When I started drawing portraits I was very lucky to come across Betty Edwards’ book ”Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain“ online by chance. I was inspired and still am enthused by her theory. For me Betty Edwards is the best art teacher ever. Her theory didn’t only help me to draw, but also open my eyes to the details normally ignored and forgotten and see the world from a totally new perspective.
With the help of her book ”Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain“ I understood how important it is to SEE and learned how to SEE like an artist. (To get to know Betty Edwards and her books you can click the link of her official website: http://drawright.com).
In her opinion anyone can draw who can pick up a pencil and draw a line. Most people believe that they can’t, not because they really cannot, but because their brains give up too early.
As we all know the human brain has a left and a right hemisphere. The two sides have different functions. The left hemisphere is in charge of logic, digital analysis and verbal & lineal thinking. The right hemisphere on the contrary is responsible for emotions, sensibility, intuition, detail, picture memory and holistic thinking.
The thinking mode on the left side of the brain, the so-called ”L-mode“ in Betty Edwards’ book, is the dominant one in our society. It comes easily because we are familiar with it. When we were little kids, we started to learn all the names, definitions and symbols, which help us to adapt to the world and gain simple logic and judgement ability. We learned to label everything, even other people.
In contrast the thinking mode on the right side of the brain, the so-called ”R-mode“ in Betty Edwards’ book seems difficult only because we are unfamiliar with it. When we draw we want to draw what we see, but we automatically use the L-mode and start naming things we see and searching for information about the name we saved in our brains. However the R-mode has no chance of working. For instance, if we draw an eye, a simplified symbolised eye image saved on the left side of the brain will show up (L-mode works). Our hand will automatically start drawing the image in our head instead of paying real attention to the eye in front of us (R-mode). Very quickly we are disappointed in what we have drawn (R-mode) and conclude that we can’t draw (L-mode). (take a look at the drawings of an eye which I made to compare the two modes of thinking.)
Actually the ”secret“ to drawing realistically is simply that we stop the left hemisphere from taking charge for a while and let the right hemisphere do the work: without prejudice, without naming or defining anything, just feel it, observe the shapes and lines, check the distances and the forms, and truthfully ”copy“ what we see with our pencil or pen, no more no less.
In order to turn down the dominant L-mode and gain access to the subdominant R-mode, Betty Edwards provides some helpful exercises. One of them is to draw blind contours for a few minutes. This means you draw an object with a continuous line without lifting the pencil off the paper and without looking at the drawing. (see my 5 minute blind contours drawings). The result is not important. It just helps you to relax and prepare for the R-mode of thinking.
The other interesting exercise is to copy a master work upside down. The result is astonishing since the drawing done upside down is often better and preciser than the direct copy, especially for people with little drawing experience. This is because when the picture is put upside down, the left side of the brain does not know how to work (L-mode gives up), since the normal logic can’t work. Therefore the R-mode starts up and does a better job – As said above, the right side of the brain is good at picture memory and detail.
After having learned from Betty Edwards about the new way of thinking, I don’t take things for granted anymore. I try to forget the knowledge and experience I have stored on the left side of the brain (L-mode thinking) because I know they often prevent me from seeing the essence of the matter. Since I try to use the R-mode to see the overall picture many matters suddenly become clear and easier to resolve.
So my dear friends, if you want to learn how to draw, or if you only want to learn a new way of thinking and see the world from a new perspective, I can recommend Betty Edwards and her book ”Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain“.