Day 15. Fun Lesson: The Upside Down
There's no Stranger Thing than this drawing lesson!
Today marks the halfway point of our 30-Day Drawing Habit! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!? I am so proud of you! Of ALL OF US. Even if you’ve only drawn a handful of times, that’s such a great start. You set off on a creative foot this year. And you can pick and come along with us anytime. Today is the perfect day to start again.
This week, we are focusing on “Fun Lessons”: the intersection of FUN and learning. Every day, I'll give you a mini-lesson that will push you to experiment with and/or revisit some of the basics of drawing. And, if I’m doing it right, it will be super fun, not at all intimidating, surprisingly educational, silly, and joyful.
Yesterday, we threw ourselves in with Lynda Barry-inspired eyes-closed and non-dominant hand drawing. Everyone’s giraffe’s cars and bicycles contained so much kid-like fun and joy. Be sure to check out the 1,000+ drawings in the GUT community chat (where we share our work daily.)
And thank you for all your lessons requests in the comments. Anything/anyone you’d like to learn about in the GUT this week and beyond? Members can make suggestions in the comments below. At least one day this week will be a member-request!
Now, let’s jump into our second Fun Lesson of the week.
Betty Edwards and the Upside Down
Today, we’re flipping the script. We’re moving from our often more dominant left side of our brains to our right. Today, we take a lesson from the inspiring, grande dame of drawing and perception herself, Betty Edwards.
I remember seeing Betty Edwards’ seminal book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I was in my sophomore year of high school, attending a school where I did not fit in. Every student had to play sports six days a week, and we had to attend church services three times a week. I was a fat art kid, and I’m Jewish. Not a fish in water. As it was for many kids who didn’t fit into the larger social orders of high school, the art room became my safe space. I’d go there after class to add details to my ongoing drawing projects, and to get extra guidance (read: find some kindness) from the art teacher.
In class one day, the teacher passed out a xerox copy of a line drawing. It was a flowing, effortless contour drawing of a bespectacled man in a suit. She told us it was by Picasso, and we would copy it. I was intimidated. There was no way I could copy a Picasso drawing and not mess it up. This was going to be tough.
Then she told us we were going to copy it UPSIDE DOWN.
Well, now she was just being mean. Now I was going to be last in THIS sport, too.
Never the less, I flipped the image upside down and began copying from the top down. After five or six nervous, tight lines, something unexpected happened on my paper. Now that the image was upside down, the crossed legs in the portrait ceased being fabric-covered legs I’d never get right, and became a series of short diagonal lines at the top of the page.
I kept drawing.
What was formerly a suit jacket became groups of shapes. What was a face was now simply curved lines and marks. I copied them all the best I could and was surprised to watch the image of the bespectacled man emerge under my pencil. Something magical hadn’t only happened on the paper, but it happened in my brain.
By turning the drawing upside down, I stopped seeing what my brain thought was there (a complicated image of a man sitting in a chair), and I was able to see the drawing for what it really was: a bunch of marks on a page that, with a little effort, I could easily follow. My brain had switched modes.
According to Betty Edwards, what’s happening when we do this is we are switching off our Left brain (L-Brain, as she calls it) that makes sense of everything with language, and we shift over to our Right brain (R-brain) that sees things “as they are.”
Right brain vs Left brain
Betty’s premise is as follows: the brain has two ways of perceiving and processing reality: Left brain, which is verbal and analytic, and Right Brain, which is visual and perceptual. Betty’s method of teaching drawing focuses suppressing the Left brain, and the encouraging the Right. In doing so, we let go of our analytical understanding of the world and start to see what is really all around us.
“But Wendy, wasn’t the whole right/left brain thing debunked?”
Great question. Honestly, I’m confused about where neuroscience stands on this today. As I understand it, the concept is BACK IN FAVOR with neuroscientists who study the impact of art on the brain. This is on my list to learn more about in the months ahead. I will report back what I find.
Regardless of where science lands on this, millions of people will agree with me when I tell you Betty Edward’s Upside Down drawing WORKS. While it may not help us find our own vision and voice, it gives us confidence in our abilities and offers us fundamental lessons to help connect our brains, eyes, and hands so we can SEE.
I highly recommend picking up a copy of her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
I owe so much to Betty for her life’s work. While we’ve never met in person (she’s in her mid-90s now!), my work is in deep conversation with hers. I am forever grateful for her contribution to the field of drawing, and to perception in its many forms.
So, for that reason alone, I share this Betty-inspired exercise with you today. Betty, this one is for you.
Today we are retuning to our new BFF: The Giraffe
But we’re giving our buddy a literal twist.
Let’s do this.