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Nsio Explains: Psychological take on making art



16th tutorial in my Nsio Explains series. This was my one hour panel session at the Animefest 2016 in Czech. This topic is something that I have wanted to talk about for a long time, but it's difficult to do in written format. Animefest was perfect opportunity because I could talk to the audience and make silly gestures while I was at it. I was hoping they would upload the panel in Youtube, but I decided to upload the slides already (download the file to see it in full size). If they upload it, I'll link to the video here and on my journal.

So this is really heavy tutorial, and for that reason I typed the text. I'm sorry about that, I can understand if you don't want to read it. But if you do, it's read from left to right. Arranging the slides in columns would have been easier to follow but I realized that when I was already done... but I was too lazy to start rearranging everything. The same descriptions are here:

1. ARTISTIC MIND - Psychological take on making art
In this session I discuss about the psychological side of making art. I’m not professor of psychology so I may use the term wrong. Most of the things I tell here are based on my own observations. Anyway, the point is to explain how the brain works, or rather how I think it works.

Most people probably focus too much on the actual art making rather than the mental side. However, I find that before you can become a great artist, you first need to orientate your mind properly. That’s why these slides are made for. I’ll also explain why it’s so difficult to become an artist. Artists think in very different way than normal people and I’ll show how they think (or how I think).

Our mind has amazing processing capabilities, but in reality, the brain is lazy. There is just too much visual information coming to our eyes that there is no point processing it all. That’s why the brain discard a lot of it. An artist has to tap into this discarded information to truly understand what’s going on.

The brain can’t tolerate contradictions or confusion. It tries to make sense of everything. It’s surprising how easy it is to fool the brain, as seen on the example.The girl has bikinis, but when the image is partially covered, you will see a naked girl, even when you know she has bikinis. This is called amodal completion: the brain does its best to fill in the blanks, but if it can’t see bikinis, it can’t construct them.

So as seen on the previous slide, your perception is being manipulated by the brain. It happens automatically. This is both good and bad thing. The good is that you avoid getting your brain overheating. The bad is that it makes it hard to become an artist because you “can’t see”.

So the first step is to bypass this filtering to learn seeing the world as it is, not the way you think it is. Optical illusions great for this because they reveal the manipulation and you can actually check the truth yourself. On the example, “Peanuts” characters are painted on the pedestrian crossing “wrong”, but from driver’s point of view it looks like the characters are actually walking on it.

Here are some simple optical illusions. When white and black squares are position slightly off, it looks like the lines between them are no longer straight. On the right you can see that they are in fact straight. The two lines with arrows look different in length, but they are equal in length. The dot surrounded large or small dots appear different in size depending what’s next to it. In the reality the dots in the middle are equal in size. There are many others. I recommend searching some.

Most of us are narrow-minded. We think in “either-or” manner. Our society actually encourages into this kind of thinking, namely the language. This is why it’s so difficult for me to explain artistic concepts, because nothing I say can be taken literally. Artistic mind isn’t limited to this kind of thinking. It has no problems to deal with contradictions, such as something being both right and wrong at the same time.

The bigger problem is the result of this kind of thinking. When we interpret the message, we tend to analyse the friendliness or hostility regardless the topic and act accordingly. For example, some may consider this slide racist only because I listed “black” with negative words. No, you are completely missing the point if you think like this.

it’s so easy to ignore the truth when it’s fitting your world view. You need to be honest to yourself. Ignorant people think the world revolves around them, they are right and whine when they don’t get attention. Just because you think you are good doesn’t make you good in the eyes of the others. Pessimistic people have no strength to deal with the truth. They take critique too personally and don’t believe in their ability to learn. They still want others to like their work. That’s only natural, that’s what I want too.

Who wants to follow a bad artist? Honestly speaking, no one. You can’t expect people to like your works unconditionally. There has to be something to draw them in. So aim for that instead of delving into depression.


Our mind shape the reality we live in, for both good and bad. You can actively change how your mind works if you just want to. Really, no one else will do it for you. I try to change everything into positivie drive. I learned to handle critique by understanding that it’s meant to be positive, not a personal attack. I can’t avoid the feeling of being hurt completely, but I can let them pass trought me which allows me to focus on the actual message and thus improve.

