Does learning to "see" simply come with time/practice of drawing from observation?

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    Does learning to "see" simply come with time/practice of drawing from observation?

    I'm trying to get back into getting into drawing, and this is the one thing that's really sticking with me. I can't see.

    I'm just drawing with pencil and paper, but I can't seem to get past drawing simple lines, with complex/fine detail like faces proving inaccurate and all shading being pretty arbitrary.

    I simply find it really hard to translate what I'm seeing into values and then reproducing it. Closing one eye seems to make translating objects in front of me into a flat plane that I can start reproducing, but I just can't get a handle on seeing and reproducing value shapes/areas, rather than just the lines between them.

    Does that make any sense? Has anyone else felt the same when first starting out?

    Last edited by MarkSturm; July 22nd, 2012 at 08:05 AM.
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    It sounds like you might be too caught up in detail. I know I first started to "get it" when I started using charcoal. Using the broad side of a stick of charcoal alternately with a big eraser helped me break the habit of line worrying. Also, if you are having trouble with values, try squinting at your subject. Sounds silly, but it really helps in seeing value relationships.

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    Yes and no. It comes with time/practice if you have proper direction/instruction. If drawing was something that came naturally, everybody could just do it, and places like this would have no need to exist.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    Yes and no. It comes with time/practice if you have proper direction/instruction. If drawing was something that came naturally, everybody could just do it, and places like this would have no need to exist.
    Yes, it does come with time/practice. I do believe that anyone can draw. It's accessing the "right-brain" mode that is hard for me. I found patching the right eye for 20 minutes seems to bring about the shift. I am a new person to drawing, and when I did the exercises in Betty Edward's book, I shocked myself. I was able to replicate an album cover of American Graffiti upside down. And I don't have any talent. So the interest for me is how to turn off the left brain chatter so that I can look at something and draw it. I have had a few instances where it just "feels" like there is a shift in my brain and I can sit down and draw something completely. This has happened after an accident where I suffered some head trauma. I have been doing exercises to strengthen the connections in my head so that I have less short term memory loss and other things. I was terrifically interested in art before my accident, and worked with Betty Edward's book prior to it. I don't know if an accident has anything to do with obtaining more ability. It might have made me more determined?

    Anyway, this is a very interesting topic. It's very natural for a lot of people, and for others, like me, we have to practice, practice, practice. And, I have to be in the right mode, for me, to let myself draw. If I am drawing stick figures, eyes that have no dimension, I know that the wrong side of my brain is holding on to the pencil, telling me what it wants me to draw and not letting me "see". I just keep at it until that side does get tired and shuts up. I found the eye-patching to be the quickest way to get there. I think that Betty Edward's left it out of her book. She may not have known about it, but psychiatrist's use eye-patching to shut down negative thinking, the left-mode, and use the eye-patching to help their patients to enter right-modes quicker. No chatter that way.

    Google Caroline Crenshaw for more on why it works. It's a great way for me to undo artist's block.

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    Forget the "right brain mode" nonsense and don't try to break the drawing down into patches of light and shadow, it's a dead end.

    Learn to draw structurally, instead. Your eye may be "seeing" patches of light and dark, but your brain is seeing the solid form in space. Learn to be aware of that form and reconstruct it on paper. Then your drawing will work.

    Just trying to copy what you see is not going to get you anywhere. It's not that Edwards left it out of the book; it's simply that her "method" is a honey trap. It leads you into thinking it helps you improve quick, when in reality it gives you no skills to build upon - just a few well-known tricks of trade that are not a basis of real method. About the only useful message in that book is "stop drawing what you think you see and take an actual look at the subject, for a change". Beyond that, it's worthless. It can be even harmful, as it loads you with this "left brain/right brain" bunk that has no scientific support and you can end up trying to chase a wild goose.

    Get Loomis's "Successful Drawing", or Nikolaides, or whatever. Nearly anything would be better than Edwards.

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    I've had a look at a number of Loomis' Books, though I have to sit back down and start properly reading/doing what is written.

    That said, you've hit upon something that kind of ties in with my initial question.

    I can't see things in my head. I close my eyes, try to picture something I've either imagined or just seen, and I can't. Just black, maybe the vague hint of what I'm trying to imagine, but nothing more. Possibly related - my short-term memory is quite poor.

    Sometimes I can if I intentionally start to doze and start to dream while conscious; I can hold a picture-perfect image of what I was looking at just prior and alter it in my head, but besides that... nothing. I can barely imagine a cube and rotate it in my mind. That's another part that I hope will come with experience, but am worried I'm simply not wired to do.

