Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Drawing progress report 2 -- drawing on the right side of the brain

After my drawing class ended, I dug out a copy of "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain," a book that I had inherited from somebody but never opened.  It's a method that supposedly helps you learn to draw perfectly, as soon as you can get your bad analytical left brain to go away and sulk while you draw.  Then you can go into a zen state and copy exactly what you see.  So simple!

This method obviously works for some people, especially those whose astonishingly good "student work" is shown off in the book.  It hasn't worked yet for me.  I do the preparatory exercises that are supposed to turn off the bad left brain but never come close to the moment when the mysterious zen/zap converts me to a drawer.  Or if I have, it's the kind of drawer that has pencils and a whole lot of junk in it.  I certainly haven't been converted to somebody who can suddenly draw realistically.

One of the exercises recommended in this book is to copy a photo or drawing by holding it upside down.  That way the bad left brain doesn't get in the way and tell you "I know how to draw a face!!" when truth is, it doesn't.  I did several of these drawings and enjoyed the process.  Not being able to see exactly what you're making does help you concentrate on each particular bit of your picture rather than getting scared and distracted by the whole thing emerging under your pencil.

The book showed a drawing that Picasso had done of Stravinsky, which was presented upside down, the way Picasso wanted it shown.  Of course, this being Picasso, he had to show off by not only showing it upside down but drawing it upside down in the first place.  I copied it three times for my daily art, never managing to draw small enough to get the whole thing into my little sketchbook.

Bet you can't tell which ones I did and which one Picasso did.  (I turned them all head-up so you can appreciate the likeness; all of them were drawn head-down.)

The best part of such an exercise is when you finally turn it over and see what you have done, and I admit that I was usually pleasantly surprised, although I haven't done any control experiments to see whether I can copy a photo right side up.

I copied some photos upside down, and then with Picasso still on my mind, I found one of his self-portrait paintings online, flipped it upside down on the screen and drew it.  All of them turned out pretty good.  But I'd have to do a lot more to discover whether and how copying photos helps you draw better from actual objects or models.

I'm not sure how much I love this book.  Admittedly, I haven't spent a lot of time with it yet, especially since most of the exercises require live models and my dear husband, the only person regularly at my disposal, isn't very good at that task.  And I can't say that I am wildly eager to tackle the project.

Maybe I'm wired a bit differently from the standard model, but I've never felt much disparity between the two sides of my brain. They've always seemed like equal partners, happily working together very well; I never felt that either side was slacking or deficient.  So I'm not sure that getting my left brain to go home is really going to achieve much.  I'll report back if I have more experience with this approach.


  1. I've tried using this book, too, and I think the bottom line actually comes down to practice and thoughtful concentration on what you are doing. Your drawings came out pretty darn good, so you must be correct...both sides of your brain are fully functioning and cooperating with each other!

  2. When I was modeling for life drawing, sometimes people would turn their sketch upside down and look at it before continuing to draw, it being somewhat impractical to draw while standing on your head.
    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  3. Kathy, I had mixed feelings as well as you with the book/process. The Picasso exercise was an eye opening and thought I might continue. Pretty soon after is an exercise where you balance a clear sheet of plastic over your hand and draw it. It is basically flattening out the visual surface. I was SHOCKED at how well my hand looked. I have yet to be able to draw my hand as well freely, but I am getting better since I "got" the principle. The end of the book starts to get technical about perspective, etc.

  4. I took a drawing class that used that book. I think that it's helpful in giving people a different perspective. A different way of thinking about drawing, and also showing them how to observe something in order to draw it. In general people spend a lot of left brain time in their jobs, and little time actually observing details. We are impatient and in a hurry. None of that works for drawing.

    I agree that "it all comes down to practice and thoughtful concentration on what you are doing." Reading that book and doing some exercises does not an artist make. It is the practice that does it. Practice with the tools, practice in observation, practice at how to make what you see translate to your sketchbook. There's no shortcuts on that.

  5. I like the book, but have not gotten very far with it. Kathy, the thing you said that resonated the most with me is that your brain halves are equal. I really do think that is a quilter's brain. I love moving back and forth from being intuitive to mechanical. That is a quilt--art + craft, geometry + color, pattern and repetition + the science of figuring out how it could possible all be constructed. I should give that book a go again.

  6. I tried this book, but didn't get much further than the upside down drawings for various reasons. I was really surprised at the results. However, I too think that observation is key: you have to really concentrate on what you are seeing when it's upside down and that was a really good lesson to learn, even though I didn't continue with the book. However I read recently that further research (can't remember where unfortunately) has shown that the left/ right brain theory isn't correct, and that we in fact use both sides

  7. I had to use this book in the only drawing class I have attended, some years ago. I could not draw before, my drawings were like I was still 12 years old and I sucked already at drawing then. Through that 3 month class I realized that I could draw, getting trained to observe and copy what I saw. Many of my class drawings turned out pretty good as time passed. But, oh my Lord, did it take me a long time to draw each one!
    I had much greater trouble drawing from a 3-D model. I found copying a photo was "easier" for me since the object has already been flattened out to 2-D so my brain did not have to translate the 3-D into a 2-D for my to draw it. So I guess it all comes down to practice.
    Just for the fun of it, in the link below is the self-portrait that I drew at the end of the 3 month class. http://olof.blog.is/blog/olof/entry/742665/

  8. The book's been languishing on my shelf. Maybe I need to pull it down. However, what will I do if I want to draw plein-air? Stand on my head?