ( Drat that practice, practice, practice part) Actually, so are my friends. They are the ones who indicate that there is a gift involved. Now, one has to work at it but, yes, it's a gift. I fully agree with Chris in that some are so much better than others without the training. I see that in class all the time. Kids in college or, even worse, high school, in my classes knocking the socks off the rest of us. It's wonderful.

And this IS a great thread.:clap:


10-02-2011, 02:03 PM
Sarah--Diana Sanford's work is mostly abstracted http://dianasanford.com/collections/29079, at least in this series, so probably it is more like one of your backgrounds, so I agree about the close detail work.

I just looked at your public profile, Sarah, and saw the images of your lovely animal pictures, many of them are facing so you are drawing their right profile (left hemisphere favoring--according to McGilchrist). There are researchers that actually cataloged "50,000 portrayals of the human face, over time," and discovered that during historical times of massive creative growth (Grecian Classical period and the European Renaissance--I'm only on Chapter 9), the majority of the images switched to be right facing. Interesting!

Margaret--I smile to think about your daughter's "one mindless thing or another" comment. I can't ever listen to audio books. They put me to sleep, and that's not good while I am driving. Even the language tapes!

Dale--I read somewhere that the current younger generation may end up being in closer touch with their right hemisphere than we were because of their increased exposure to the visual computer, with the instant images and the all-at-once absorption of the whole image, rather than the piece by piece acquisition of a subject, like we did.

Although I'm sure as a group that we WCers are much more in touch with the "Right Side" than the rest of the human population, because we care (and spend time, money and effort) about color, growth and the visual.

Everyone have a creative, productive day!

Today, I will be using my time mindless cleaning and pricing hundreds of pounds of glass rods, getting ready to sell off the tools of my last artistic obsession. (I really have my eye on that 300 piece Girault set, on sale at Jerry's and 58% off.....it's already in my shopping cart, and has been for the last month. Just cannot bring myself to hit that "Buy Now" button!)

10-02-2011, 03:16 PM
Hi Karen:wave:
Thank for posting that link, I love Dianas work!
Yes its interesting too as when I work without detail like in the BGs then I can work for much longer, in fact I cant step away :o
Whereas when Im working on close detail I often only manage 20 minutes or so before taking a 10-15 minute break.
So does that mean the left brain is lazy? :D or maybe the right brain is starved :eek:

Really interesting too what you say about the right profile, Ive done a few lefts now, 4 or 5 I think, the first did feel really odd .
Thanks for the kind comments.

10-02-2011, 06:39 PM
Hello everyone...
I thought I would like to add my 2 cents to the conversation.
This afternoon my "easy chair" became a torcher device as I sat in agony watching my home team taken to the woodshed.
Be that as it may, I stumbled upon this very interesting topic,
"OK, so where does it come from?"
I've often heard and read about this "left brain/right brain" thing. I guess my left brain is what starts the ball rolling. I analyze what I want to paint until finally the right brain takes over and probably goes into kind of a separation mode. The farther and longer the separation the better the piece of work turns out.
It's no use listening to music... while I'm standing and painting, I can hear it but it's a distraction. I don't remember hearing it while I'm sitting at the easel working on something. Geez, I wonder what the psyches would say about that, hmmm? The time goes by so quickly I don't even notice but...
Whether or not it's right brain trying to get away from the left I can't really say.
I have to agree though, it IS a wonderful gift - I like to think of it something like this little metaphor:

Upon awakening one day we find we have a gift.
You get a gift,
I get a gift,
the neighbor kid gets a gift... and yes...
that bully kid down the street even gets a gift.
Ahh... here's the rub.
Some of us are shown how to use the gift.
Some try out the gift first... then they ask for help figuring out how it works.
...(The bully kid breaks his and goes off to do something else bully.)
The rest of us work at it on our own and sooner or later figure it out... to a degree. And we struggle, and soon fall in line behind the others... always seeking knowledge of how our gift really works.
All in all, I guess I'm more right-brained. Maybe that's why I have a hard time analyzing my own work let alone someone else's... but I'm learning all the time. Sooner or later I'll head back to the center a bit.:wave:

10-03-2011, 09:21 AM
I love that, Steven, thanks for posting! :D :D

10-06-2011, 01:19 PM
Hi Sarah after reading through this thread a couple of times, this old plumber feels like the mentally challenged guy that somehow learned to paint a little. I am like you a bomb could go of when i am painting, same when I am reading I become totally absorbed.

10-06-2011, 01:42 PM
Hey David , I didnt realise you were a plumber, can you move to the UK please? :D the plumbers here are useless :eek:

BTW have you seen Ericas cat thread in the studio, thats got some fab posts on it :wink2:

10-07-2011, 11:01 AM
Hi Sarah, Sorry been there done that. besides I've been retired 8 yrs. I probably suck too.:lol: :lol: :lol:
And yes I did see that thread lots of good stuff in there:clap: :clap: :clap: