Feb 4, 2013

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3 Easy Right Brain Drawing Strategies

Editor’s  Note: Welcome to “Drawing Week” on AOE.  Come back every day for drawing tips, ideas, and discussions -  plus several drawing focused  lesson plans to help you in the K-12 Art Room. Let’s dive deeper into one of the cornerstone skills of teaching art – DRAWING! 

Have you ever noticed that younger students (say, Kindergarten through 4th grade) are more uninhibited with their drawing than older students?  Do you wonder why older students tend to lose that freedom?  The answer has to do with brain development.

corpus callosumAs a student’s brain develops the corpus callosum (the thick bundle of nerves connecting the right hemisphere to the left hemisphere) strengthens.  This happens primarily around age 10-12.  What happens is the left hemisphere (with strengths in reading and math) becomes more connected with the right hemisphere (with strengths in creativity and emotion).   Basically the left hemisphere begins to tell the right hemisphere that they “aren’t doing it right.”  Students are no longer happy drawing a hand, for example.  They want it to look “right.”  Sound familiar?

This is the perfect time to introduce right brain drawing activities.  These activities are designed to help students learn to utilize the amazing potential of the right side and learn to draw what they see.  To get started, I highly recommend checking out the book and website of renowned right brain drawing guru, Betty Edwards.  She has many lesson plan ideas and handouts to help students learn to draw the realistic images they crave.


Here are 3 right brain strategies to try:

1. Work in silence (or with soft, wordless background music).  The idea is to tune the left hemisphere out and let the right side take over, right?  Well, the left side likes words and as long as students are talking, their left side is engaged.  Try 10-15 minutes of silent work time to help students stay centered and on task.

2. Rotate the paper if student’s are stuck.  Sometimes they cannot get past one small part of the drawing.  (My ear doesn’t look “right.”) Have students rotate their paper by 90 or even 180 degrees and then work on drawing what they see.  (It is no longer an ear, it is a line that gently curves down.)  This simple maneuver tricks the left brain because it can no longer visualize an ear, which forces students to use their right side and focus on the line.  This works especially well during a Grid Drawing Lesson.

3. Let students get lost in the process.  Try a lesson that focuses on a repetitive technique (paper mache, designing a mandala,  coil pots, etc.) and watch their inhibitions melt away.  Once they have mastered the process, they can forget about the technique and let their right brain explore.  The possibilities are endless!

Want to learn more about the right brain and how brain-based strategies can be used to ignite student learning?  Sign up for AOE’s class Recharging the Right Brain!

How do you help students develop their right brains?  

Do you have any strategies to share?

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  • artprojectgirl

    Glad it’s drawing week! Looking forward to some new drawing warm ups for my classroom. . . but I think I missed something were there supposed to be three activities?

    • Jessica Balsley

      They are more like “Strategies” I suppose. There is a list of three in the second half of the article. Hope you like the week!


        It’s perfect timing as March Madness is looming with CMT’s you would think it would be the perfect time for messy projects, but it’s not! The kids are really stressed from the test and I keep it simple:) Thanks!

        • Heather Crockett

          Great point. I love the atmosphere that a good drawing lesson creates!

  • Lauralee

    Took a great course on drawing on the right side of the brain. Followed a lot of exercises from the book. I have done successful blind countour drawings with my 4th and 5th graders. Takes awhile before they really get it…but it’s fun when they understand how to trick the left side into giving up. They have to work super slow and just record what they SEE not what they THINK!!!

    • Heather Crockett

      I had my students draw a self-portrait as a pre-test prior to learning about right brain strategies. After a series of mini lessons, they used the grid method to complete a second self-portrait. The results were amazing and the students loved being able to compare their two pieces… Lots of giggling in the art room that day!