Drawing and Creativity

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

by Betty Edwards

This book is an essential part of any creative thinker's library!

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Portrait of Betty Edwards

This book was first published in 1979 (revised edition published in 1999) and is one of the first practical applications of psychobiologist Roger Sperry's work studies on the dual nature of the human brain.

Drawing is a global (or "whole" skill requiring only a limited set of basic components. Drawing is made up of component skills that become integrated into a whole skill. Once you have learned the components and integrated them, you can draw. Progress takes the form of practice, refinement of technique and learning what to use the skills for.

The global skill of drawing something that you see "out there" (a person, object or landscape) requires only five basis component skills. These skills are not drawing skills, but perceptual skills:

  1. The perception of edges.
  2. The perception of spaces
  3. The perception of relationships
  4. The perception of lights and shadows
  5. The perception of the whole, or gestalt

Teaching the principals of these skills means that the student can learn to draw relatively quickly.

Betty Edwards describes the process of gaining access to R-mode, her name for the visual, perceptual mode of the brain. The underlying strategy in her teaching methods is this:

"in order to gain access to the subdominant visual, perceptual R-mode of the brain, it is necessary to present the brain with a job that the verbal analytic L-mode will turn down."

In the process of learning to draw, one learns how to control the way the brain handles information. The benefit of learning to draw with this book is the link to other activities and the possibility of seeing things differently by tapping into R-mode.

The strategy of the book is to explain in basic terms the relationship of drawing to visual, perceptual brain processes and to provide methods of accessing and controlling these processes.

The magical mystery of drawing ability seems to be, in part at least, an ability to make a shift in brain state to a different mode of seeing/perceiving. When you see in the special way in which experienced artists see, then you can draw.

Drawing is not really very difficult. Seeing is the problem, or to be more specific, shifting to a particular way of seeing.

The techniques can be demonstrated in three exercises (linked below) that help you shift from your dominant left-hemisphere mode to your subdominant R-mode.

First of all, get a few sheets of paper and a pencil. Work through these exercises and see if you experience the R- mode shift.

Good luck and have fun!


  1. Vases and Faces - an exercise for the double brain
  2. Upside Drawing
  3. Negative Space Drawing.

The examples in these exercises were taken from Dilip Mukerjea's book, "Braindancing"
and reproduced with his permission.

Further reading:

Drawing on the Artist Within Betty Edwards
Simon & Shuster, Inc. (1987) ISBN: 067163514X
This is the sequel to "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" and contains a lot of useful information.
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The Natural Way to Draw - Kimon Nicolaides. Copyright 1941, Reprinted 1969. "There is only one right way to draw and that is a perfectly naturak way. It has nothing to do with artifice or technique. It has nothing to do with aesthetics or conception. It has only to do with the act of correct observatuion, and by that I mean a physical contact with all sorts of objetcs through all the senses" - Nikolaides
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How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci - Michael Gelb.
This book has a section titled "The Beginner's da Vinci Drawing Course" and explores such topics as upside-down drawing, opposite-hand drawing, contours ("outside in") drawing, movement, surface/shading, mass/perspective and drawing by heart. Gelb refers to the two previous books in his bibliography.
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Other Web Sites:

Betty Edwards's web site: Draw Right

Michael Gelb's web site - author of How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci

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Last updated: 30th July 2002