The Joy of Seeing

The Joy of Seeing

by Sydney Francis

I draw because I love the experience of really seeing something.  It is surprising to me the intricate shapes, colors and complexity of an object that I see through the lens of drawing.

I am talking about realistic drawing in this situation, in which you look at a photograph or an object from life, study it and record what you see.

Sydney Francis drawing in colored pencil the Century Plant

Sydney Francis drawing a detail preliminary drawing for the "Century Plant"

This type of drawing is a process of intimacy.  As you deeply look at something, it seems that you develop a connection with it and build a relationship with it.

I used drawing as a technique to develop a positive body image when I did my MFA thesis.  As I drew self-portraits, forcing myself to look carefully at every curve and blemish, I found that I saw beauty (beauty that I was not aware of before).  Drawing myself turned out to be a very powerful and effective process for improving my self-esteem.

Self-portrait by Sydney Francis, watercolor

"Autumn", a self-portrait by Sydney Francis

I know from 25 years of drawing and about 20 years of teaching drawing that drawing evokes an emotion that is love or akin to love.  This feeling of loving what you are seeing transpires as you look carefully at an object or a scene.  

Try drawing something that you perceive as ugly or that seems somewhat plain.  I think you will find a special joy and intimacy with the object after you have drawn it.

I subscribe to the Betty Edwards methodology when it comes to learning how to draw.  Betty Edwards wrote the very popular book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  I highly recommend this book for learning basic drawing skills.

Edwards describes learning to draw as a process of developing your perceptual awareness of 5 components of the object being looked at:

The perception of edges, such as the contours of an object.

The perception of shapes, such as being able to see the negative shapes.

positive and negative shapes in the cactus by Sydney Francis

"Cactus Study" by Sydney Francis showing positive and negative shapes

The perception of relationships, such as proportion and perspective (the relative angles)

process image for Flagstaff Alley light box

Underdrawing for "Flagstaff Alley" Lightbox by Liquiterra

The perception of light and shadow, such as the relative values.

Camaro at Night by Scott Moore showing light and shadow

"Camaro" by Scott Moore showing light and shadow

And the perception of the whole all at once.


    On her website, Edwards describes drawing as the right brain’s version of reading.  The left brain (L-mode) learns the analytical task of reading. In contrast, the right brain (R-mode) learns the holistic task of drawing.

    When I first learned to draw, I found it uncomfortable to experience the shift from L-mode and R-mode.  In fact, for years I resisted drawing. But for the past month plus, as Scott and I have done the 30 day Art Every Day Challenge, I have found the shift quite enjoyable.

    In R-mode you will experience the sense of losing track of time; it feels like you mind slows down; this can be quite a relaxing and meditative practice.  Your mind will naturally slow down as you work to see all the detail and complexity that lay before you. There is an immense joy that comes from drawing an object and developing that intimate relationship with the thing seen.

    If you are interested in drawing classes or other fine art media, please let me know via email at  We offer a variety of classes and private lessons.  If you are in Flagstaff, please stop by our new Liquiterra Fine Art Studio located at 11 S. Mikes Pike, Flagstaff, AZ 86001.


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