Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is a book that can teach you how to draw. Author Betty Edwards was an art teacher who observed that most of her older students drew at the level of the average 10 or 11 year old. They drew cartoonish, symbolic, stick figures for a tree, house, or person, rather than the objects they were actually observing.

Then she started reading about studies of the left and right sides of the brain. Although we now know that people use both sides of their brain in a more fluid way, these basic ideas still hold true.

The left side of the brain is: verbal, symbolic, logical, linear, time-oriented, and prefers simple tasks. It is the side that is valued in education, but also happens to be the side you must turn off in order to draw.

The right side of your brain is: visual, nonverbal, intuitive, nonjudgmental, non time-oriented, holistic, and prefers complicated tasks. If you learn how to turn on this side of your brain, you will automatically be able to draw more accurately, because you will be able to “see” what you are observing, rather than drawing the oversimplified symbols that you’ve been taught to see. In addition, you will be learning about each of the objects that you draw, by taking the time to really observe them.

Here is an exercise that will show you how to turn on your right brain and turn off your left, the monster vase/face drawing.


1. Draw a profile on either the left or right side of your paper. Make it of the oddest face you can conjure up – a witch, a ghoul, a monster. Name the parts of the face as you go down the profile (forehead, nose, lips, chin), also name whatever embellishments you add (wrinkles, moles, double chins). You are using your left brain to draw this image.

2. After you finish this profile, add the horizontal lines at the top and bottom for the vase.

3. Now draw the profile in reverse, completing the vase (a baroque vase). You will find yourself being forced to use the right side of your brain to complete the second, matching profile, and you will not be able to verbalize what you are doing. The point of this exercise is to feel the shift from left-mode to right-mode.

This is just one of the exercises in the book that I found interesting. Other lessons include: drawing your hand without looking at your paper (a blind contour), drawing the shapes of the negative space around a chair (and thus drawing the chair), using the edges of your paper or a pencil held straight out at eye level to measure angles and perspective. If you spend a few months completing the exercises in this book, you will not only learn how to draw, but, even more importantly, you will be learning how to see the world as it really is.

Read an excerpt from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain on Amazon.com.