Nancy's Columns

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Under topic: learning_styles

Most of us were taught to use the left side of the brain which is logical, analytical, and word-oriented. Few of us have access to the right side of the brain which is the intuitive, creative side because we were never taught to use it. Art educator, Betty Edwards, has shown that by learning special drawing techniques, one can get access to the right side of the brain and eventually to higher levels of thinking using the whole brain.

In a book entitled, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain", Betty Edwards outlines her very successful technique. One exercise used is to have the student draw objects or copy pictures upside down.

It is easier to draw them upside down because there is less interference from the analytical left- brain. Edwards notes that forgers know this because they forge signatures upside down in order not to plug into distracting left-brain details.

What Edwards is trying to do is to get students to draw what they really see, not what they think they are supposed to see.

What Edwards is trying to do is to get students to draw what they really see, not what they think they are supposed to see.

By turning the object to be drawn upside down, Edwards contends that you trick the brain. One explanation of why this works, she feels, is that the left brain refuses the task of processing the upside-down image and unable to name or symbolize as usual, turns off, and the job passes over to the right hemisphere.

You and your children might like to try the following drawing exercise.

I tried this and related techniques in a course and found that they really work.

  1. Sit about three to five feet away from the object to be drawn.
  2. Keep the object immediately above the drawing board in the field of vision.
  3. Work in silence. You can play music but do not let it distract you.
  4. As you work, do not turn your head away from the object you are drawing. The batter and the golfer both keep their eye on the ball not on the bat or club.
  5. Avoid erasing.
  6. Draw exactly what you see, concentrating on edges, shapes and light and shadow.
  7. Draw from the shoulder, not the hand.
  8. Try patching or covering one eye. This eliminates the vagueness of objects seen at close range.

Ms. Edwards contends that children who are taught to draw using this right-brain approach show increases in their mathematics and reading abilities.

Ms. Edwards' whole program for teachers can be used for all levels from elementary to college.

It consists of teaching five perceptual skills: 

  • edges - taught by using pure contour drawing; 
  • spaces - taught by using negative space; 
  • angles and proportion - taught by sighting; 
  • light and shadow - by light logic; 
  • gestalt - which cannot be taught but can be learned, it is the thing as it is, the whole is greater than its parts.

What is so exciting about this technique is that you do not have to be a trained art teacher to do it or to teach it to your children or students.

Schools traditionally have been concerned with training the left brain which is verbal and analytical.

Edwards feels that the other half, right side functions, are barely touched except for sporadic teaching of art, dance, music and sports.

By teaching children to harness the right side of the brain, Edwards contends that they will have another way to absorb the skills and information they need and will be able to learn better and faster.

I encourage you to try some of these techniques with your children.

First published in 1989