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Book Review: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Several years ago I became interested in drawing and trying to improve my artistic abilities. While I was doing this I ran across the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I would definitely like to recommend this book for anyone who is interested in improving their drawing abilities and hasn't had much luck with regular art classes. My review is based on the version of the book I've linked to, which is an older version but I suspect the same basic information applies to the later edition of the book.

The first part of the book may seem a bit boring if you want to dive immediately into improving your drawing abilities. However, I would recommend reading the first few chapters as they provide insight into why most people have problems drawing as realistically as they would like. The basis of Ms. Edwards books is that anyone can learn to draw and that drawing is a teachable skill. With that premise she provides examples and instructions in her books that walk the reader through drawing and most importantly how to see in a way that allows you to capture the item in a drawing.

As the reader goes through the examples and instructions, they are learning how to turn off the left brain and use the right brain to capture the detail they want to draw. Ms. Edwards proposes that the left brain is not interested in detail and prefer to use ready made symbols when we attempt to draw something. The exercises help the reader to learn to turn off that critical portion of the brain by essentially boring the left brain and letting the right brain pick up the exercise. The right brain likes to see the detail and provide the concentration necessary to reproduce the detail and intricacies of say a person's face or hand and is able to support the capture of that information in a drawing.

And to build confidence in the reader several simple exercises are provided early in the book that provide quick positive feedback in the reader's drawings. One of the exercises I remember doing what drawing a complicated sketch while it was upside down. By turning the picture upside down, the left brain becomes bored and is unable to provide symbols so the right brain takes over and allows the reader to pick up the detail and do a good copy of it. I remember seeing the drawing I did and I was amazed that I could, in fact, draw and have it look good.

Of course most people don't just want to copy other drawings they want to draw original artwork. The exercises then proceed to drawing hands, objects and finally doing a self portrait. By using various techniques, such as looking away while warming up to draw, drawing a profile instead of a face full-on, drawing negatives spaces and other techniques the reader can see steady improvement with practice.

Myself, after a few weeks of practice once or twice a week, I was impressed with the change and I have a drawing of my toddler son that I did that I am very proud of. Unfortunately, I have not kept up with my practice over the years so I am back to using symbols and not seeing in a way that supports realistic drawing in a way that I would prefer. However, I am confident that if I took the time to sit down and follow the exercises again I could regain that ability.

And in case you don't believe the difference the book can make I am including links to two different pictures I've done. One is a drawing I did for a character in a D&D game after being out of practice for so many years. The other is the drawing of my son that I did after following the examples in the book after a few weeks.

Fantasy drawing

Drawing of my son

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