My Life after the Art Academy

by Moises Diez, General Electric, Spain

My drawing and painting classes have given me much more than I expected, and especially learning to enjoy art and discover the beauty that surrounds us.

The beginning: Call her Soraya, she was my first art teacher. I've never been good at drawing, nor in many other things, but what I really missed was drawing. Some years ago, a drawing and painting academy appeared in my neighborhood. Every day I could see through the big windows busy people inside.  Sometimes children, sometimes adults, mostly ladies, everyone entertained under the watchful eye of Soraya. I had not met her yet, dark brunette spirited girl of medium height. Shyness held me back, and I did not dare to cross the door and ask her.  Maybe I would enter an unknown world.
Finally, I crossed the door. Next day I regretted my decision.
I explained her my intention, to learn drawing, to be able to express myself with pencil on paper. Just a practical skill, nothing about art, after all, I was an engineer.  I was already able to make technical drawings, spatial vision, flat views, elevation, profile and plant. My goal - freehand perspective drawing from life was as unreachable to me as the moon. Soraya listened to me attentively, awake girl, recently graduated from the School of Art. Near a round table she opened an easel in which she put a large sheet of paper, placed a clay jar on a table and a piece of charcoal in my hand.

My regret started. Sweat and more sweat began. Soraya changed the pottery to a simpler shape, but my inability was still there. A few work sessions passed, Soraya struggling against my inability. I had luck, my savior entered through the door. Good boy. Soraya's mate recently graduated as well. He was strict: "Engineers do not know how to draw". Curious! in the art school they learn technical drawing, in the engineering school artistic drawing is not taught. Technical drawing teaches you simplification, good skill for any type of drawing, and spatial vision, but this last skill is an inconvenience, because spatial vision allows you to see what yours eyes are not seeing.
It is the dichotomy between the brain and the eyes, that barrier that you have to handle to be able to draw.

Following the indications of her mate, she exchanged the large sheet of paper for a humble A4 sheet, pencil of instead charcoal, cardboard on my lap instead of standing up in front of the easel, and a simple six faced box instead of pottery. Things started moving in the right direction. I had to cope with the first critical point in drawing, how to translate 3D figures in a 2D pictures.  She left me her book on Perspective Theory. This was a book for engineers and architects. It turned out that the perspective drawing was removed from the engineering curriculum before I started my studies, she ignored it.

I learned fast about horizon lines and vanishing points, an easy subject for any engineer. If you are painting from a picture or photography then perspective is not critical, but to paint from life some basic notions of perspective are an immense necessity to avoid the brain-eye dichotomy. The brain knows that the four sides of a square table are equal, but the eyes will see it differently - Perspective Theory is the mediator. Perspective was a good invention of the Italian painters of the Renaissance. It's a pity that it only helps us to perceive lines and angles correctly. Next, we should learn about the perception of spaces, relationships -proportions- and values.
In a short time, I could draw boxes, that is to transfer 3D boxes to my 2D paper. Soraya took me back to the easel, the big paper and the charcoal. I continued drawing boxes. No more sweat. I began to learn to perceive the light and the shadow, that is the value.
Charcoal shading is easy, place the charcoal flat on the paper and just rub. Drawing is not about controlling hands, it is about perceiving the light, learning to see. Soraya upgraded the boxes to more complex objects with straight edges to finally pottery.

Then Betty arrived. Betty Edwards is a retired American art teacher, she has also taught seminars on creative problem solving in major corporations. Her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was revolutionary, and internationally accepted. It was a great complement to my drawing lessons. Betty explains her drawing teaching experience with students according to the prized Nobel psychobiologist Roger W. Sperry's research on the human brain.
Roger has found that the human brain uses two fundamentally different modes of thinking, one verbal, analytic and sequential; and the other visual, perceptual and simultaneous. Betty's method advocates suppressing the brain verbal mode in favor of the visual. It worked for me.

The eyes gather visual information constantly, the amount of data received is so huge that the brain should perform data processing to interpret and conceptualize. Your brain uses the analytic mode.  Processing starts in our eyes because they are extension of our brain, it must be so because there would not be enough bandwidth between eyes and brain if they were not the same organ. For instance, if you are drawing the eyelashes of a person's eye, your brain tells you that the lashes of the upper eyelid are going up; you draw it and you realize that your drawing looks like a drawing of a child. Sure, because the upper lashes go down, they curve and end up, but this has been filtered by your brain.

When Gertrude Stein asked Henri Matisse if he looked at the tomato he was eating in any special way, Matisse said: When I eat a tomato, I look at it the way anyone else would. But when I paint a tomato, then I see it differently. The way we see a tomato is: red and round, no need to spend more time and effort. But to paint it we have to perceive: white  where the light  is reflected, black bluish in the bottom edge, orange, pink and some reds.

