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LeftMind

Our two brain hemispheres are really different.

Whilst we need them both to be functioning in order to paint – especially in a realistic, detailed way, I’ve come to see it as vital that we make a shift to the consciousness of our right brain when we paint.

The two hemispheres differ in how they process sensory information. The right hemisphere is all about perceiving visually – in patterns, shapes and the relationships between them – including how they come together to make the whole.

It is our right mind’s ability to REALLY ‘see’ that is fundamental to both drawing and painting, or as Betty Edwards put it in Drawing on the right Side of the Brain:

By gaining access to the part of your mind that works in a style conducive to creative, intuitive thought, you will learn a fundamental skill of the visual arts: how to put down on paper what you see in front of your eyes.

Brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor lost much of her left hemisphere temporarily in 1996 when she experienced a stroke.  In her subsequent book A Stroke of Insight she describes the right mind:

By it’s design, our right mind is spontaneous, carefree, and imaginative. It allows our artistic juices to flow free without inhibition or judgement.

The right and left hemispheres of our brains are very different - Picture © Carla F. Castagno

The right and left hemispheres of our brains are very different – Picture © Carla F. Castagno

In contrast, the left hemisphere is the site of language, and is verbal and analytic. Bolte Taylor describes it as speaking to us constantly through ‘brain chatter’, defining our ‘self’ by saying ‘I am’. It also categorises information into hierarchies and places judgements on our experiences based on our likes and dislikes.

In short, it is the home of our egoic self.  And, it’s also vital for living. As Taylor writes:

Without those cells performing their job you would forget who you are and lose track of your life and your identity.

So the crucial role of the left hemisphere has meant it’s become the focus of our education system and led to it dominating our consciousness most of the time.

But we have to learn how to give our left mind a backseat when we are painting.

Making this transition is especially challenging when you are learning as an adult.

As an adult our left hemisphere is very developed and painting may be one of the only times when it isn’t dominating.

One of the left hemisphere’s jobs is to constantly compare us to everyone else.

And if we’re learning a new skill – like painting – then we are probably not as ‘good’ yet as we would like.  This can lead to some very critical brain chatter like:

I’ll never be any good

What’s the point

I should stick to what I CAN do

My paintings are so much worse than EVERYONE else’s

This is a waste of time

This brain chatter is the No. 1 enemy of the would-be painter.

And so step one in painting from your right mind, is to acknowledge, and ignore any self-critical brain chatter.

Easier said than done!

If you can catch yourself experiencing it whilst painting, just try to see it for what it is: a natural response to learning a right-brain skill from a human born and raised in a left-hemisphere dominant culture.

That left-brain chatter doesn’t have to be believed.  Try gently replying with:

‘Thanks for your input, left brain. But, I’m going to carry on working with my right brain anyway because it’ll be an interesting experience and I might just have some fun’.

Then return your attention to the painting or drawing in hand.

In posts to come I’ll explore some other very practical methods to help you access right mind, but for now here’s Jill Bolte Taylor’s now famous TED talk where she describes what it was like to lose her left hemisphere – it’s inspiring stuff!

I’d love to hear in the comments below whether you experience this ‘shift’ into right brain when you paint, and what tips you have for us to help that happen.

Happy painting!

AnnaKiss

53 Comments
  1. Melissa 4 years ago

    I couldn’t agree more Anna.
    I have just completed a 3 year degree in Garden Design and for my final year Investigative Project, I chose to look at whether designers have a natural brain dominance and how this might explain their natural strengths and weaknesses.
    I found Betty Edward’s book, Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain, enlightening and it has inspired me to paint more…which in turn has led me to join your school!

  2. Melissa 4 years ago

    I couldn’t agree more Anna.
    I have just completed a 3 year degree in Garden Design and for my final year Investigative Project, I chose to look at whether designers have a natural brain dominance and how this might explain their natural strengths and weaknesses.
    I found Betty Edward’s book, Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain, enlightening and it has inspired me to paint more…which in turn has led me to join your school!

