This is a reflection on my Winter Term project this year. There’s a small portfolio at the bottom. You can skip to the portfolio if you wish.

Going into this Winter Term, I thought I couldn’t draw. But the drawing book I used (Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards) met me there and helped me make a lot of progress. More than just teaching me to draw, the book taught me how to see. It helped me see edges, perspective, size relationships, and light and dark, and translate that to the page.

Project motivation

My previous Winter Term projects have all been connected to computer programming in one way or another. After a 6–month internship as a software engineer, I wanted to do something different this year. Ideally, something “out of my wheelhouse.” Learning to draw seemed like a skill that would be generally beneficial to me as a person while also being something I had no background in.

The experience of drawing

When drawing, I would usually be “in the groove” and lose track of time and get absorbed in the process. This was a pretty sustainable state to be in. However, it could sometimes be difficult to just start. It was an odd feeling, because sometimes I’d have to convince myself to start, but then after 5 minutes I would be enjoying it.

The “in the groove” state1 is one I’ve experienced before with other activities, such as computer programming. It’s a mental state where I proceed fairly effortlessly from one section of the craft to another, without really pausing to worry about what I was doing. It’s a pleasing state to work in. I did a lot of my drawing while listening to music or podcasts. They provided a little bit of background stimulus while I focused on the drawing at hand. I think I would have been more distracted if I had been working in silence.

I did all of my drawing digitally on an iPad2, though I stuck to the experience that I would have gotten with a piece of paper, a pencil, a graphite stick, an eraser, and a paper towel. I chose the digital medium because it was a little more accessible to me (no need to buy art supplies!). It also made it easier to share my drawings. I intended to do some drawing on real paper this Winter Term but never got around to it. I’m sure I’ll do that in the future though.

Favorite parts

My favorite part of this experience by far was seeing the astounding progress I was able to make. I thought of myself as someone who “couldn’t draw,” and while my drawings show obvious room for improvement, I’ve already done much more than I thought I could. Before it got into the lessons, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain had me do some drawings to measure my starting place. One of the drawings it had me do was a drawing of my own hand. This is that drawing:

A drawing of the back of a left hand, resting on top of a surface. The fingers don't have the correct shape or proportion, and the shading looks odd.

My attempt at drawing my hand before receiving any instruction. It looks quite odd to me, especially the shape and proportions of the fingers.

Later that week and further into the book, it once again had me draw my hand. This is what I drew:

A drawing of the palm of a left hand, fingers pointing towards the viewer. The fingers are holding a pen.

A later drawing of my hand. I like the perspective in this one. I feel like the hand has volume and depth.

I’m really proud of how that one turned out, especially the foreshortening and perspective. The proportions all look correct, which is not something that can be said about the first drawing. I was impressed that seeing in a different way had enabled me to create this drawing.

Another part of this project that I appreciate is that I now have a new skill that I can use and continue to develop. I don’t really see drawing (or other visual art) becoming a staple of my life, but I do see it as something that I can do every now and then for fun. I’m glad I have this in my toolbelt.

Room for improvement

My drawings are obviously still the work of a beginner. I struggle especially with faces, but also with other things, like shading and composition. I think that all of these skills and more would benefit from further practice and study.

During Winter Term, I sometimes struggled to motivate myself to get started. Generally once I was drawing, I had no issue maintaining my focus, however. I’m not sure how to effectively solve this problem, though now that Winter Term is over I am under no obligation to draw. With luck, inspiration will strike periodically so that I can keep up my skills.

I also need to explore the world of graphite pencils and organic paper :)

Portfolio

This is just a small collection of the drawings I’m most proud of.

A humanoid robot missing an arm and a leg sits on a bench, alone in a landscape filled with piles of rubbish. An alien sort of tree grows nearby, with branches that look like the robot's hair. The robot smiles.

This piece, titled Planned Obsolescence, is the drawing I’m most proud of. Unlike the rest of the drawings here, this is a fictional scene, not one I observed with my eyes. It’s inspired by and based on a beautiful song of the same name by my friend Luca.

A face, with one side in dark shadow. The proportions are odd.

A self-portrait. I am proud of how this turned out, but it definitely has a number of things going on that make it pretty weird.

A face, with light hitting one cheek.

Another self-portrait. I think this one captures my likeness a little bit better, but it still feels odd in the proportion department, just not as much as the other self-portrait.

A hallway with a closed door at the end.

A view down the hallway towards my sister’s bedroom door.

A living room containing a piano, in front of a dining room with table and chairs.

My family’s living and dining rooms. This one was fun because I thought I did a good job capturing all the angles and size relationships involved, despite the complicated perspective. Some of the lines could have been darker, though.

A downward view into a backyard, dominated by a messy orange tree.

The view out my bedroom window, dominated by an orange tree. I’m not too happy with this one. I felt a tension between trying to capture the “micro” details of the leaves on the tree and trying to depict the “macro” view of the shape of the tree. I think that ultimately I pretty much failed to capture either.

A drawing of the palm of a left hand, fingers pointing towards the viewer. The fingers are holding a pen.

The same drawing of my hand from above.

Through a window, we see a woman sitting in a cafe, facing towards us but looking at her phone.

I drew a frame from the 2019 movie The Assistant. I tried to capture what I liked about the original frame, which is below.

Through a window, we see a woman sitting in a cafe, facing towards us but looking at her phone.

The original frame from the film, which I tried to capture in my drawing above. I like the quality of the light in this shot, and I don’t think I really did it justice. I also like the colors, which I didn’t capture in just pencil.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to my friend Laurel, for providing guidance, feedback, and advice as I worked on my project. Thank you to Professor Colley, my project sponsor, for being supportive and open to this project in the first place. Thank you to my aunt Jenifer, who recommended Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and sent me a copy.


  1. Sometimes called “flow.” ↩︎

  2. I used an app called Procreate. It has a whole bunch of fancy features and brushes for all sorts of digital art. I have yet to explore them. ↩︎