Learning to Draw by Using the Right Side of Your Brain
What Do I Know? My Background
I have always had some artistic ability, even as a small child (before computers, iPads and the like) my favourite pastime was drawing and sketching. I studied Commercial Art through ICS Correspondence School (before computer digital art took over that field).
While employed at Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, I was asked to draw cartoons for the Library introduction manual, and to illustrate posters and displays for 'Orientation Week' each year.
I read the book "Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain" by Betty Edwards and was impressed by the theory and exercises discussed. I just present the basic idea here for you to try to consider if you are interested in improving your artistic ability. I am confident if you follow the instructions given in the exercises your drawing will improve dramatically. Good luck in your endeavours.
Right Brain vs. Left Brain Theory
The right brain-left brain theory originated in the work of Roger W. Sperry, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981.
The Right Brain
According to the left-brain, right brain dominance theory, the right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks. Some of the abilities that are popularly associated with the right side of the brain include:
- Recognizing faces
- Expressing emotions
- Reading emotions
The Left Brain
The left-side of the brain is considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language, and analytical thinking. The left-brain is often described as being better at:
- Critical thinking
The Right Side: Natural Artistic Ability
Have you ever wondered why some of us have artistic ability and seem to be able to create amazing drawings, paintings and sculptures, while the rest of the population are confined to drawing basic stick figures? (Writers and poets are also included in those with artistic ability.)
Well, although 'outstanding' artistic ability is God-given talent, that doesn't mean the rest of us can't train ourselves to at least be able to draw or paint at a more than satisfactory level.
It has been a long-time accepted theory that we all have an in-built pre-disposal to using either the left or right side of our brains predominantly and this is one of the major factors in determining where most of our abilities as human beings are directed.
Recent research has shown that there is not always such a distinct leaning of individuals towards the predominant use of one side of the brain over the other as previously thought. For example, new studies show that abilities in subjects such as math are actually strongest when both halves of the brain work in tandem. Neuroscientists now know that the two sides of the brain work together to perform a wide variety of tasks and that the two hemispheres communicate.
That being said, this system of improving your artistic ability still works, and individuals still seem to display some preference to the attributes associated with the right or left brain.
Exercise One: Drawing Upside Down
Drawing upside down is a common exercise art students are asked to work on in order to improve observational skills and help switch from the logical mode (left-brain) to the creative mode (right brain).
One of the exercises in Betty Edwards' wonderful book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" is to copy a sketch of Picasso's "Portrait of Igor Stravinsky," but draw it upside down. I was able to do it quite well the right way up (I do have natural artistic ability and am naturally 'right brain' oriented) but was surprised how much easier it was when I turned the original drawing upside down.
The point of the exercise is to draw what we actually see and to discourage us from focusing on recognizable shapes that our brain interprets from its stored concept of that shape. It is hard to switch off our logical mode completely so here are a few tips that may help you complete this exercise:
- Focus on separate lines and how they relate to those around them rather than look at the whole shape
- Look at blank space around the lines to get a more accurate placement of the those lines
- If you can't stop seeing recognizable shapes, focus on one part of the sketch and place a piece of paper over your original to cover parts that you aren't sketching. Once you are done with that section, move the paper to uncover the next section
These are the tips that have worked for me. Why don't you take the time to give it a try now.
Cover up the image that is the correct way up, and try to draw the upside down portrait of Stravinsky (below). I'm sure you will surprise yourself. This is only one of the helpful exercises in this outstanding book that takes pride of place in the "art" section on my bookshelf.
Or Try This
If the portrait of Igor Stravinsky doesn't appeal to you, or you feel it is too much of a challenge, you may prefer to attempt to draw the following t-shirt design I sketched of a boy riding a hobby horse.
Exercise Two: Vases and Faces
- Another of Betty Edwards' recommended exercises is “Vases and Faces”. This involves drawings which display both left and right hemisphere mode and shifts made by the artist.
- Start by drawing a profile of a face on the opposite side of your dominant hand, naming the features of the face as you draw them.
- Next, copy the profile on the opposite side of the paper, drawing as closely as possible what you drew on the first side—without naming the features of the profile. The forehead and neck are then connected which makes the negative space of the drawing appear to be a vase.
- After this exercise, draw another in the same manner, but with the strangest profile you can imagine.
Before and After Drawings
Below are some examples of drawings by the same people before and after they practiced the exercises to encourage the use of the right side of their brain. The level of improvement is incredible.
With a little practice and devoting some time to these exercises you will soon be turning out professional looking drawings, or even paintings like this.
Well, maybe not. But at least like this one of mine below.
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© 2014 John Hansen