I took a drawing class for two weeks this summer through Mass Art to brush up on my drawing skills. As an art teacher, it is amazing how little time I find to draw for myself. Time is a luxury at school. Everything I create is for my students, and I do it as fast as possible before my next class arrives. This summer studio was exactly what I needed to get back to being an artist myself. After sketching for a minimum of 5 hours a day I filled a 60 page sketchbook with everything from stain glass windows to panoramic views of Boston. Finally, the time to sit down, look at something and draw. It was quiet, it was productive and it was immensely satisfying. I even came up with illustrations for a new story I’m working on and plan to illustrate myself.
On the other hand…
During this time I was incapable of editing a story, writing a new chapter or even composing an email. Words were completely inaccessible.
So this got me thinking…
I find both drawing and writing incredibly satisfying, like brain calisthenics. But it seems as if I cannot do both at the same time! How do author/illustrators navigate between logic and fantasy?
It all comes down to the way our brains work.
The human brain is like a super computer. It contains over 100 billion nerve cells all connected, communicating with each other and processing the world around us. It is a remarkable piece of engineering. The brain is split into two hemispheres. We call them the Right brain and the Left brain.
As writers, we tap into our left brain. The left brain is the analytical hemisphere in charge of language, facts and sequencing. It is firmly rooted in reality and can process complex metaphors. The left brain is our verbal brain.
Neither is better than the other. Certainly we need to process the world both verbally and visually. However, our right and left brains are competing for dominance all the time. During my two week drawing class, I was so entrenched in my right observation brain functions that it sent my left brain on vacation. This is incredibly handy to know for my own writing/drawing process, especially as I start character sketches for a new picture book.
What to do?
Perhaps the key to managing both is moderation. A little writing here, a little drawing there, so that both sides of my brain feel needed and appreciated. I might try writing in the morning and drawing in the evening. Today is clearly a writing day. Perhaps tomorrow… well, you never know.
Feel free to share how your author/illustrator brains work. Add your thoughts to the Writers’ Rumpus!