Anna Black has been teaching the 5-day Drawing on the Side of the Brain® course in the UK since 2008. Since then she has enjoyed teaching hundreds of people how to draw.
Anna Black was also one of the first teachers in London to offer the secular mindfulness course that is now so popular.
She is a published author of several books introducing mindfulness into everyday life.
I was going to write a standard biography here but then it occurred to me that it might be more interesting for you to hear about my own ‘drawing’ journey and discoveries along the way.
In the Beginning
I can’t remember not being able to draw – I have a vivid memory, aged about 12 or 13, sitting on the window sill in my bedroom copying a photograph of an old woman. Even now I can remember how on finishing it I felt a bit dazed and thought did I do that?
I had no concept of time having passed and had been unaware of anything going on around me. The drawing itself had seemed easy to do as if it had just ‘drawn itself’. I find that still happens today and is one of the characteristics of right brain drawing. When you access your right brain, you find drawing just flows.
Drawing was important to me all through school but when it came to choosing between art school or university I chose the latter. I couldn’t see how I could use art to make a living. I loved drawing but didn’t feel I would ever be an Artist with a capital A.
Without the structure of school my drawing fell by the wayside. I worked in a circus in Venezuela for a few months, went to university in London to do Latin American Studies followed by a year’s post-graduate diploma in History of Fine and Decorative Arts. I started working, first in the antiques world and then in illustrated book publishing. Although my work commissioning illustrated books has always been creative and I developed a strong visual sense, there was never an opportunity to use my drawing skills and although I took the odd evening class I was never ‘taught’ and I just became frustrated with my drawing.
DRAWING: JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED
Did you know research has shown that when we do an activity and enter the ‘flow’ state, the brain releases ‘happy hormones’? So if you feel guilty about taking time out to draw – remember you’re improving your health and well-being - and that can only be good for you and your family and friends!
One day while browsing in the Royal Academy bookshop I came across The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I had to buy the book – it virtually jumped off the shelf at me! Luckily I was about to go on holiday, which gave me an opportunity to try it out straight away. Although I didn’t have any of the special tools, designed by Brian Bomeisler, that are unique to Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain® I was able to produce drawings I was really pleased with – despite not having picked up a pencil for years.
It was a couple of years later that an idle web search led me to find that Brian Bomeisler, Betty Edwards’ son, was coming to the UK to do a 5-day workshop. Again, it was a gut feeling that I had to do this course. Although the course cost a lot of money I felt it was worth it because I would be learning skills for life – not just spending a week drawing.
At the time I was feeling stuck with my drawing and I didn’t know where to go with it. I hoped that the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain® would change that but little did I realise then how much it would influence my life.
That week in Cambridge I learned so much. I realized how much thoughts interfere with our drawing – how easy it is to give up but if one ‘pushes’ through and perseveres with a drawing, the results speak for themselves. I gained an understanding of relationships and proportions and for the first time felt I was able to draw successfully from life.
The unique tools such as the artist viewfinder, angle finder and proportion finder, which are supplied as part of the course, are useful props which support your drawing in the beginning. But as you gain in confidence you find you don’t need them and you can use your hands to frame a composition and a pencil to get the same results.
These tools were developed by Brian Bomeisler but are based on those used by the Old Masters. People sometimes feel it’s cheating to use tools – however when you learned to ride a bike you probably had training wheels in the beginning but then later discarded them when you had gained in confidence. It’s exactly the same.
It’s hard work … but rewarding
One thing I should add is that it’s not just a question of showing up for class and being touched by magic – it’s a challenging week and you will work hard. – and everyone experiences highs and lows. There are times when you might feel frustrated but part of the course is about learning strategies to deal with those feelings (which are all attempts by the left brain to sabotage the right brain) so when you are at home drawing on your own, you’ll be able to keep going.
It’s to be expected that learning a new skill is going to be a challenge but that’s half the fun and the reward is all the sweeter.
