Does anyone else feel like they have the brain capacity of a mollusc when confronted with a maths problem? Do you find yourself able to recite the words to every advert jingle you’ve ever heard, but struggle to remember your PIN when you’re at the checkout? It’s funny how our mind works.
I came across the following statement in the book ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ by Betty Edwards (1992 version):
“As a number of scientists have noted, research on the human brain is complicated by the fact that the brain is struggling to understand itself. This three-pound organ is perhaps the only bit of matter in the universe that is observing itself, wondering about itself, trying to analyze itself, and attempting to gain better control of its own capabilities.”
When my brain isn’t contemplating how much ice cream I’m capable of consuming in one sitting, I too analyse how to gain better control of my drawing capabilities.
DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN
I was given the book ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ by the same old coot who showed me how to ‘cure’ important legal files and how to pretend to be dead at your desk (you can read a bit about that here).
Thankfully this book about drawing was more useful than some of the other trash he gave me after his regular outings to the charity shop. By trash I mean a DVD about seasonal runway knitwear, an odd silent film about rural train travel, and a book about how to parent a child in Africa. He was exceptionally pleased with this purchase and insisted I display on my desk for all to see.
I was actually shocked to see the old scrooge had forked out $15 on my behalf, but it was the one occasion where I would say it was money well spent.
People often tell me, “I wish I could draw like you. I can’t even draw a stick figure!” I once said the same thing. That is until this book.
Years have passed, but its contents remain the most pivotal insight I gained in understanding how to draw realistically.
WHAT IS THE BOOK ABOUT?
“Everybody has artistic talent and can be good at drawing”, says the book’s author. “You only have to tune in to the creative, intuitive and artistic side of the brain - the right side - and you will be able to draw accurate and imaginative subjects.”
Sounds like mystic mumbo-jumbo, wouldn’t you say? Rest assured it’s not. I wouldn’t fall for someone in floaty garb telling me I just need to “believe in myself”, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t either.
Rather than confound the reader with nonsense, the book bases its assertions on scientific research. The premise is that:
- drawing is a teachable, learnable skill
- we have the ability to draw what we see
- by understanding a bit more about how our brain works, we can tap into more creativity
Are Betty’s scientific assertions accurate? I have no idea (I’m still thinking about ice cream!). But the research is thought-provoking. Here are a few insights.
THE CREATIVE VS THE THINKER
Betty’s whole thing is that we have two parts or hemispheres to our brain: a verbal/analytical part, and a less dominant creative/visual and perceptual part. This image shows each sides strengths:
She claims the key to accessing this less dominant creative part is to present the ever so domineering analytical side with a task it will reject.
To demonstrate that the right hemisphere of our brain is better at spatial problems, scientists conducted an experiment:
- A person was given several wooden shapes to arrange to match a certain design.
- His attempts with his right hand (left hemisphere) failed again and again. Why?
- Because his right hemisphere kept trying to help. The right hand would knock the left hand away.
- Finally, the man had to sit on his left hand to keep it away from the puzzle.
- When the scientists finally suggested that he use both hands, the spatially “smart” left hand had to forcibly shove the right hand away to keep it from interfering.
CONCLUSION: The key to drawing is to tell your logical brain to “put a sock in it”.
It’s true that at times all parts of our brain cooperate, at other times one half thinks it knows better and does what it wants.
One time I managed to mince my own fingers with a stick blender. My right hand was in the driver’s seat fiddling with the on/off button while my left hand was busy poking at the blades. My left hand barely had time to think before the right hand put its foot on the gas.
If I could gain mastery of my brain, I’d certainly have less trips to the hospital.
HOW TO CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK
So that all sounds great, but how does one actually shift the logical brain to the artistic brain? Is this the bit where we finally get to put on our smocks and dance under the moon as we transcend into creative enlightenment?
No. Once again Betty puts away the beads and smelling salts and uses the facts/research to provide simple and practical drawing exercises to help you shift your brain from logical to visual mode.
Without replicating all of Betty’s hard work, here is just one exercise.
1. Draw a profile of a person’s head on the left side of the paper, facing toward the centre. (If you’re left-handed, draw on the right)
2. Draw horizontal lines at the top and bottom of your profile, forming top and bottom of the vase.
3. Now go back over your drawing of the first profile with your pencil. As the pencil moves over the features, name them to yourself: forehead, nose, lip, wart, double chin, neck. Repeat this step at least once. Naming the shapes is a left-brain task.
4. Next, starting at the top, draw the profile in reverse to complete the vase.
Watch for the faint signals from your brain that you are shifting modes of information processing. You may experience a sense of mental conflict at some point in the drawing of the second profile. Observe how you solve the problem. You will find that you are doing the second profile differently. This is right-hemisphere drawing.
You probably completed the first profile rather rapidly. In the second profile you may have experienced some confusion or conflict and had to find a different way to complete it. You probably lost the sense of drawing a profile and found yourself scanning back and forth in the space between the profiles, estimating angles, curves and shapes which became unnameable.
It was probably easier not to think of the drawing as a face, or easier not to think at all.
If you’re assuming I’m in some sort of multi-level marketing scheme to spruik Betty’s book you’d be mistaken. I recommend it purely as a useful tool that worked for me.
This book will:
- help those who find drawing frustrating or those interested in improving their drawing skills
- be stimulating reading for drawing enthusiasts and anyone who finds the mind endlessly fascinating
You can find the book here: https://www.drawright.com/bettys-books (Non-affiliate link), or if you know an old man that can navigate his way around a musty charity shop, even better!
This book is so jam packed with useful information, it’s impossible to include it all here, so stay tuned for Part 2 where I may share some of Betty’s useful tips about drawing people’s portraits, problems with drawing the sun with a smiley face, and even drawing upside down.
If you like scientific articles feel free to read some of my other blog posts: