Lesson 1 Summer Drawing Course: Left Brain vs Right Brain

Our first drawing lesson is an examination and exploration of the idea of drawing from the “right side of the brain”. I’ve included some directly copied text for information and exercises from Betty Edward’s book “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain“. I highly recommend the book and it contains much more information than what I’ve included. Here are some highlights regarding the left brain versus right brain idea.

Remember, If you use Instagram post your drawings and tag them with #plpDrawingClass. It will be fun to see everyone’s work!  You can also post them to my facebook fanpage if you want.

“The left hemisphere analyzes, abstracts, counts, marks time, plans step-by-step procedures, verbalizes, and makes rational statements based on logic. For example, “Given numbers a, b, and c—we can say that if a is greater than b, and b is greater than c, then a is necessarily greater than c.” This statement illustrates the left-hemisphere mode: the analytic, verbal, figuring out, sequential, symbolic, linear, objective mode. On the other hand, we have a second way of knowing: the right-hemisphere mode. We “see” things in this mode that may be imaginary—existing only in the mind’s eye. In the example given just above, did you perhaps visualize the “a, b, c” relationship? In visual mode, we see how things exist in space and how the parts go together to make up the whole. Using the right hemisphere, we understand metaphors, we dream, we create new combinations of ideas.”

“In the right-hemisphere mode of information processing, we use intuition and have leaps of insight—moments when “everything seems to fall into place” without figuring things out in a logical order. When this occurs, people often spontaneously exclaim, “I’ve got it” or “Ah, yes, now I see the picture.” The classic example of this kind of exclamation is the exultant cry, “Eureka!” (I have found it!) attributed to Archimedes. According to the story, Archimedes experienced a flash of insight while bathing that enabled him to use the weight of displaced water to determine whether a certain crown was pure gold or alloyed with silver. This, then, is the right-hemisphere mode: the intuitive, subjective, relational, holistic, time-free mode. This is also the disdained, weak, left-handed mode that in our culture has been generally ignored. For example, most of our educational system has been designed to cultivate the verbal, rational, on-time left hemisphere, while half of the brain of every student is virtually neglected.”

“The right brain—the dreamer, the artificer, and the artist—is lost in our school system and goes largely untaught. We might find a few art classes, a few shop classes, something called “creative writing,” and perhaps courses in music; but it’s unlikely that we would find courses in imagination, in visualization, in perceptual or spatial skills, in creativity as a separate subject, in intuition, in inventiveness. Yet educators value these skills and have apparently hoped that students would develop imagination, perception, and intuition as natural consequences of training in verbal, analytic skills”

“Fortunately, such development often does occur almost in spite of the school system—a tribute to the survival capacity of creative abilities. But the emphasis of our culture is so strongly slanted toward rewarding left-brain skills that we are surely losing a very large proportion of the potential ability of the other halves of our children’s brains. Scientist Jerre Levy has said— only partly humorously—that American scientific training through graduate school may entirely destroy the right hemisphere.

We certainly are aware of the effects of inadequate training in verbal, computational skills. The verbal left hemisphere never seems to recover fully, and the effects may handicap students for life. What happens, then, to the right hemisphere that is hardly trained at all?

Perhaps now that neuroscientists have provided a conceptual base for right-brain training, we can begin to build a school system that will teach the whole brain. Such a system will surely include training in drawing skills—an efficient, effective way to teach thinking strategies suited to the right brain.”

“Since drawing a perceived form is largely an R-mode function, it helps to reduce L-mode interference as much as possible. The problem is that the left brain is dominant and speedy and is very prone to rush in with words and symbols, even taking over jobs which it is not good at. The split brain studies indicated that dominant L-mode prefers not to relinquish tasks to its mute partner unless it really dislikes the job—either because the job takes too much time, is too detailed or slow or because the left brain is simply unable to accomplish the task. That’s exactly what we need—tasks that the dominant left brain will turn down. The exercises that follow are designed to present the brain with a task that the left hemisphere either can’t or won’t do.”

The exercises that follow are specifically designed to help you understand the shift from dominant left-hemisphere mode to subdominant R-mode.

Exercise 1 Vases and faces: An exercise for the double brain

1. Copy the pattern (either Figure 4-2 or 4-3). If you are right handed, copy the profile on the left side of the paper, facing toward the center. If you are left-handed, draw the profile on the right side, facing toward the center. Examples are shown of both the right-handed and left-handed drawings. Make up your own version of the profile if you wish.

2. Next, draw horizontal lines at the top and bottom of your profile, forming top and bottom of the vase (Figures 4-2 and 4-3).

3. Now, redraw the profile on your “Vase/Faces” pattern. Just take your pencil and go over the lines, naming the parts as you go, like this: “Forehead . . . nose . . . upper lip . . . lower lip . . .chin . . . neck.” You might even do that a second time, redrawing one more time and really thinking to yourself what those terms mean.

4. Then, go to the other side and start to draw the missing profile that will complete the symmetrical vase.

5. When you get to somewhere around the forehead or nose, you may begin perhaps to experience some confusion or conflict. Observe this as it happens.

6. The purpose of this exercise is for you to self-observe: “How do I solve the problem?”

The point of the seemingly simple “Vase/Faces” exercise is this:

In order to draw a perceived object or person—something that you see with your eyes—you must make a mental shift to a brain-mode that is specialized for this visual, perceptual task.  The difficulty of making this shift from verbal to visual mode often causes conflict. Didn’t you feel it? To reduce the discomfort of the conflict, you stopped (do you remember feeling stopped short?) and made a new start. That’s what you were doing when you gave yourself instructions—that is, gave your brain instructions— to “shift gears,” or “change strategy,” or “don’t do this; do that,” or whatever terms you may have used to cause a cognitive shift. There are numerous solutions to the mental “crunch” of the “Vase/Faces” Exercise. Perhaps you found a unique or unusual solution.



2. Upside-down drawing
An exercise that reduces mental conflict

Figure 4-7 is a reproduction of a line drawing by Picasso of the composer Igor Stravinsky. The image is upside down. You will be copying the upside-down image. Your drawing, therefore, will be done also upside down. In other words, you will copy the Picasso drawing just as you see it.

See Figures 4-8 and 4-9.

What you’ll need:

• The reproduction of the Picasso drawing, Fig. 4-7.

• Your #2 writing pencil, sharpened.

• Your drawing board and masking tape.

• Forty minutes to an hour of uninterrupted time.

What you’ll do:

Before you begin: Read all of the following instructions.

1. Play music if you like. As you shift into R-mode, you may find that the music fades out. Finish the drawing in one sitting, allowing yourself at least forty minutes—more if possible. And more important, do not turn the drawing right side up until you have finished. Turning the drawing would cause a shift back to L-mode, which we want to avoid while you are learning to experience the focused R-mode state of awareness.

2. You may start anywhere you wish—bottom, either side, or the top. Most people tend to start at the top. Try not to figure out what you are looking at in the upside-down image. It is better not to know. Simply start copying the lines. But remember: don’t turn the drawing right side up!

3. I recommend that you not try to draw the entire outline of the form and then “fill in” the parts. The reason is that if you make any small error in the outline, the parts inside won’t fit.  One of the great joys of drawing is the discovery of how the parts fit together. Therefore, I recommend that you move from line to adjacent line, space to adjacent shape, working your way through the drawing, fitting the parts together as you go.

4. If you talk to yourself at all, use only the language of vision, such as: “This line bends this way,” or, “That shape has a curve there,” or “Compared to the edge of the paper (vertical or horizontal), this line angles like that,” and so on. What you do not want to do is to name the parts.

5. When you come to parts that seem to force their names on you—the H – A – N – D – S and the F – A – C – E — t r y to focus on these parts just as shapes. You might even cover up with one hand or finger all but the specific line you are drawing and then uncover each adjacent line. Alternatively, you might shift to another part of the drawing.

6. At some point, the drawing may begin to seem like an interesting, even fascinating, puzzle. When this happens, you will be “really drawing,” meaning that you have successfully shifted to R-mode and you are seeing clearly. This state is easily broken. For example, if someone were to come into the room and ask, “How are you doing?” your verbal system would be reactivated and your focus and concentration would be over.

7. You may even want to cover most of the reproduced drawing with another piece of paper, slowly uncovering new areas as you work your way down through the drawing. A note of caution, however: Some of my students find this ploy helpful, while some find it distracting and unhelpful.

8. Remember that everything you need to know in order to draw the image is right in front of your eyes. All of the information is right there, making it easy for you. Don’t make it complicated. It really is as simple as that.


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