Everyone develops their own unique drawing style
It was fascinating to see how every class member had a unique style that came through from their very first drawing. The course does not produce a group of clones. Some people had more experience than others at the start and many had done nothing since school but we all progressed and we were all amazed at how far we had come at the end of the week.
This remains true to every class I’ve attended either as a participant or as a teacher. Yes there are always one or two people who seem to have a natural gift and find it easier than others who might struggle a bit more, but everyone does progress.
It was interesting to see how the effects permeated into my work in publishing as I found myself more and more ‘thinking’ through drawing – developing my ideas with little thumbnail sketches and that practice continues to this day. Realising that you can render an effective likeness and draw something that looks real makes one feel more creative and this has a knock-on effect into the rest of your life – regardless of whether it involves drawing.
If you are interested in drawing and the creative process and how it can be used in the workplace you might like to look at
Drawing on the Artist Within by Betty Edwards.
It was around about at this time that I had started teaching courses in Stress Reduction Through Mindfulness which is a scientifically-proven method which uses meditation to manage stress, pain and anxiety.
Find out more about Stress Reduction through Mindfulness here
Having discovered I really enjoyed teaching stress reduction, I had a go at sharing some of the lessons learned on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain® with one of my nieces and seeing how she progressed the germ of an idea grew – perhaps I could teach this course for real?
The only UK certified Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain® teacher
The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Having completed the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain® certification course with Brian Bomeisler I am proud to be the only certified Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain® teacher in the UK.
Operating under license from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Inc, run by Brian Bomeisler, I am offering the 5-day drawing course in the UK. The course content follows that devised by Dr Edwards and Brian Bomeisler.
If you would like to read about the process I go through when I am doing a drawing, have a look at this pencil portrait of a dog.
Find out more about Anna Black's 5-day Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain® workshop here
I continue to learn and develop my skills in every way I can. I always think the term 'self-taught' is misleading as I have learnt from scores of teachers - both living and long dead. London is luckily enough to have some world-class art schools and I continue to study with some amazing teachers both in the UK and abroad. I have also learned an enormous amount by studying the work of Old Masters - the more you can do this by viewing actual works of art rather than reproductions the better.
Just as with my meditation practice (see below), I regard myself as a student too and would hate to reach a point where I think I know it all. I learn from the people I teach, other people’s work and I learn from every drawing I do. For me that is where much of my satisfaction comes from. I believe learning should be a life-long journey
I see my role as a facilitator – nurturing and bringing out skills that every one of us already has. Once you have learned the basic skills of drawing you will have gained the essential skills that you can then build on with practice and perhaps with other teachers.
People come on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain® workshops for all different reasons. Some have had an art school training but found that they were never taught how to draw (teaching drawing fell out of fashion so many artists lack this basic skill), others perhaps teach drawing – either formally in a school or perhaps to a club or their own children. For others it’s about developing something for themselves – learning a new skill is always rewarding. Many people have never had any drawing tuition and perhaps have not picked up a pencil since school.
One of the reasons I enjoy teaching this course is to see the pleasure and sense of achievement that people get out of developing these skills. So many people have been told as children that they are useless at drawing and yet they nurture a quiet, often, hidden desire to draw and create.
Believe me when I say:
I believe the desire to create is in every one of us and we just need to find the right key to unlock it – Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain®, developed by Dr Betty Edwards, is the key that fits the lock.
I also enjoy writing – both fiction and non-fiction – and have had my work included in Wild Cards,an anthology published by Virago. I have also written several books on mindfulness including Living in the Moment (2012) and Mindfulness @ Work (2014), Mindfulness on the Go (2017) published by Cico Books.
I live in London and continue to teach mindfulness and meditation. I have found that the attitudes developed in mindfulness meditation such as non-judging, patience, beginner's mind are enormously helpful for drawing. I have completed a Masters in Mindfulness-based Approaches to Health (University of Wales, Bangor) and I am interested in exploring the use of drawing/creativity and meditation – so watch this space.
If you have any questions or would like any information please don't hesitate to drop me a line.
You can contact me here
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In the meantime – keep drawing!