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(The New) Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain [Review]

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Recommended for:

  • Complete beginners who have never taken an art class
  • People convinced they’re bad at drawing

I remember this book being so famous that even non-artists had heard of it. For good reason, because this is a simple, beginner-level classic that teaches you how to turn off your doubts and just draw.

Many art books have a “draw the rest of the fucking owl” problem – they start off with something easy (like what art supplies you need to buy), then gloss over the insane amount of fine motor control, decision making, and theory required to make the glowing work of art featured on the cover. 

Draw the rest of the fucking owl

This can be especially discouraging for beginner artists, because many people show up already convinced that they can’t draw. It’s extremely easy to fail, then decide you don’t have the talent to hack it. After all, you can’t even follow the steps in a how-to book, right?

Instead, this book provides the following:

Student drawings

What’s that? Setting expectations? In my art book?

Yep. Betty Edwards explains that your first drawing will be badwhy it will be bad, and shows you beginner artists (you know, like the audience) who improved so much with a few days of deliberate practice that their art was unrecognizable.

How’s that for encouragement?

The best thing about Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is that it introduces you to a different way to think about art – to turn off part of your brain and concentrate on what you see, versus what you think you see. This can be an extremely freeing thing to attempt, because if successful, you’ll also be turning off the judgmental, negative part of your brain – the one that insists that your drawing look like something (and in so doing, kinda ruins everything). You may even have your first experience with a flow state, a kind of zen that exists outside of “sort of drawing, but also sort of worrying about a million other things at the same time”.

Nice.

You could also see this book as an introduction to problem-solving, as it presents different ways to approach potentially tricky drawings. A significant part of art is problem-solving, after all: sometimes the best way to draw a complicated office chair is to draw all the spaces around it. Sometimes your brain shouts so loudly that arms are long and straight that it’s nigh-impossible to draw one coming straight towards the camera — so what do you do?

Read and find out :). Even if you don’t want to be an artist, I think that the methods described here are worth a try just to experience different ways of looking at the world. 

Caveats

  • This is a book focused on realistic drawing from life. If you’re not interested in portraits, still life, landscapes, etc., you’ll need to find a different book 🙂
  • Turning off the cognitive part of your brain is a great way to quickly access a new “mode” of drawing. However, if you want to truly pursue art at a level beyond reproducing from life, you’ll need to think about your art. Creating great compositions, figuring out problems in your drawings, learning how to draw structure or when to deploy cool techniques… these are decisions that require you to use your brain. In the language of the book, your right brain and left brain will need to learn to work together!

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