Robin's Reviews > The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
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's review
Jun 15, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: nonfiction

I've had several abortive attempts to learn to draw and paint over the last ten years. Part of the problem is that I become frustrated at how difficult it is to draw accurately and in proportion, and invariably put away my pencils and sketchbooks after a series of failures. And then, a year or two later, I try again, with a new how-to-draw book and vigor, only to repeat the process.

Recently I unearthed my box of accumulated art supplies and drawing books, and noticed the orange spine of Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. This is the most often recommended title for beginners. I recalled reading a bit of it years ago, and setting it aside because the exercises seemed rather complicated and required the use of tools.

So, I decided to give it another try. I read it carefully from cover to cover before doing any drawing. Then, I ordered the recommended tools (these can be made inexpensively but I opted to just buy them from the author's website) and have been practicing these exercises ever since. Though much of information Edwards presents in her book isn't unique, the way she teaches it helped facilitate understanding for me in ways I never had before. My entire approach to drawing has changed dramatically and I finally feel like it is something I can eventually master.

Edwards believes that drawing accurately is something can be taught, much like driving or learning a new language. Though some people will learn more quickly than others, most people can obtain a basic level of profiency through learning and practice. I don't know why I never thought about it like that before! Artistic talent is often though of as innate, but in reality it is a set of skills. Edwards contends that the only "talent" necessary for drawing is the ability to write legibly; if you can do that, you can learn to draw.

Much of the beginning of the book sets forth Edwards' theory on neurology and how it affects the way we conceptualize drawing. Though most of this was written decades ago (the book has gone through several editions) and Edwards' theories about brain sided-ness have been disproven, a lot of her framework rings true. By necessity of language, people think symbolically - words represent objects. But, artists think visually and this is what she teaches - how to think and see like an artist.

For example, if I were attempting to draw a lamp, Edward would suggest that I stop thinking of it as a lamp. It is a series of basic shapes that are connected to each other in various proportions. So, I would try to see the lamp as a partly a square connected to a cylinder, an oval, etc.

By seeing objects as a sum of shapes, a beginning artist can resist the temptation to draw her own concept of what that object should look like. Edwards believes that this tendency to revert to symbolic thinking is what hampers beginning artist. She illustrates this concept brilliantly in a fascinating early chapter about children's drawings, showing how almost universally, children adopt symbols representative of what they wish to draw. Heads are circles, smiles are elongated "U"s. Once this pattern gets set cognitively, it's difficult to draw a head that isn't a circle. And heads are not circles!

Edwards takes the reader through a series of exercises to show how much we tend to draw symbolically. In one exercise, a line drawing of a seated man is flipped upside down and we are instructed to draw it. It forces us to draw visually, as our brain doesn't process upside-down drawings as symbols. I remember drawing the circles of the man's glasses, not even realizing what they were! Most people will draw the upside-down image better than the right-side up image.

Each subsequent chapter introduces various accuracy skills: sighting, scaling, etc. She employs time honored tools such as picture planes to assist the beginner in seeing their subjects visually. Later chapters address drawing faces and using color.

But I am really happy that I re-read this book and dived into its challenges. Thanks to Betty Edwards for teaching so many people that they can learn to draw.

Postscript: As a person with a debilitating disabling illness, drawing is a bit of a challenge. I've found ways to work around some of the things that prevented me from trying (again). First, I made a place for my drawing materials where they could be easily accessible, and easily stored away: a nightstand drawer. I draw in a reclined position, with my sketchbook propped up on my knees, so I am comfortable. Some of the exercises require an hour or more of work; these I break up into smaller sessions, and I amend some of the suggested subjects if they are not suitable to my arrangement.
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Reading Progress

June 15, 2012 – Started Reading
June 15, 2012 – Shelved
July 28, 2012 – Shelved as: nonfiction
July 28, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Lizanne Whitlow Wonderful!

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message 4: by Felix (new) - added it

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message 5: by Car (new) - added it

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