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Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain - Full Review

Exploring the Processes of Drawing

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Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is based on the premise that the left and right hemispheres of the brain process information in very different ways. While this theory has become somewhat outmoded, it is still a useful model to explain the way we function. The right-side concept is referred to continually throughout the book, which focuses extensively on the 'how and why' behind the mental process of drawing, rather than simply demonstrating the techniques.

Right Brain VS Left Brain

In essence, the 'left brain' is logical, rational using words to describe concepts and able to manipulate abstract ideas, numbers and the concept of time. The right brain, in contrast, takes a wholistic approach, sensing relationships and patterns, tends to be intuitive and irrational, and has no sense of time. While some suggest that theories about brain function have moved on from this 'hemispherical' notion, it is still a useful model for how we manipulate information in practice. The first chapters of Drawing on the Right Side are largely devoted to explaining the left/right model, and explaining its relevance to drawing - or more importantly to SEEING. The stages of development in children's drawing are explored, and the impact of the persistence of the childish symbol-system discussed.

Right Brain Exercises

The book includes many drawing exercises, including 'upside down drawing', 'blind contour' and 'modified contour' drawing. A whole chapter is devoted to negative space drawing. This seems a lot, but negative space is a crucial concept, and Edwards covers it thoroughly, and the many examples will help to ensure that the reader grasps the principles. Edwards also takes an unconventional approach to perspective drawing: you'll find none of the constructed-line perspective exercises that most drawing books have; rather, she explains the perception of perspective and approaches to drawing perspective from life. A chapter on portrait drawing covers some key problems that occur in portrait drawing, particularly the 'flattened head' error, and explains techniques to help with correct placement of features.The chapter on lights and shadows focuses on how we perceive shadow shapes - again, with references to 'right mode' and 'left mode' thinking. A couple of particularly useful pages are dedicated to the use of hatching and crosshatching, with examples from 'old master' drawings as well as student drawings. One reader commented that there are insufficient 'beginner' drawings to explain concepts, with too much use of 'perfect' examples.

The New Revised Edition

This edition of 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain' includes, along with various additional illustrations, and changes to some material through the book, an important note on the process of drawing: Edwards notes that some 6 months after the publication of the original book, in an 'aha' moment in class, she realized that drawing was in fact a 'global skill', composed of separate, learnable skills that become synthesized into the single smooth and seamless process we call drawing. She identifies these components as five perceptions: edges, spaces, relationships, lights and shadows, and the perception of the whole (gestalt). Important and very useful ideas like this make it well worth wading through the text in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, even if you are not an enthusiastic reader. The new edition also includes some material on color, which I feel is mostly of limited value and more fully covered in other books. This is followed by some advice on creativity, and a chapter on handwriting, again somewhat superfluous to the main purpose of the book, however interesting and worthwhile in itself.

Should I buy 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain'?

One of the strengths of Drawing on the Right Side is the large number of illustrations, including many by students. These can be very encouraging to the beginner, as you can see work which is achievable, rather than impressive. Many Old Master works are also included, offering exemplary demonstrations of key concepts. I also enjoyed the many quotes from artists and writers that are scattered throughout the pages. Many of Edward's ideas have now become 'mainstream', so you'll find that this text has influenced many more recent publications. Many of the exercises are classic ones, and the concepts have been expanded upon, and there are certainly books which take a more hands-on approach. However, the original book (or its new edition) is still well worth reading. It largely depends on your own tolerance of reading - if you enjoy words and learning about the processes of seeing and drawing, you'll enjoy reading 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain', and your drawing will certainly improve.
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