If you can be negative, you might as well be positive. It will make your life much more enjoyable. However, be careful not to become one of the ignorant people. Search your feelings and accept your weaknesses, only then you will know where you need to work on.


For some reason we have obsession for rules. Artistic mind isn’t bound to any rule. The rules are there because they generally work so well, but they aren’t absolute at all times. There is no such rule that says that anatomy studies has to come first. You need to study anatomy, but there are many other things that are far more important in art. Besides, unless you know how to draw already, efforts spent on anatomy are easily wasted.

No rule says that you need to finish your works. If you feel anxious, allow yourself to give up and try again. This will reset your mind: the frustration will disappear and you feel refreshed. If you can’t do something, don’t worry. Try again some other time. If you fail, don’t worry. Analyse the merits and issues and mind them on your next piece.

The mind can’t stand contradictions because of either-or mentality as said before. Sometimes there are more than one truth and sometimes they seem to contradict each other. For example, perspective is easier that one would thinking. The rules are there to make it easier to construct. We are just taught classical perspective in unintuitive way. We are forced to think in certain way which doesn’t match the way we really perceive the world. However, we easily believe in what we are told and get stuck with concepts we don’t fully grasp but keep using them regardless.

For example, panorama view bends the rules of perspective without breaking them. If you try to construct this kind of perspective with straight lines, you won’t be able to do that.


Because of our narrow-mindedness, we easily misinterpret what we are told. Don’t accept everything you are told by default. Ponder the reasons behind them and try them yourself. There is a problem though: you can’t understand how things work before you have enough experience work with them, but you get the experience only by understanding how they work!

That’s why artist don’t bother to explain how to draw: you wouldn’t grasp it all in one go anyway. For that reason you need to practice. You can’t teach others before you have taught yourself. You can severely slow down an aspiring artist who trusts and believes you. That’s not to say you couldn’t help them though.

We do some things in certain way only because we have always done it that way. You need to actively force yourself to take different approaches to understand why something should be done in certain way. This holds true if you are a beginner: there is no guarantee that your method are the most efficient, yet alone “correct”. For example, we draw black on white only because paper is generally white. Why not using a black paper and draw with white? Digital artist have it easy.

Also, we always talk about shading. What about drawing the lit areas instead of shadows? The resulting image looks the same, but it requires completely different way of thinking to get there.

Just like the brain manipulates your perception, artist have this ability too. They know the concepts to make you see what they want. For example, your eyes will always wander to the black dot on this slide, whether you wanted it or not (well, that was the intention at least...) This has to do with color contrasts. Our eyes focus on anything that looks different from the rest.If  there were more black dots there and there, the eyes wouldn’t have anything to focus on. But, if they were arranged into a path, then the eyes would automatically follow this path.

So in short: you need to convince the viewer to look at your work and keep them looking at it. You do this by knowing what we our mind generally want to see (such as paths).

Star Wars, One Piece, Narute, MLP... no, those are only our desires, not what the brain wants to see.

We value technically well executed drawings, but that alone isn’t enough. As I already said, the brain wants to make sense of everything. So it’s just that simple: give it what it wants. Here we see Nitori from Touhou running. It’s not too bad, but not very interesting either. The reason is that it doesn’t make sense to your brain. You know she is running, but it doesn’t feel like she was running.  No one would look like that if they were running and we know this  even if we don’t think about. Honestly, do you like this? Does it make you interested? Unlikely

The drawing on the right looks much better already, even if it’s just a sketch. There is just enough hints for the brain to make sense of the image and constructs the finished image in your mind. For example, seemingly random lines suddenly look like stepping stones on a river. It’s fascinating how some simple lines can capture the feel of water when put in certain context. This is the key: to convince your viewers to believe the illusion you created. This is the magic normal people fail to see.

TO ACHIEVE THIS, YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT THE BRAIN WANTS TO SEE. When you know, you also know where you need to aim for with your practices. When you do, you also begin to improve exponentially faster.
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Thanks for all the hard work buddy, I was wondering if you have your own "How to draw/perspective" book? or any pdf file maybe.