Part sketchbook, part tutorial, part self-help and part art project, Deborah Putnoi’s The Drawing Mind is a book like you’ve never seen before. The subtitle gets to the heart of it: Silence Your Inner Critic and Release Your Inner Creative Spirit. Countless books have been published with a similar aim, but Putnoi’s stands out for one simple reason: it’s near impossible to pigeonhole.
The Drawing Mind is without question ambitious, perhaps even to a fault. This is because, unlike a typical self-help book, Putnoi does not in any way tell the reader what to do. She provides some very thin guidelines, yes, but never does she launch into a lecture about how to better your life. For how could she? Rarely during the 192 pages is there more than a paragraph on consecutive pages. Rather than intersperse art throughout her text, Putnoi does the opposite, opting almost to let her art dictate her words.
The basis of The Drawing Mind lay in the idea of neuroplasticity. Putnoi addresses this: “Our brains are very plastic, meaning that as we use our brains in different kinds of ways, we can ‘build’ our brains, or ‘grow’ new neural pathways… Current research suggests that the brain is much more ‘plastic’ than earlier imagined. Even late into adulthood one can build new neural pathways by engaging in different kinds of brain-building activities.” The idea here, though certainly grand, is actually quite simple: Even if we do not believe so, we actually can change our brains for the better.
Putnoi continues: “Drawing on a regular basis may change your brain. By following the approach in this book, you will learn how to keep your senses active through drawing a series of sense experiences. You can keep your brain ‘plastic’ or build ‘brain plasticity’ by problem solving with your senses.”
Throughout The Drawing Mind, Putnoi gives exercises and even whole blank pages to allow the reader to work solely within the book. Some sample prompts for exercises include “Draw with Your Feet,” “Collect Textures” and “Drawing to Your Sense of Smell.” All these exercises are designed to force you to use your senses in modes you’d previously not considered. In this way, your brain is forced to adapt on the fly, opening up both new neural pathways and new perspectives. The implicit goal of The Drawing Mind is to get the reader to think differently, to begin to interact with him- or herself differently, and to perceive everything around him- or herself differently.
Furthermore, drawing, as Putnoi writes, does not discriminate: “Drawing is a small but powerful act. One that everyone can do. It’s a pencil, ballpoint pen, or charcoal on paper. It’s a mark in the sand or chalk on the sidewalk. Drawing is a visual language.” Perhaps you had never considered an ephemeral array of lines on the beach to be a drawing. Putnoi, however, wants you to. She wants you to reconsider your perceptions, perspectives and beliefs. In this way, the act of drawing begins to extend outward and reorient you with your world.
If this sounds like something out of an Eastern religion, you’re not far off base for thinking so. Putnoi references a meditation teacher who asks his group to “slow down and become more mindful and aware by slowly eating a raisin and meditating on the act of eating this small, dried-out grape.” ‘What does it feel like and taste like?’ he asks. The same principle is fundamental to Putnoi’s system: “Drawing a taste experience brings awareness to the next level of connection and consciousness. By slowing down, tasting and drawing the experience, you get another layer of connection” (Her emphasis). And in doing so, you begin to see things differently.
On the surface, The Drawing Mind may not seem like a book for everyone. It may seem as though it only appeals to the artsy folk: the population that already enjoys art and wants to use that interest to better their lives. But this is not the case. The fact is, as Putnoi declares, all of us can draw. We may not think so, but we can. “Drawing is not about making straight lines,” Putnoi writes. “The world of drawing is infinite. Drawings, like the people who create them, are individual.”
This is why Putnoi cannot assign self-help guidelines to her book; it wouldn’t make any sense. The bottom line is, we must help ourselves. We have all the tools, and we can be pointed in the right direction, but ultimately, the task is ours. Putnoi’s The Drawing Mind is a new direction, a unique direction, an amazingly fascinating direction, and a direction certainly worth exploring.
The Drawing Mind: Silence Your Inner Critic and Release Your Inner Creative Spirit
By Deborah Putnoi
Trumpeter: April 3, 2012
Paperback, 192 pages