Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 12:33 PM on Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Drawing: It's a brain thing

For the Homer News


Photo provided

Students in Asia Freeman's Beginning Drawing class sketch earlier this fall.

Many of us, perhaps most, doodle occasionally, putting pencil to paper while engaging in phone conversation or some other motionless task, absent-mindedly sketching lines — at times familiar, sometimes abstract. But we'd hardly call ourselves artists.

It may well be, however, that we are. Artists, that is.

As far as Asia Freeman is concerned, everyone can learn to draw. That idea is at the heart of her Beginning Drawing class at Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College, University of Alaska Anchorage, where her eight students are experiencing a journey more of mind than motor skills, unlocking aptitudes they may never have known they possessed.

Freeman teaches beginning, intermediate and advanced drawing and painting at the college, attracting students young and old, basing her curriculum on Betty Edwards' book, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain," which was grounded in brain research conducted in the 1970s at California State University at Long Beach. Freeman's mother, long-time Homer artist Karla Freeman, taught art based on the book for 20 years at KBC. Asia has taught it for 12.

An exhibit of sketches composed by Asia Freeman's students currently graces the commons at the campus' main building on Pioneer Avenue. Several are portraits, others are still life, but all display the students' obvious commitment to learning the skills of drawing.

Her students sometimes include people who have drawn or painted for years, but may be seeking some structured coaching, she said. Most, however, have little previous experience or training. A few find drawing highly intimidating, at least at first.

"Everyone has to get over a part of their brain that has become like a super strong muscle," she said.

That's our left-brain, the one that's rational, verbal, oriented by symbols and learns by rote, the one that guides us through the logic of sequential tasks and with which we function in math, science and verbal communication. It's the part of our mind which admonishes, "Oh, you can't do that," when first we begin experimenting with creative expression.

While it is sometimes referred to as "the dominant" hemisphere, the left brain °©— Freeman prefers "left mode" — isn't superior. Brain research has shown our two hemispheres simply have different functions. They work together — the left analyzing parts, the right seeing wholes. Another way to look at it: Your left mode analyzes your friend's words, your right looks to see by his facial expression whether he understands yours.

Artistic expression needs and utilizes both hemispheres. "Ultimately, we don't draw with one part of the brain. It involves the whole brain," Freeman said.

As a teacher, she attempts to guide her students in tapping their broader self to "draw out and empower" that side of the brain capable of concentrating so deeply that it can sometimes lose a sense of time and space. A bit of training, one might say the "right" training, teaches the rational side to chill, permitting the holistic right hemisphere to escape the cage of self doubt. To trick the rational mode into being quiet, she employs a few tools.

"We draw upside down, or draw things that are too complex for the left brain to even say or know what it is, such as a crumpled piece of paper or the tiny lines in your hand," she said.

"Eventually what happens is you experience this really delicious kind of immersion, this quiet where you tune out the outside world. And then you start to develop skill with the intuition of your vision, finding you've never really drawn that way or listened so hard or attempted, really, in a sensual way, to absorb information so deeply."

After a while, she said, you begin to connect eyes to hands, your left brain yields control, and rather than inhibiting, starts telling you, "'OK, you're not so bad at that. Let's see what else you can produce.' Before long, people are drawing what they can see with a set of tools that are very classical and long-standing as far as understanding perception of line and edge, of light and shadow, or the relationship between the whole and the individual parts."

As students progress, they become familiar with a sequential set of tools, moving from graphite, to charcoal, to ink wash. The progression is important.

"Wet media are very cagey and intimidating. The pencil is most familiar," Freeman said.

Because drawing is tied so intimately to the intuitive, non-verbal, spatial, emotional, very temporal part of your brain, everybody experiences good days and bad, Freeman said. That's normal. But so are those breakthrough moments when they become excited and increasingly confident. She freely admits to being thoroughly delighted watching her students when "the lights" go on.

"Oh I love it, I totally love it," she said. "It's like a parent watching their kid ride a bike or ski. You're ready to just jump up and down and become a major cheerleader."

The visual language her students are building is the real purpose of the class, she said.

"Understanding different techniques of media empower you to find your own voice," she said, "but it is what you are saying that really matters."

The KBC campus has a beautiful studio complete with all the necessary easels, tables, lights and what-have-you for doing art. Asia's mother helped design it.

"I often lament that my mom taught here for 20 years in a plain old regular classroom and that she got to design this but never taught in it," Freeman said.

In the spring semester, Freeman will teach Intermediate Drawing. The three-credit course requires five hours of instruction a week, "a big commitment," she said. "The class is a perfect prerequisite for Beginning Painting," she added.

Occasionally, Freeman teaches sculpture, for which she takes "a more conceptual bent." She will ask in local artists with particular expertise to help out. One thing she loves about Homer is its large cadre of artists able and willing to offer their advice and guidance to students.

"Homer is a wonderful place," she said.

Arts classes abound at KBC

Kachemak Bay Campus has several visual, music and literary arts classes scheduled for the coming spring semester. Director Carol Swartz said students take art, music or writing courses for a variety of reasons.

"We have very few people (here) going for a degree in art," she said. "Most people take it because they want to draw — you saw the art show — or painting or ceramics. These classes are also good for creative development for artists who want to just expand."

Frequently, local artists are brought in to offer their particular expertise, Swartz said. Occasionally, visiting artists will conduct weekend workshops at the campus.

Registration for the spring semester is underway now and will continue through Jan. 13. You may register Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or online 24/7. Classes begin Jan. 17.

More details:


Visual Arts

Color Design; Beginning Hand Built Ceramics; Beginning Wheel Throw Ceramics; Creative Digital Camera; Watercolor Painting Workshop (June)


Fundamentals of Music; History of Music II

Creative Writing

Introduction to Creative Writing/Humor; Introduction to Creative Writing; Introduction to Creative Writing/Poetry; Writers' Workshop/Fiction

Other courses are available online delivered from other campuses in the University of Alaska system. The KBC website has more information.