Right and Left Brain Drawing | Student Work at ANU

by Beth Samek, Online Education Manager at Artist’s Network University

Each week at Artist’s Network University, we have new classes starting. These classes range from beginner to advanced and reach across media and subject. One thing that is common amongst many of them is the need for solid drawing skills. Having the techniques for artistic drawing can set you off on your artistic journey with confidence. One of our newest courses, Pastel Drawing with Your Right Mind, includes not only important drawing exercises but also gives a great introduction to working with pastels. Instructor, Suzanne Day, was excited to share her right/left brain approach to drawing with students while working with one of her favorite media.

“The right/left brain exercise came about because of research and study on learning styles of students. The model I studied was the Herrmann Brain Dominance Test.

I was a psychology and education major in undergraduate school and became fascinated with how everyone learns differently. The old model of teaching to the middle of the class sure didn’t work for me or most right side of the brain learners. We were sometimes labeled “LD”(I like to think learning differently) because our method of learning greatly differed from those who easily learned from the middle of the class presentation model.

Being a professor of art gave me access to thousands of art and not art majors that were curious as to what their learning styles were.

My findings showed that the vast majority of art students were right brain, random abstract learners, such as myself.

This lead to Betty Edwards book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”. A fascinating read with wonderful ideas that lead to classroom use in my lesson plans for almost every class I taught. Those courses ranged from Visual Communication, all levels of drawing/painting and in Art Education at the graduate level.

My observations were and are systematically the same. The vast majority of students, I would guess around 90% or more when following the instructions given, had much better drawings after the right/left brain “shoe drawing” with most finding that the drawing completed with the non dominant hand the most accurate! Who knew?! My reason for using this exercise is not only for the initial discovery but for students to use the accessibility of being in their “right mind” in all of their artistic approaches. The creative right brain is exactly where the artist resides. The left brain balances our checkbooks and likes the details.” said Suzanne.

In the first week of the course, each student tackles this approach themselves by drawing objects by memory then with their dominant hand, then their non-dominant hand. This exercise helps to highlight, what might be a surprising result. According to student Sherry Barber, “Painting is relatively new to me and drawing is critical to the outcome. Suzanne’s first exercise was an eye opener. Draw from memory, observation and then with your non-dominant hand from observation. While much less refined, the non dominant hand drawing was perhaps more interesting and more proportionally accurate. How is that even possible? In order to see, I must learn to look without using the memory as a crutch. It is only week two and I am amazed at the difference.” she said.

Here’s Sherry’s first attempts at Left/Right brain drawing using a shoe and a lamp:

This technique and skill is something that students take with them far beyond their work with Suzanne.  “Students that continue this practice have reported to me years later that they often draw a difficult subject using their non dominant hand after learning the technique from their shoe drawing. I use my non dominant hand as well when I draw or paint when I find my left brain trying to take over. I am very right handed and seldom use my left hand for any task other then drawing/painting,” she said.

You can sign up for the next session of Suzanne’s course, Pastel Drawing with Your Right Mind here!

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