What is the predominant color of the clouds? White? Nope, it is black-grey. Place a can of food on a table and draw it. Use simplification, the body is a vertical rectangle and the top an ellipse. Why does it not look realistic? Surely your drawing has the common mistake: the minor axis of the ellipse is too large. Your brain knew that the top is a circle and if you learned perspective that you must draw an ellipse, hence your brain does not need to expend time watching. Look at someone's face, what is the ratio of the distance from the eyes to the bottom of the chin, related to the distance from the eyes to the top of the head? If the lower distance seems much greater, you are seeing as most other people, but you are wrong. Both distances are almost equal. Your brain found more interesting things below the eyes - nose, lips, teeth, chin. Even if you are looking at the face for a long time, the distance below will seem much greater. You need to learn to change your brain to visual mode.

I do not know how it happens but I learned a new way of seeing. When I was walking with my father who loved to see exhibitions, I was bored to death. But suddenly I started seeing new things in the paintings. Life seemed richer, I found many beautiful things around, the graceful curves of the vegetation, the intricate forms of the barks of a tree, the beautiful undulations and richness of the shades of a woman's hair. I discovered this new world before I started working with color.

After I learned about color the world expanded even more. I remember a trip to Madrid to the Prado Museum as a child, and it had never occurred to me to visit it again. As soon as I entered I came across the Annunciation by Fray Angelico, I was fascinated. The same thing happened to me with Rubens' Three Graces, although the beauty of the three women is far from modern beauty canon, their beauty colors are captivating. This new way of seeing was my first reason to learn to draw.
Continuing with my learning, and as a preliminary step to color, Soraya introduced me to traditional chalk material: sepia - brown colors, sanguine -reddish hues, grays, black and white. Like charcoal, chalk allows to cover large areas of the paper, much more quickly as compared to graphite.
This material gives great control of shading, so between light and dark you can produce many levels. Leonardo Da Vinci and Italian coetaneous were masters creating wonderful drawings with those materials, as preliminary sketches prior to painting.

One day, Soraya surprised me: - You are ready to start painting and introduce yourself to the wonder of color.  I answered: - Do you mean oil painting? -  Absolutely no, she answered. - I am thinking that watercolor is better for you. You are slow and a perfectionist, and if you paint in oil you would never finish a painting. Oil allows the correction of any mistake, but not watercolor. Watercolor will force you to be more unexpected and expressive. Thus, I started my first painting wetting the brush in water and playing with colors like a child.
Many people, we would say, most people, approach art academies wanting to paint from the first day, without going through the learning of drawing. This is certainly a tremendous mistake and a nightmare for art teachers. Van Gogh, a Dutch painter and one of my favorites, knew it very well, and he left it written in his letters to his brother Teo. He was very short on money, and he knew that to start painting without mastering the skill of drawing, was to throw away the expensive oil. Van Gogh started his career as a draughtsman, and it wasn't for another three years that he began painting. Hence, when I started watercolor I focused on the color, and the temperamental behavior of this technique!

Color is something wonderful that surrounds us, and too often we do not appreciate it because we do not look at it. Eventhough it can bring us pleasure and worth. When I started working as an engineer, color was expensive, serious engineering books where black and white, technical drawing as well. But today things have changed, color is of great help in our daily work in reports and articles. Do not hesitate to use it. You just need to learn a little about color theory.

Learning to paint is a great help. I remember three female workmates, while having coffee, were wondering if one of their handkerchiefs was salmon-pink. They were amazed when I said that it was coral-pink, because salmon requires a little more yellow. This was followed by an interesting conversation. The conclusion we drew was that it is not true that men see less colors than women, it is that men are perhaps not as interested as women in color.
You will learn to combine the garments correctly, and without a doubt it is an advantage when it comes to complementing your wife that she looks pretty.

Let me tell you one clue to combine colors. Color has three main attributes:

  • Hue, the name of the color, the tint (Frequency Spectrum in engineering language)
  • Value, the relative darkness or lightness (Intensity)
  • Saturation or Chroma, the purity of the color (Spectrum Variance). In addition, Surface Texture (Scattering) is an important as well. 

The error when combining colors is to think only in the Hue. You can mix the colors you want, varied hues, if they have the same saturation and texture, you would have undoubtedly achieved a harmonious combination. If you do not fit in your black suit, and you need to wear dark and do not want to buy another suit, do not worry about looking for black pants, just look for grey pants that are of the same fabric texture and similar dressmaking as the jacket, you will look great.

My drawing and painting classes have given me much more than I expected, especially learning to enjoy art and discovering the beauty surrounds us. But there is something more important that I have learned, and that Betty in her book, fruit of her many years of experience, highlights it: Drawing is a skill that can be learned by every normal person with average eyesight and average eye hand coordination - with sufficient ability, for example, to thread a needle or catch a baseball.
This I have applied to everything, I know that if something does not work out, or a technical text I do not understand, it's a matter of getting into it, nothing more than that.  If you do not believe me, just look at the first drawings of Van Gogh, he made the mistakes of any beginner.  Biography:

Moises Diez was born in Spain/Bilbao city. Since childhood he was fascinated by electricity and electronics, being his heroes Edison and Marconi, and his main hobby electronics. He received his Master´s degree on Electrical Engineering from the University of Bilbao. After some years working as electronic teacher in the University he started his career as electronic designer in the traffic control business. In 1989 he joined General Electric, where he worked always in R&D duties, for protection relays. During his time as Technology Manager he was the chief engineer of the design of the F650 relay. He is the author and co-author of two patents in protection relays.

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