Right Brain Left Brain Exercise

It's easy to recognise when our right brain left brain comes into conflict - once we know what to look for. Once we can identify it, it becomes easier to switch between the two different modes.

This quick drawing exercise, developed by Dr Edwards and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Inc, is an opportunity for you to experience first hand what both these different modes feel like.

The following exercise is reproduced, with permission, from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Inc and is taken from The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (Harper Collins Publishers, 2001) by Dr Betty Edwards
(© Dr Betty Edwards)

Experience for yourself the mental ‘crunch’
of left brain vs right brain

Before you begin…

If you are LEFT HANDED click here and print the drawing
If you are RIGHT HANDED click here and print the drawing

The drawings are in PDF format so you will need to have a version of Adobe Acrobat to read the document.

You can download this for free here

With the relevant drawing printed and placed in front of you and using a standard pencil, complete the following instructions.

Try not to look ahead - it's cheating!

Step 1
Holding a pencil just above the existing line on the paper, go over the line naming the different parts of the face – forehead… nose… upper lip… bottom lip… chin… jaw … neck etc

Step 2
Drawing with your pencil on the opposite side of the existing line, complete the image symmetrically.
When you have completed the drawing continue...

Step 3
Once you have completed the exercise – ask yourself the following:

What did you notice? At any point did you:

...feel frozen or paralysed?

...feel confused?

...notice a struggle going on in your mind?

Did you notice that after experiencing the 'mental crunch' something changed?

If you noticed yourself doing any of the following then that is an indication that you moved into R-Mode (right brain mode)

...trying to draw the vase instead of the face or vice versa ie. tried to see the image a different way so you could continue

...lining up and comparing relationships with the other side of the drawing

...that you couldn't hear or notice what was going on around you

...that time went very quickly

However, if you flung down your pencil in frustration your left brain won ... this time!

Left brain might have won this time but why not try the exercise again and see what happens. We can train our minds it's just that many behaviours and thought processes are well-ingrained habits and it just might take you a bit longer to learn how to access your right brain - but you can.

What just happened?

The instruction to name the different parts of the face meant that you were being forced into really using your left brain.

You were then asked to complete the other half of the drawing symmetrically. However, this can only be done by plugging into the right hand visual, spatial side of the brain. This is the part of the brain that, without you even knowing about it, is assessing relationships of sizes, curves, angles and shapes.

We deliberately created a set of conditions that create a left brain vs. right brain struggle so you would feel it.The difficulty of making that shift causes a feeling of conflict and confusion – sometimes felt as a momentary paralysis.

When you found a way to overcome this and complete the drawing symmetrically you were then using your right brain or R-Mode.

Experiencing the shift from left brain to right brain

So in this exercise you experienced what it was like to draw in L-Mode (with the left brain), then you felt the 'crunch' as you shifted (hopefully) into R-Mode (drawing with the right brain) and you were able to experience what that was like.

When we are in R-Mode it’s easier not to think about what we are drawing but instead think about shapes and where something is in relationship to something else.

This feeling of conflict can often be experienced when we are drawing and particularly when we are learning to draw – and it often causes us to give up as we think what we are doing is too difficult / we’re not “good enough” etc.

However, by learning to access the right brain, you can learn ways to trick the left brain into leaving you alone quietly to get on with your drawing with your right brain – the side of the brain that really does know how to draw.

With R-Mode you simply draw what you see. You draw as an artist sees.

Try it – next time you are doing a drawing and notice the urge to stop because you think it is rubbish, instead see if you can just keep going.

This is easier to do if you can learn particular ways to tune out L-Mode when it’s being unhelpful (because remember that sometimes L-Mode is useful to have around so it is better if you can learn to switch between the two modes as and when you wish).

This exercise is reproduced, with permission, from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Inc and is taken from The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (Harper Collins Publishers, 2001) by Dr Betty Edwards (© Dr Betty Edwards)

Find out more about Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain here

Learn R-Mode strategies in a 5-day Course, developed by Dr Edwards, that teaches you how to draw here

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