Drawing on the Right Side of the Paper

A Short Report on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

I want to give a nearly-wholehearted recommendation here for the current edition of this book, with maybe one tiny caveat: as wonderful as Roger Sperry's work is, I don't honestly think it makes the least bit of difference to what you do with your fingers, so I would skip any of the brain-localization stuff, particularly exercises like "Hold your hand on the left side of your head and....". If you want to know about that stuff (which is, after all, amazing work) please do read it; but if you think that knowing about the brain is going to tell you anything about where to put the pencil, I kinda doubt it. (But see the note immediately below.)

Note, added on 4 September, 1998: A friend of mine tells me that he has trouble getting into the right mood/mode for drawing, and that he finds the "brain" exercises very helpful. I guess I have to withdraw my objection -- it's pointless to complain that those exercises don't tell you where to put the pencil if that's not their purpose!

In any case, I am extremely impressed with the book. The author gives various "before" and "after" examples, drawings made by her students, and the differences are truly profound. (I have to say that I was quite taken aback by the fact that my "before" drawings compared altogether too well with hers.)

It took me approximately a week (well, maybe 8 days) to go through the exercises in the first half of the book or thereabouts, and I was astonished to find that the drawings I then produced bore a much closer resemblance to the ones in the "after" galleries.

Note, added on September 28, 1999: I have just found that notebook. Here is the first exercise, for which the instructions are that the student is to draw a person without actually looking at one. As you can see from the large image, I started on February 13th, 1982.

(As usual, you can click any of the small images on this page to get a midsize one, or a "Larger image" link, where one is present, to get an image that is reasonable for the average display of 2004. Use your browser's "Back" button to return here.)


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About 11 years later, having done little or no drawing in the interim, I picked up a copy of the second edition and repeated the plan. This time it really bothered me that my "before" drawings once again bore considerable resemblance to the ones in the book. In fact, the first exercise turns out to be even worse than the one I did in 1982. Argh. Just so you should know what I was up against, here's that other "before", this time from August 29th, 1993. (I can't believe all of this was back that far, but the dates are there on the pages...sigh.) Let me assure you, btw, that this drawing is entirely representative.



Fortunately I had track record from the first time to cheer me on, and of course the exercises worked just as well the second time. Here's a detail from a drawing of one of my ex-wife's cats, Mittens, who was kind enough to stay asleep on the couch until I had drawn about 2/3 of her, which I thought was pretty good. (I'm not terribly fast, and cat-naps are not usually terribly long.) I did this drawing on September 19, 1993. That's about three weeks, quite a bit longer than it took me the first time, but I was busy with many other things and couldn't be quite as intense at it.

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[Sad note: It is 7 June, 1999. Mittens died early this morning, aged 16 years, which is kinda late middle age for cats, not nearly old enough. I drove over to my ex-wife's place at lunch; we buried Mittens near a tree in the back yard. Requiescat (ahem) In Pace. She was a very good kitty; I knew her for a decade. It is to weep...]

Here's a detail from a portrait I did in 15 minutes (after several lousy 5-minute warmups), on October 14th, 1993, after still more exercises. As with the Mittens drawing, if you click the detail you get the entire image, or in this case as much of it as I was able to fit into the scanner's field.

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The drawing lacks detail, but as I say I did it in 15 minutes. If I'd had, say, half an hour, she might even have hands. Oh, well.

I made one real venture into color during that period, on November 13th, 1993; here it is.

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Now, I am happy to admit that those three examples are probably the cream of the crop, or close to it. I did plenty of mediocre drawings after I went through the exercises... but I can assure you that very, very few of them are as bad as any of the "before" items I drew. I can't, of course, claim that merely going through these exercises will turn anyone into an artist; but if you want to learn to draw well, and you don't have direct access to a fine teacher, this book provides a truly excellent path.

There are, by the way, many other fine books about drawing and about the peculiar way of seeing the world that you need to learn in order to draw well. This is not the only one, nor the only way. It does happen to be the one I used, though, and I am happy to present my experiences with it.

At It Again

(12 July, 2001)

I was in Portland last week, so I traipsed into Powell's Books (highly recommended, both on the Web and in person, but especially joyous in the architectural flesh) and bought a copy of the 2nd revised edition of Drawing on the Right Side, which was issued in 1999. I was pleased to see several sorts of change. For one thing, Dr. Edwards points out not only that there is a diversity of opinion about lateralization of brain function, but also that there is a fair amount of evidence suggesting that the degree of lateralization is somewhat variable from person to person; for example, some left-handers appear to be less thoroughly lateralized than the average across the population in general.

There is also a section on color.

I have just begun to read the book, and have not yet done the starter exercises; but I intend to go through and do it what justice I can, and I hope to report my progress as it occurs on this pass, rather than in retrospect. No guarantees, mind you, and I can almost promise that it's going to take me longer this time than it did either of the other two times. I have a ton of other stuff going on.

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Last modified: Thu May 20 01:40:16 EDT 2004