Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Review

In preparation for teaching foundations drawing at MCA this fall, I’ve decided to brush up on my drawing skills by working through Betty Edwards, The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

The book is loaded with great techniques for “seeing” and fun, simple exercises for learning how to draw. It is great for beginners but also great for anyone who wants to refresh those foundation skills.

Beyond lessons, Edward also discusses interesting, “eye-opening” concepts regarding left / right brain thinking and how it effects seeing and drawing. She focuses on how perception (i.e., seeing) which happens on the right side of the brain is the most essential part of drawing… not drawing itself. She explains that if you can properly understand and see what you are looking at (which requires the skills of your right brain), then you will be able to draw.

This concept isn’t exactly new, I mean, there are plenty of books that discuss the differences between different sides of our brain and how they are most effectively used. In my personal experience, I had a colleague who helped me become a better writer by explaining how the right side was meant to be creative while the left side was in charge of editing and analyzing information (ie., your critical side). In order to be creative, you must stop your left side of the brain from criticizing while the creative side is in process. Simple, right?

This makes a lot of sense regarding perceptions and drawing as well. You see, the left-side of the brain wants to use words and stored symbols to describe things that it sees but drawing is not about that. In order to really perceive objects, it’s imperative to allow your right-side to visualize and understand what you are seeing and then, put it down on paper.

A new concept that Edwards talks about in this book that she does not address in the previous edition of the book is this idea that drawing is a global skill. Basically, this means that drawing is a skill (just like walking or driving) that anyone can learn relatively quickly. The book describes that as long as you learn the basic skills of drawing, you will always be able to draw.

This is a very exciting “ah-ha” moment as so many people believe that there is this “je ne sais pas” about how some people can draw while others can not. Fortunately, this is not true. All people can learn how to draw if they choose to take the time to learn basic perception skills.

Edwards outlines them in her book:

Five Basic skills.

1. The perception of edges

2. the perception of spaces

3. the perception of relationships

4. the perception of lights an shadows

5. the perception of the whole, or gestault

As for more information, I’d check out the book. If you have been intrigued by this blog post then you won’t regret picking up the book for more information and detailed exercises and drawing techniques.

3 responses

  1. Cat Normoyle

    Hi James! Where are you teaching this fall? I’ve worked through about 1/2 the book so far and am so surprised how quickly my skills are coming back. I think I’m going to incorporate the upside-down exercise this fall in my class. I’ve done this exercise a few times with different pictures and LOVE it! I’ll keep you posted on some other exercises I really like. You do the same! Keep in touch!

  2. James Bentley

    … James Bentley btw

  3. Anonymous

    Teaching drawing and 2D again in the fall. A college where the emphasis is more on concept via foundations- ordered this, thanks Kat!

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