    Last edited by MarkSturm; July 23rd, 2012 at 04:02 AM.
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    Worry less, draw more.

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    Starting to draw is all about doing things shamelessly without being too conscious of what you are doing or if its good or bad. (you are calling upon the subconscious)
    Awareness only comes later when you have gained enough practice to afford the desire for control and mastery..

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    Quote Originally Posted by arenhaus View Post
    Learn to draw structurally, instead. Your eye may be "seeing" patches of light and dark, but your brain is seeing the solid form in space. Learn to be aware of that form and reconstruct it on paper. Then your drawing will work.
    Can you give an example of how you would construct an object from life? It seems when I try to do that instead of just drawing what I see, it never looks like what I'm drawing.

    Sorry for hijacking this thread.

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    Not at all; if this thread ends up giving direction in a bunch of random but valid ways that help beginners find little direction, all the better.

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    To me the op feels like a real beginner, and I'm not so sure just telling him to draw more is that helpful.

    I always felt like mastering basic shapes such as cubes and cylinders through invention before trying to study the more complex shapes in life was advantageous.I believe the first step is mastering drawing the straight line and then the curved line and then gradually on to more complex shapes, introduce perspective, practice that and then get a book such as loomis or hampton, and use them to help you do figure studies or whichever subject you please.

    check this:
    http://youtu.be/C3lApsNmdwM?t=7m45s

    and then maybe this:
    http://forums.sijun.com/viewtopic.php?p=272300

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    Quote Originally Posted by arenhaus View Post
    Forget the "right brain mode" nonsense and don't try to break the drawing down into patches of light and shadow, it's a dead end.

    Learn to draw structurally, instead. Your eye may be "seeing" patches of light and dark, but your brain is seeing the solid form in space. Learn to be aware of that form and reconstruct it on paper. Then your drawing will work.

    Just trying to copy what you see is not going to get you anywhere. It's not that Edwards left it out of the book; it's simply that her "method" is a honey trap. It leads you into thinking it helps you improve quick, when in reality it gives you no skills to build upon - just a few well-known tricks of trade that are not a basis of real method. About the only useful message in that book is "stop drawing what you think you see and take an actual look at the subject, for a change". Beyond that, it's worthless. It can be even harmful, as it loads you with this "left brain/right brain" bunk that has no scientific support and you can end up trying to chase a wild goose.

    Get Loomis's "Successful Drawing", or Nikolaides, or whatever. Nearly anything would be better than Edwards.
    Boy are you wrong! Your post is replete with inaccuracy. I guess you have no time for truth. The right brain-left brain theory grew out of the work of Roger W. Sperry, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981. While studying the effects of epilepsy, Sperry discovered that cutting the corpus collosum (the structure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain) could reduce or eliminate seizures.

    However, these patients also experienced other symptoms after the communication pathway between the two sides of the brain was cut. For example, many split-brain patients found themselves unable to name objects that were processed by the right side of the brain, but were able to name objects that were processed by the left-side of the brain. Based on this information, Sperry suggested that language was controlled by the left-side of the brain.

    Later research has shown that the brain is not nearly as dichotomous as once thought. For example, recent research has shown that abilities in subjects such as math are actually strongest when both halves of the brain work together.

    You are wrong on most of your other points, too. You sound so angry. I don't know who you are speaking for in this post. Certainly not me, who has benefited immensely from Betty Edwards.

    Last edited by daj22602; July 23rd, 2012 at 01:29 PM.
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    Arenhaus is not angry, he just does not mince words. Also, forums sometimes do not have the benefit of conveying tone and mood in a post.
    You will always encounter folks who don't like the things you swear by. It's no big deal.

    Last edited by Star Eater; July 23rd, 2012 at 01:36 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by daj22602 View Post
    Boy are you wrong!...

    ...The right brain-left brain theory grew out of the work of Roger W. Sperry, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981...

    ...Later research has shown that the brain is not nearly as dichotomous as once thought. For example, recent research has shown that abilities in subjects such as math are actually strongest when both halves of the brain work together.
    youre contradicting yourself... is the rightbrain-stuff nonsense or not? first you try to back your attack on arenhaus up with someone winning a nobelprize and later mention that hes been proven wrong later.

    whatever way you wanna see it... betty edwards book is rubish and a dead-end. period.

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    We all have our particular hobbyhorses. One of Arenhouse's is the uselessness of Betty Edward's book. I don't particularly agree, I think it can be the perfect first book for some people who need to break through to some basic artistic seeing techniques and learn the importance of observational drawing. The "science" in it is a useful metaphor at best, outdated bullshit at worst, though.