  3. CHRISTINE EDWARDS 4 years ago

    I am deeply moved by this vidio what an amazing person so good to hear so much wisdom thank you for sharing x

  4. CHRISTINE EDWARDS 4 years ago

    I am deeply moved by this vidio what an amazing person so good to hear so much wisdom thank you for sharing x

  5. Meeta Dani 4 years ago

    Hi Anna,
    Earlier I used to paint for impressing others and was always worring if my painting goes wrong. Nowadays I just paint for myself. It has become like meditation, when i paint I dont think anything other than painting, not even about how it is looking right now.. i concentrate on what needs to be done next.

  6. Meeta Dani 4 years ago

    Hi Anna,
    Earlier I used to paint for impressing others and was always worring if my painting goes wrong. Nowadays I just paint for myself. It has become like meditation, when i paint I dont think anything other than painting, not even about how it is looking right now.. i concentrate on what needs to be done next.

  7. Anne Cremer 4 years ago

    What a powerful speaker! Was she just lucky to be able to rehabilitate herself or could it be possible we could all survive a stroke on the left side of the brain? She certainly gives one hope.

  8. Anne Cremer 4 years ago

    What a powerful speaker! Was she just lucky to be able to rehabilitate herself or could it be possible we could all survive a stroke on the left side of the brain? She certainly gives one hope.

  9. Helen 4 years ago

    I listen to beautiful, relaxing music while I paint. I lose myself in the music and the paint.
    My left brain husband is completely baffled by the process! LOL!

  10. Helen 4 years ago

    I listen to beautiful, relaxing music while I paint. I lose myself in the music and the paint.
    My left brain husband is completely baffled by the process! LOL!

  11. Carole Jurack 4 years ago

    Thanks so much for posting this, Anna. I had heard part of her story some years ago but never all of it. So interesting, so motivating. Me? I guess I switch back and forth while painting or creating art, unconsciously, but get totally into it so that hours go by and before I know it, it is time to prepare dinner or let the dog out! I enjoyed learning more about the brain and how it functions and she described it all in English instead of scientifically!

  12. Carole Jurack 4 years ago

    Thanks so much for posting this, Anna. I had heard part of her story some years ago but never all of it. So interesting, so motivating. Me? I guess I switch back and forth while painting or creating art, unconsciously, but get totally into it so that hours go by and before I know it, it is time to prepare dinner or let the dog out! I enjoyed learning more about the brain and how it functions and she described it all in English instead of scientifically!

  13. Crystal 4 years ago

    On July 29th I woke up wanting something. I allowed myself to go to HobbyLobby and purchase two tubes of paint, a stencil and a canvas. My left side of my brain said you can’t paint. But my right side in a little tiny voice said but I need to.
    In these past seven months I have created more than one hundred paintings, created a studio out of my unused dinning room.
    When I paint I am always shocked at how fast time goes by. So much so I have to set alarms to tell my brain that I no longer can be in my heaven state of mind but that I have to push myself out of this special world and into a very small space to take care of my daily life.
    This clip has allowed me to appreciate myself and this creative world that I create. I was an art major in 1969 and did not understand myself well enough to hold on to this world. Now some 43 years later am back and I am so grateful now that ms. Taylor has validated my existence. Since I have entered into my created world people have found me much more alive, caring, calmer, and considerate to others.
    Thank you for this information! WOW!

    • Anna Mason 4 years ago

      Your right brain won out in the end! Great news Crystal!

  14. Crystal 4 years ago

    On July 29th I woke up wanting something. I allowed myself to go to HobbyLobby and purchase two tubes of paint, a stencil and a canvas. My left side of my brain said you can’t paint. But my right side in a little tiny voice said but I need to.
    In these past seven months I have created more than one hundred paintings, created a studio out of my unused dinning room.
    When I paint I am always shocked at how fast time goes by. So much so I have to set alarms to tell my brain that I no longer can be in my heaven state of mind but that I have to push myself out of this special world and into a very small space to take care of my daily life.
    This clip has allowed me to appreciate myself and this creative world that I create. I was an art major in 1969 and did not understand myself well enough to hold on to this world. Now some 43 years later am back and I am so grateful now that ms. Taylor has validated my existence. Since I have entered into my created world people have found me much more alive, caring, calmer, and considerate to others.
    Thank you for this information! WOW!

