Our left brains are incredibly efficient at getting us through life as quickly and easily as possible, dealing with thousands of bits of information every second. The onslaught of today’s super fast technology means that we have to continually filter unnecessary ‘stuff’ all the time. The right brain has been more or less overridden in many people; apparently modern man’s left brain now actually weighs more than the right side!
A child’s repeated right-brained ’w’ questions “why, where, what, why, who?” slowly peter out as it learns the answers and files them away in its ‘hard drive’. Information is wired in with practice and repetition, and it then becomes unconscious reactions, such as walking, chewing, driving, speaking……. It leaves us free to concentrate on the content. The brain’s natural urge is to create shortcuts, to save us time and to make life easier so that we don’t have to continually re-think everything.
The problem with learning to draw is that the brain cannot find anything to refer to other than our teenage drawings, stored away in the left brain, which – unless we were encouraged and helped to draw as a child, or had a natural aptitude – we developed in a symbolic way. Teenagers will often draw a repeated image of something that interests them, and it can become quite sophisticated, but a symbol is useless when we want to draw realistically.
There are many ways of activating the right brain and overriding the left; by drawing very, very slowly, by drawing very complicated subjects, by copying images we have turned upside-down, by using our non-dominant hand, by refusing to start a drawing with an outline and then ’filling-in’, by drawing from unusual angles, by trying not to name things...... It doesn’t matter what you draw, it’s how you draw it that counts. At first this can be extremely irritating, as our left brains are very strong and want to ‘help’, but keep telling yourself that your left brain cannot draw at all – it desperately wants to find short cuts and symbols, to save time and move on to the next thing. It doesn’t want to slow down and really study anything with the intense interest it takes to draw something well.
Research shows that everyone has the ability to learn how to use the right brain effectively, as long as they are trained to do it. When they are helped to strengthen areas they thought were weak, the ‘mental muscle’ also strengthened and improved in other areas.
Learning to draw in this way can help you become more creative in general – more skilled with words, able to manipulate numbers, more imaginative recipes! Life becomes more enjoyable if you are using both sides of the brain.
Seminal books on the subject are “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” and “Drawing on the Artist Within”, both by Betty Edwards.