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    There is a philosophy of seeing that is important to grapple with as you learn. And that is that every single jot you put down, every single color, every single line direction, every single shape, every single value, every single mass.... is in some relation to all the other jots, colors, directions, shapes, values, masses... etc.

    What learning to see consists of, then, is learning to see things in their proper gestalt relations; that is, in their proper graphic relations to other elements. Over time what happens is that this necessary philosophy/understanding backs you away from the minute marks you make, the one line, the one color, the one value, and forces you to consider all things from a much broader perspective... from the compositional level.

    So learning to see is really about broadening your perspective, step by step.

    The first step is integrating the facts of anatomy and substance, the details, muscles, fur, bark, break patterns, etc, into the larger gestures of the silhouette of the object being drawn without compromising the silhouette shape or the unity of the mass.

    In my opinion.

    At least Icarus tried!


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    Pff, I did the exercises in the Betty Edwards book when I was nine or ten, they helped me get into learning to observe, they didn't cause permanent brain damage and I didn't have to unlearn them in order to move on to other things.

    Sure, the book has a lot of pseudo-scientific fluff in it, but the Betty Edwards exercises can be useful to certain people at certain stages of learning to draw. Especially if you're a total beginner, or if you're stuck in a cartoon or anime style. If you find the exercises useful, there's nothing wrong with using them.

    Last edited by QueenGwenevere; July 23rd, 2012 at 03:11 PM.
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    I think people who hate Betty Edward just don't get that they are not the target audience. I think the target audience is very very n00b but it exists.

    For example, my boyfriend used swear he had not a pinch of artistry in him and he'd never ever be able to draw but he did quite well on the upside down Picasso exercise. Not that he's an artist now, but he believes he could learn if he tried which is a big improvement.

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    Learn to draw structurally, instead. Your eye may be "seeing" patches of light and dark, but your brain is seeing the solid form in space. Learn to be aware of that form and reconstruct it on paper. Then your drawing will work.
    You are making a grand assumption that we all see and process information the same way, just as we make that assumption in our schools that forces our kids to learn everything the same way. I am not a Betty Edwards advocate, could take her or leave her, but I also disagree that seeing light and shadow as shape leads nowhere.

    Learning is about the right combination of methods that work for us personally and that takes time and trial and error.

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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    Pff, I did the exercises in the Betty Edwards book when I was nine or ten, they helped me get into learning to observe, they didn't cause permanent brain damage and I didn't have to unlearn them in order to move on to other things.
    what happend to the distinction between futile and harmful lately? its the same as saying "beating a stick against a treestump hasnt broken my arms or anything"... yeah but it didnt help your art neither! [edit] except your art is beating sticks on treestumps...

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    Quote Originally Posted by sone_one View Post
    what happend to the distinction between futile and harmful lately? its the same as saying "beating a stick against a treestump hasnt broken my arms or anything"... yeah but it didnt help your art neither! [edit] except your art is beating sticks on treestumps...
    Ummmmm... When did this get personal? Are you saying all my art education and art career to date has been futile? Just because I did some Betty Edwards exercises when I was ten years old? Really?

    The fact is that the Betty Edwards book did help me as a noob with getting past drawing kiddie symbols, and more importantly it got me interested in learning to draw from observation in the first place. So it was a stepping stone to going on and learning more from other sources. That in itself is a good thing.

    I'm not saying it's going to be useful for everyone in all situations (not by a long shot,) but if it helps some people get started, what's wrong with that? ANYTHING that helps people get started is a good thing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    Ummmmm... When did this get personal? Are you saying all my art education and art career to date has been futile? Just because I did some Betty Edwards exercises when I was ten years old? Really?

    The fact is that the Betty Edwards book did help me as a noob with getting past drawing kiddie symbols, and more importantly it got me interested in learning to draw from observation in the first place. So it was a stepping stone to going on and learning more from other sources. That in itself is a good thing.

    I'm not saying it's going to be useful for everyone in all situations (not by a long shot,) but if it helps some people get started, what's wrong with that? ANYTHING that helps people get started is a good thing.
    I don't think sone was trying to be personal, just stating a kind of hypothetical rhetorical conversation thing.
    (No doubt there is a proper word to describe what I mean, but I'm a savage.) I think his response
    is addressing the argument more than you personally.

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    I'll admit I'm a Betty Edwards hater too. It may help some people but there are many books that will do a better job teaching basics. Fun With A Pencil, Lessons on Drawing, The Jack Hamm books, the Famous Artists Course. Hell, most of the Walter Foster Books are better.

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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    Ummmmm... When did this get personal? Are you saying all my art education and art career to date has been futile? Just because I did some Betty Edwards exercises when I was ten years old? Really?

