Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: exercise 3

The premise of this week's exercise is going to seem a bit like some kind of artist hazing ritual, but I promise there will be no incriminating photographs. This is a copying exercise, which is a long standing and honorable learning technique that makes everyone a little nervous in the day and age of twitchily litigious copyright law. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain gives the classic 'copy this great work in order to learn how it was done' assignment a little... twist.

Yes. You are supposed to look at the image upside down, and copy it as-is. No turning it over before you're done.

That tiny screaming sound in your head? That's your left brain going 'Nooooooooo!' Which is the point. You want your left brain to get so frustrated with the task that it fucks off to go get coffee and lets your right brain do the job.

Edwards suggests that you make a conscious effort not to recognize any parts of the drawing as you are copying them. (No 'okay, finished the collar, time for the head'. Just adjacent lines.) She also recommends that you begin at one edge and work your way across, rather than outlining and filling in.

Here's my attempt.



Though I tried, I did not entirely succeed in telling my left brain to sit down and shut up. Occasionally I could not help but know the parts as I was drawing them. (Part of the skill I have developed as an artist is to recognize familiar shapes regardless of their orientation, so a noob would probably find this exercise easier than I did.)

Interestingly, when I did flip both pictures over, the best parts were the ones that I copied 'on faith', with no idea of what I was describing. Which I suppose proves Edward's point.

Just for comparison, here's the original and mine in a more easily analyzed orientation.



The art is A Portrait of Igor Stravinsky, by Pablo Picasso. But really any reasonably complex line drawing will work if you'd like to try the exercise with something different.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: exercise 2

This week's exercise didn't take much time to do and didn't produce a very interesting picture, but it has so many concepts bound up in it that I thought it deserved a post all to itself. You've probably seen the Vase/Face illusion before. It's also a reliable reference for non-artists on how to switch between perceiving negative space and positive space. If you see a vase, you are paying attention to positive space. If you see two faces, you're seeing negative space.

Exercise two was to draw your own Vase/Face, with some very specific instructions:

-If you are right-handed, draw the face on the left side of the paper first. If you are left-handed, draw the face on the right side first.

-Draw the straight lines across, and copy the face you just drew in mirror image.

-While drawing, think strongly about naming the parts: This is the forehead, then the nose, etc.

Whenever I see the face/vase illusion, I usually hear them arguing:'I'm a face!' 'No, we're a vase.' 'You can be a vase if you want to, but I'm totally a face.' '

This exercise is meant to teach an awareness of R-mode, by making the baton-passing from one hemisphere to the other more difficult and therefore more noticeable. Edwards reports that most people in her classes experience a moment of hesitation or even paralysis when copying the second face, because their right brain (looking at line, tracing form, balancing space) is trying to work on the same task at the same time as their left brain. (That's the nose. Draw a nose. What are the characteristics of a nose?)

Because I am so used to shifting into R-mode1 I didn't experience any paralysis, but the feeling of difficulty was there. Usually my response to difficulty is frustration followed by chucking the whole thing out a window, but to my surprise I was mainly amused. It was the type of amusement you get from a three legged race, a 'well this is a really sort of silly way to run a race isn't it?' kind of thing.

I'm really, really interested in that emotional response, because it was so different from how I usually experience a difficult task. I typically feel blocked, vexed, and inadequate. The absence of frustration in this case was conspicuous.

One conclusion of neurology is that humans do not have one brain, we have two. Consequently, we do not have one personality. Like most people in a literate society, I spend most of my day in L-mode. This silly little exercise has left me with the interesting conclusion that frustration when faced with a difficulty may not be something intrinsic to me, so much as something intrinsic to my left hemisphere.


1(Okay, I'm just going to come out and say I hate that term. But it is the term Edwards uses. It is brief, comprehensible, and has no obvious substitute. Any suggestions?)

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: Orientation

I had heard of this book on drawing, called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I still can't remember where I heard about it, or when. But I noticed the library has it, and thought I'd check it out. Guys. Guys. OMG guys.

If you have ever wondered why some people are good at drawing and others aren't, or why almost all adults say they hate or aren't good at drawing, or how it is that artists see the world, or what it would take to learn to draw, this is the book.

Now you wouldn't know it to look at me, but I actually have an aversion to learning. It's pretty specific, and very annoying. Basically, if I think I *should* know something by now, I am very averse to taking the necessary steps to actually learn it. (Which would entail admitting that I don't understand it.)

I'm going to take a big step towards combating that tendency by doing the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Oh that's right- in addition to answering some very big questions about art, it's also a workbook with exercises taken from a 4-day course teaching adult beginners how to draw. The before and after drawings by the students (included early on in the book for encouragement) have to be seen to be believed.

The first exercise is pre-instruction, and Betty Edwards (the author) is mainly just establishing a starting point. It's broken into three parts: draw your non-dominant hand from life, draw a person from memory, and draw a self-portrait using a mirror.

(My apologies for the fullpage gradients, which are a result of my scanner. I didn't want to fix this in photoshop however, because I wanted a true representation of the relative greys in my sketches.)


My hand. It went okay.


This is supposed to be a drawing of my father-in-law, done from memory. As you can see, it sucks. (And also looks nothing like him.) I am conveniently illustrating one of the first points in Edward's book, which is that when we are in doubt we fall back on a symbolic visual language we all developed as children. The drawings of adults often look 'childlike', because they are still using a representational rather than realistic visual vocabulary. I don't recall my father-in-law as exactly as I would if he were sitting in front of me, so instead of drawing 'the curve at the bottom of his face' I draw what I know people will understand to be a chin. Which doesn't necessarily look like a chin at all, and certainly doesn't look like his chin.

My self-portrait is actually pretty good, although my husband insists that I am wearing 'serious face.' I view it as a compliment and a good sign that it is not only recognizably me, it is recognizably one of my faces.

Here I was using a mirror, and so did not need to fall back on my representational vocabulary. I was in what Edwards calls 'R-mode': I am drawing the line because it is the line, not because it is my chin. (Incidentally, right brain thinking is emphatically present-tense. The characteristics of right-brain thinking are covered fairly early on in Drawing, and you can find independent confirmation of them from brain researchers such as Jill Bolte Taylor.) I was still suffering from a few perceptual errors however, including the 'cut off skull' error, which Edwards tackles later in the book when talking about proportion. I could also stand to spend a little more time evening out the intensity of my lines, but sometimes when your tea has gone cold you just have to take the hint and stop drawing.