New Discoveries About Nondominant-Hand Drawing

I’m a big geek about brain science and there’s no end to my fascination with left-brain/right-brain theories. And while each time I try out this nondominant-hand drawing exercise it’s different and I seem to discover something new about myself in the process, I didn’t set out today to actually do a drawing exercise of any variety. But, I was looking through The Artist Unique by Carmen Torbus and after seeing Lynne Hoppe’s contribution to the book, I got a sudden urge to find some paper and grab my big Lyra Color-Giant pencil. In Carmen’s book, Lynne encourages us to draw with our nondominant hand to silence our inner critic. I hadn’t thought of that being a reason before, so I was already learning something new! Normally when I have done this exercise, I go about it more organically and intuitively and don’t think too much about what I’m drawing—which is great—but I was ready for a different approach and I was inspired by Lynne and Carmen to try an approach that was a little more deliberate. Rather than just drawing from my head, I decided to actually try working with a couple things I’m normally too scared to pull solely from my head—a bicycle and a butterfly. I found some photo references and went to work. The third drawing was a bit of a reward for toughing it out through the first two. I did a little self-portrait—something I’ve not yet tried with my nondominant hand and for this, I did just pull from my head.

Some things I discovered for myself this time around:

  • Using your non-dominant hand to replicate something forces you to draw what you see rather than what you know. I discovered that I really paid much closer attention to the photo examples I was working off of for the bicycle and the butterfly and had to truly look at the examples and what I was drawing to make things “work.”
  • When making something symmetrical like a fir tree or a butterfly, the side opposite your non-dominant hand is trickier to do. Normally, when I draw a butterfly with my right (dominant hand), I hadn’t thought much about it, but I always create the right side first. This time, without even giving it any thought, I started with the left side, which I find fascinating. I guess this must be attributed to simple physics—it’s easier to see what you’re doing when your hand isn’t obscuring part of your work—but maybe there’s something else to it; I don’t know.
  • The actual practice of making letters is a left-brain activity! Now, I mean, I know the left brain is the side that deals with language, so I can see you saying, “Gee, Tonia, is that really news to you?” So I guess I shouldn’t be shocked, yet I was still sort of taken aback at this being proven in this way. That even though letters are just a series of lines and as artists we make lines with our right brains all the time, when we are deliberately thinking of those lines as communication, the rules change! The most challenging aspect of all three of my little drawings was definitely the writings at the bottom.

There are many more fun and explorative techniques—from a wide variety of artistic contributors—in Carmen’s book for helping you develop your own artistic voice (or creative signature as Carmen like to say). I’d encourage you to check it out because I bet there’s something in there that you haven’t tried before and even if you feel like you have a strong creative signature, chances are it hasn’t been expressed in all forms yet.


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