    The fact is that the Betty Edwards book did help me as a noob with getting past drawing kiddie symbols, and more importantly it got me interested in learning to draw from observation in the first place. So it was a stepping stone to going on and learning more from other sources. That in itself is a good thing.

    I'm not saying it's going to be useful for everyone in all situations (not by a long shot,) but if it helps some people get started, what's wrong with that? ANYTHING that helps people get started is a good thing.
    well...uhm... what? whats been personal in my post?

    just saying betty edwards book is a dead-end and therefore useless imo, not like other books adding to a foundation.
    wtf has that to do with everything else you learned since then? i was nowhere attacking you just asking what me saying, that something is futile means that you get brain cancer from reading it... c'mon whats your problem?

    [edit] its the counter-argument that something didnt hurt, to someone saying its futile (used an analogy there), is ...well... kind of missing the point. thats what i ment, and not your art. you may not agree with me, and i admit some of my critiques are harsh, but i dont think i insulted someones art anywhen, strange you assume it in your case...

    Last edited by sone_one; July 23rd, 2012 at 06:05 PM.
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    Its because these principles on drawing are mutually exclusive. Not like they overlap or anything.
    I wasnt too keen on Edward's book either but it was mostly due to it having too much focus on the psychology of the brain and having to wade through all of it to find some useful info.
    But it did open my eyes a lot more into 'seeing' things clearly, supplementing that with 'structural' design and on the whole I've improved my arsenal of observation. It comes down to observation and 'absorbing' information from your subject, and whatever tool you can use for it, the better.

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    My misinterpretation, then... I thought this part was referring to my art specifically for some reason. Chalk it up to awkward wording:

    Quote Originally Posted by sone_one View Post
    [edit] except your art is beating sticks on treestumps...
    And all I'm saying is that under certain circumstances reading the Betty Edwards book ISN'T necessarily futile. It depends on the person, the context, the situation. For me, I hadn't even heard of any of the other books when I was ten, and most of them wouldn't have been readily available anyway. But a well-meaning relative gave me a copy of the Betty Edwards book, which is fairly ubiquitous. While not great, it was certainly better than nothing, and it got me interested enough in observational drawing to start practicing from life and seeking out other sources of information. So I can't say it was useless or a waste of time in that context.

    And for some beginners, the better books may be too intimidating to use as a first book. I've met plenty of people who literally think they can't learn to draw because they don't have "talent", and are scared off by real art instruction books. Betty Edwards' book is actually an ideal starting book for people like that - it persuades them that hey, maybe they CAN learn to draw, and if they're enthusiastic enough, they'll go on to learn more from other sources.

    It's like this: for a total beginner, art is like a huge imposing building, and the beginner is standing outside across the street wishing they could go inside, but they think they can't because they don't have the "talent" to get in. Most art instruction books seem too intimidating to these beginners. But something like Betty Edwards gets them through the door. It doesn't get them much farther, but at least they've stepped through the door. And having taken that step, they're ready to learn.

    For that matter, I know some people who first got interested in art through watching Bob Ross, and eventually went on to art school... Are you going to learn good painting skills from Bob Ross? I doubt it. But if somebody got their very first motivation to go pick up a brush by watching Bob Ross, then watching him wasn't a total waste of time, was it?

    Same goes for any easy-cheesy beginner material. It wasn't a waste if it got you through the door.

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    ^^ I am pretty much exactly this.

    I read Betty Edwards' book, first, which gave me enough confidence to persevere in trying to draw, then started on checking out Loomis' books on anatomy and perspective, among others.

    Unfortunately with no background or prior experience, I felt like I was understanding and retaining very little, because while they offered a great deal of knowledge, I (personally) require at least a little direction to get anywhere, or at least feel like I am getting soewhere.

    I end up flitting from subject to subject without any idea of how it all fits together and wasting my time, IME (not limited to drawing). So I seriously drew for a couple of months, then stopped for ~6 and am now giving it another shot.

    Maybe I should have waited until I had a little practice/skill/experience before coming to a pro site like CA (dunno how many bare newbies you get here, or whether it's expected that you have been drawing for a short while, at least).

    Either way, I've contacted a few tertiary schools locally and hopefully should be able to find something there, since the whole "self-directed" thing leaves me a bit lost unless I'm at a certain point already.

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  42. #28
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    I'm not a Betty Edwards hater, I read the book and it helped me understand the very basics such as the perception of edges, angles, proportions, etc. It's a good start.
    But I have a major in Neruoscience and a Master's degree in Biomedical Sciences, and let me tell you that the neuroscience in Betty's book is absolute garbage.

