Drawing Basics: Inside the Atelier: Learning How to Draw on the Right Side of the Brain

As the son of Betty Edwards, the author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Brian Bomeisler helps students access the right side of their brains to improve their drawings. The following describes the first day of Bomeisler’s five day drawing workshop.

Each month the Art Educators section will spotlight one of the country’s top art educators and allow them to share their instruction with you. Our first feature highlights a drawing workshop offered by Brian Bomeisler on the fundamentals of using the right side of the brain to draw. Bomeisler’s teachings are based on the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by his mother, Betty Edwards. We hope you will join us in what is sure to be a continuing source of artistic education and inspiration for instructor and student alike.

Art Educators: Here’s your chance to share your knowledge with the thousands of aspiring professional artists who visit the American Artist website. If you are interested submitting a lesson plan or workshop description for consideration, please contact Stephanie Kaplan at skaplan@myamericartist.com.

Inside the Atelier: Learning How to Draw on the Right Side of the Brain

by Brian Bomeisler

As the son of Betty Edwards, the author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Brian Bomeisler helps students access the right side of their brains to improve their drawings. The following describes the first day of Bomeisler’s five day drawing workshop.

The first day of my workshops begin with introductions from the participants. Because most students are a bit nervous the first day, these introductions help break the ice. On a recent workshop, a wide range of people were taking the class, including a bar owner from Brooklyn, a corporate executive from Canada, a mother and daughter from California, and a student from China. This kind of varied student body seems consistent throughout my workshops.

Brian Bomeisler's drawing workshop--students at work

Bomeisler works with students.

Next, I have the students draw their self-portrait without any instruction. This exercise produces tremendous anxiety, as you can imagine, but I tell the students to do their best. Because students have a hard time remembering how far they’ve come in five days, I need a record of their skills on how to draw people before instruction. On the fifth day, I have them revert to a self-portrait, but this time the drawing is fully articulated in light and shadow. All the skills they’ve learned in the previous four days are embedded in that drawing.

After the self-portrait drawing, I show a series of slides explaining the various aspects of the left and right hemisphere. I talk briefly about Roger Sperry and his ground-breaking research on split-brain patients. The verbal, left hemisphere and the non-verbal, spatial right hemisphere often seem at odds with each other. This is indicated by a quick drawing I have the students do in the middle of this lecture. The exercise is called The Vase-Faces—where you can see either two facing profiles or a symmetrical goblet in the center. This is one of the best examples of the conflict between the left and right hemisphere modes of thinking. Then, towards the end of the lecture, I show a series of before and after images from 30 years ago when my mother, Betty Edwards, first started teaching these skills in an organized way. I also show before and after drawings from my more recent workshops.

“Copying the upside-down Picasso drawing seemed odd at first, but once I started, it wasn’t too difficult— and it was even fun. I am surprised that the copy is pretty good—much better than I had expected.”
Douglas Coleman, student

After lunch the students work on a copy of a drawing of Igor Stravinsky, by Picasso. The difference with this copy is that it is done entirely upside down. This exercise is important because the verbal, left hemisphere is not used since it has no symbols to base itself upon (symbols being another attribute of the left hemisphere), and the job is left up to the visual, right hemisphere. In order to access the right hemisphere, it’s necessary to give the left hemisphere a job it will reject. Copying the drawing upside down does just that, and the copy looks remarkably like the original! 

We work for about two and a half hours on this drawing, and then we display them on the wall for critiques. I discuss the line style that students use in their drawings: bold line, a fine Ingre-type line, or a repeating line. Then I point out the subtle and slight shifts in some of the proportions and spaces and how those slight shifts change the drawings.

“The blind contour drawing also seemed odd, and I didn’t feel like I accomplished anything at first, but in the end the exercise forced me to see differently.”
Douglas Coleman, student

Toward the end of the day, students complete blind contour drawings of their hands. Blind contour drawings, favored by the great artist and teacher Kimon Nicolaides in the 1930s, is another way to access the visual, right hemisphere. For this exercise, students draw the contour of their hands without looking at the paper. By slowly following these contours, students disengage their left hemisphere, and therefore access the visual, right hemisphere.

At the very end of the day, I show an image of a picture plane, invented in the early 16th century by the consummate artist Albrecht Durer. I discuss his use of the grid to see deep space., and Chuck Close’s use of a similar device. Then the students use felt-tip markers to create drawings of their hands on a plastic picture plane. I then show these drawings to the class on an overhead projector.

Self-portrait drawings, day one and day five, by Douglas Coleman

Douglas Coleman's self-portraits
on the first day (left)
and fifth day (right) of the workshop.
“The workshop really does make you think in new ways, and it really helped my drawing.  The course makes me more self-confident because I can't deny the quality of my final drawings.  Betty Edwards really gets it right in her book, and Brian does a wonderful job of teaching her methods. Brian was the most welcoming, calm person I've ever met; he was never flustered by questions, never spoke harshly, always complimented each student’s work, always found good things in each drawing, and made everyone feel good. He was great.”
Douglas Coleman, student

The objective of this first day is to establish the tone for the rest of the workshop. The main idea of this workshop is to get the students to tap into their underutilized right hemisphere through drawing. All of the drawings that the students create during the five days follow the principle that drawing encompasses five global skills, outlined in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by my mother, Betty Edwards:
1. The perception of edges using pure or blind contour drawing.
2. The perception of space using negative space in the composition of a drawing.
3. The perception of angles and relationships using sight.
4. The perception of light and shadow utilizing light logic.
5. The perception of the whole, which comes from the previous four perceptual skills.

About the Educator

A resident of Manhattan, Brian Bomeisler received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He was the recipient of an NEA fellowship. Bomeisler’s paintings can be viewed in the collections of The Museum of Contemporary Art La Jolla, in California; The Hyde Collection, in Glens Falls, New York; and corporate and private collections around the world. Brian has taught workshops alongside his mother Betty since 1988, and since her retirement in 1998, he has been leading drawing and painting workshops worldwide based on her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. He is an instructor at the New York Academy of Art and has produced the majority of illustrations that appear alongside the text in The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. For more information on his workshops, please visit  http://www.drawright.com/.

To learn more about Brian Bomeisler's workshops and to register, please visit http://www.drawright.com/.



American Artist publishes additional, more extensive articles on workshop instruction in our new quarterly magazine Workshop. We take you to workshops all over the world, with the best painters, to learn how top artists teach their award-winning techniques. Try it today–buy an issue of American Artist now in our online store…and improve your paintings!

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3 thoughts on “Drawing Basics: Inside the Atelier: Learning How to Draw on the Right Side of the Brain

  1. Hello,

    I would like information on the Workshops for Drawing/painting/pastel painting/watercolors, etc. from the Right side of the Brain” on the East Coast – especially Florida, if any. Thanks.

    Sheilah Spencer

  2. I love the book , Drawing on the right side of the brain. but would like to take classes I live in the suburbs of Chicgo Illinois, please, please tell me you will do a class real soon in Illinos. Thank you for a great book and what a talent. God keep blessing you and yours. Tina

  3. I am interested in getting the issue of American Artist Drawing that includes Gail Braccidiferro’s article titled Learning from Once-Lost Bridgman Drawings” – I believe it is from January 2006. Any ideas? Thanks.