I started drawing after a visit to 4chan’s drawing board. I know that sounds completely ridiculous and maybe a bit embarrassing but it did point me towards Betty Edward’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
This book, at least in blogs and what not, is universally praised. The only criticism at /ic/ is the perceived ‘pseudoscience’ and as such the majority seem to think it is inefficient as far as walls of text versus the more important practical exercises.
I picked up what I think is the third edition, published in 2008. For $30 I figured it would be worth a punt and then I spent some time reading cover to cover and diligently approaching the exercises. This post is the thoughts of a beginner to drawing and as such I hope it is somewhat useful for anyone thinking of taking up drawing as a hobby.
Firstly, the book is very well presented. I have the soft cover but it all appears durable enough and the paper stock is decent quality. It isn’t the world’s greatest but certainly doesn’t feel cheap. The same could be said of the printing- the odd example image is either too small or a little unclear but this is pretty rare and everything is generally well put together. There is certainly no reason to think it isn’t worth the purchase cost based purely on materials.
The layout is logical (I think more so than Keys to Drawing but that’s a post for another time). I see this book almost as more of a positive psychology book than a drawing book. By presenting drawing as a skill anyone can build and demystifying things a little, two things became clear for me: good art should be admired as the outcome of hard work, and drawing is like any other skill- applied practice will improve the end result. While I had read some advice to ignore the writing and focus purely on the exercises, I enjoyed every moment of this book and it gave me the confidence to put pencil on paper. As a mature aged beginner and no stranger to negative self talk, the positive affirmation gave me the drive to not only start but to continue despite less than stellar early results.
Of course, from a more technical stand point, Drawing on the Right Side does challenge you to observe things differently. A large focus is on the perception of edges, contours, shapes and lines- drawing what you see rather than what you think you see. I’m certainly not going to say that this book entirely killed symbol drawing for me but it is easy to see why it has earned the reputation as the go to resource for dealing with that issue.
All exercises are clearly outlined and the rationale typically explained which I guess is why some may feel the book is unnecessarily wordy. I enjoy knowing why I’m doing what I’m doing so saw this as a positive. I would much rather have too much information that can be skipped if you’d prefer, than not enough and be left wondering why I’m doing that stupid blind contour drawing exercise. Actually, nothing could satisfactorily explain that. It’s a shit exercise, but is perhaps the only one in the book I saw as pointless. Everything else seems good to go.
There is a call for some tools which of course can be bought from the author’s website but don’t be put off- I made what I needed with the glass from a cheap picture frame and cutting squares out of two pieces of black card. I spent less than five bucks not including my actual drawing materials.
And this is the part where I embarrass myself, but this is the stuff you rarely see in reviews of books for the beginner- beginner spec artwork:
My ‘preinstruction’ drawings:
Yeah- pretty sure all the usual mistakes are in there. I cheated and drew an ID photo. In hindsight it was a terrible idea, not least because the picture itself is so small.
The infamous upside down Igor Stravinsky:
Modified contour drawing:
I don’t know why, but I like this and actually really enjoyed doing it.
The first and only time I have drawn from life as my young fella was playing a computer game:
Another activity I loved from the book- perhaps my favourite, just ahead of the Madame X:
I would never have considered ‘drawing’ with an eraser before this. I continue to struggle with tone and looking at this still makes me happy.
And finally, my ‘post-instruction’ drawing from the same ID image. So much wrong with it- especially the eye size amongst other things- but the improvement is there. At the time I was stoked with this, now, not so much!
I’m not going to lie. I did deviate from some of the instructions when doing some of the exercises and of course I could always study more intently. Having said that, you’d really have to be sleep walking to not get some benefit from this book. I have limited scope of reference, but in my opinion I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book for the beginner. Even if you had been drawing for a while, perhaps even getting frustrated with your progress, I think some of the writing could provide the positive reinforcement needed.
Bottomline: I don’t see any reason why this shouldn’t be on your bookshelf if you enjoy drawing.
What it did for me: Gave me confidence to try. Made me draw far better than I ever thought I’d be able to.
As always, more than happy to receive constructive feedback and I’m certainly no expert. These are just the brief thoughts of an absolute beginner- maybe someone in a similar position will find it useful.
Thanks for looking.