    I studied Roger Sperry Experiments (the "split brain" experiment) in Psych 101, and Betty completely misunderstood the sense of the experiment. Sperry simply proved that the production of the language is located in the left hemisphere (the Broca's area in the frontal lobe), and people with split brains can't name object that they see on the left visual field (everything you see on the left visual field "goes" to the right hemisphere area that deals with images). The split brain experiment demonstrated that the right hemisphere can't produce language. That's it. It never showed that the left hemisphere doesn't have the ability to draw.

    Drawing is a really complicated process that goes on in every part of the brain:
    First the visual cortex in the occipital lobe (the back of your brain) receives the images the eyes see (or it imagines things to draw).
    Second, some "associative areas" of the brain receive the information processed by the visual cortex, and join them with other information (see below*); the associative areas are scattered ALL OVER the brain, not just in the right hemisphere;
    Third, the motor cortex corresponding to your dominant hand receives the information from the associative areas and moves your arm and hand in order to move the pencil (if you are right handed, the Left hemisphere moves it).
    *What goes on on the associative areas: While your hand is moving your eyes constantly look at the subject and your drawing and send feedback information to adjust the motion (simply put, the eyes see if your drawing the line the right way and send information to adjust the motion accordingly); also the cerebellum is deeply involved in the action of creating the motion, contributing to the awareness of your body parts in space. More over, while you draw, you usually think about images, you talk to yourself, so the frontal lobe (which is where the 99% of the "thinking" happens) is deeply involved, and if you aren't just thinking about images, but you actually speak to yourself in your head, then the language area is in the left hemisphere is involved. All these parallel activities (the feedback from your eyes, and the "thinking") send information to your associative areas , where all the data are merged and sent to the motor area that modifies the motion of your hand accordingly.

    So, as you can see, the act of drawing is much more complex than saying "the right brain draws and we have to shut down the left brain".. this is simply not true.
    Please guys, let's stick to art, to painting and drawing, and leave the neuroscience to other message boards.....

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  44. #29
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    Nice bit of Betty-bashing going on here.

    From one noob to another: Yes, seeing comes from practicing.

    I can only speak from my own (limited) experience, but as a you are drawing you will make mistakes and you will stop and ask yourself "why is this not working? why does this not look professional?". You will compare your drawings to the drawings in Loomis's or Bridgeman's or whatever artist you want and try to spot the differences. You might have to do this once, you might have to do it a hundred times, but eventually you will spot something that you consistently keep doing wrong. So you try to correct what you spotted. But still, your drawing doesn't look professional, so you compare again and spot something new. After a while you will notice all kinds of very subtle details that you figured didn't matter, but they do.

    For a great part drawing is more about learning to see your own mistakes than it is about seeing the object. Your mistakes will show you what you think you see vs what is actually there.

    As far as seeing shapes in your head, I suppose that will come. At least simple shapes. I have no problem imagining simple objects (ball, square, wegde, pyramid, ...) and rotating them in my mind, but a full face in all its detail? No way. That's what thumbnails are for. Many small quick drawings to help your mind visualize what it is you want to draw.

    My suggestion: Pick a topic of study (anatomy, portraits, landscapes, perspective, ...), get some books on the topic and go them through cover to cover. Done those? Get some more books or go the old ones through again? Still no pro in that specific field? More books. I suggest one field, because if you spread yourself over several topics you will notice very little progress and you will lose your motivation eventually. Once you are good at one thing you'll have at least one part of your drawings that looks good and you can pull the main focus to that until the rest catches up.

    Personally I very much like books like Loomis's because he has drawings that you can "copy" and you can see how he solved problems of conveying certain shapes with very simple lines and value.

    Last edited by Kweckduck; July 24th, 2012 at 05:18 AM. Reason: grammer
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  45. #30
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    I'm neutral... there's things I don't like about Betty Edwards book and it's not my favorite book by far. However, it's one of the most easily accessible books out there.

    Pretty much any library has had this book on their shelves so it's much easier to recommend than other books...because of what I'm going to talk about below.

    You don't have to go with legally dubious territory with Loomis - because they're reprinting the books. We've now run into the problem that they are finally giving people what they want, and what happens - first thing out of someone's mouth most of the time is to go download them. Granted not all the books are out, but it' feels like a fight to get people to do the right thing when the "books are free".

    Yes you want to tell people with Edwards book ignore the psychobabble and do the exercises, but I haven't seen anyone damaged by Edwards book, I've seen more people encouraged to draw and look for other books or materials to study from. Just because I found better books doesn't mean it was gonna kill someone to look at Edwards book if they just started out.

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