    • Anna Mason 4 years ago

      Your right brain won out in the end! Great news Crystal!

  15. Carole Jurack 4 years ago

    PS Which explains why one has to watch your instructions several times before completing a part of a painting, Why it is easiest to listen, stop the narration, complete the process, and then start to listen again!

  16. Carole Jurack 4 years ago

    PS Which explains why one has to watch your instructions several times before completing a part of a painting, Why it is easiest to listen, stop the narration, complete the process, and then start to listen again!

  17. Carol 4 years ago

    Hi Anna,
    I’m a bean counter by trade but have discovered the artist in me this past year. I find that playing instrumental music designed for concentration to be the trick that keeps me focused for hours at a time.

    • Anna Mason 4 years ago

      Oooh, do you have any recommendations for that music Carol? Sounds great!

  18. Carol 4 years ago

    Hi Anna,
    I’m a bean counter by trade but have discovered the artist in me this past year. I find that playing instrumental music designed for concentration to be the trick that keeps me focused for hours at a time.

    • Anna Mason 4 years ago

      Oooh, do you have any recommendations for that music Carol? Sounds great!

  19. Kay 4 years ago

    Focusing on what I am doing is what helps the most to get into the floe – focusing and deliberately ignoring everything else. It sometimes helps to have all music station on the radio.

  20. Kay 4 years ago

    Focusing on what I am doing is what helps the most to get into the floe – focusing and deliberately ignoring everything else. It sometimes helps to have all music station on the radio.

  21. Cea 4 years ago

    Hi Anna,

    Thanks for this post! I am taking an online drawing class. I recently noticed myself comparing my posts to those of others and feeling discouraged. Your words came at the right time!

  22. Cea 4 years ago

    Hi Anna,

    Thanks for this post! I am taking an online drawing class. I recently noticed myself comparing my posts to those of others and feeling discouraged. Your words came at the right time!

  23. Kate Fletcher 4 years ago

    Thanks for that great insight into the way both my brains work. Loved it, and so amazed by how clearly she was able to describe such a confusing event. Wow!

    I learned to draw from a teacher who had used Betty Edwards Drawing on the right side of the brain.

    This style of painting needs both brains? The left side to do the accurate drawing (I struggle with this, as I find it boring) and the right side to get into the colour (which I love).
    Seems like it’s a gradual process, with different emphasis on each side at different points?

  24. Kate Fletcher 4 years ago

    Thanks for that great insight into the way both my brains work. Loved it, and so amazed by how clearly she was able to describe such a confusing event. Wow!

    I learned to draw from a teacher who had used Betty Edwards Drawing on the right side of the brain.

    This style of painting needs both brains? The left side to do the accurate drawing (I struggle with this, as I find it boring) and the right side to get into the colour (which I love).
    Seems like it’s a gradual process, with different emphasis on each side at different points?

  25. Christine Haywood 4 years ago

    I have started reading a book by Eckhart Tolle called ‘The Power of Now’. He talks about the chatter going on inside your head and suggests you treat it impartially. You can listen to it but you don’t have to agree with it. I think this helps a lot with the beautiful process of just simply enjoying painting.

    • Carole Jurack 4 years ago

      Hi, interesting that you should mention Tolle’s book. I read it several years ago and it has been more helpful that you can imagine. His book was also the basis for an Oprah telecast around that same time. Tolle was on the telecast as well. People from all over the world participated in a wonderful learning experience. He described in even greater detail how the thinking process works and how you can learn to manage it. See if you can find the series; it may still be somewhere on the web. The title is the same as the book or maybe you can find it by looking on Oprah’s old pages. Well worth the time to listen to all or part. They went through the book chapter by chapter and we had assignments regarding each chapter. Very thorough learning experience.

  26. Christine Haywood 4 years ago

    I have started reading a book by Eckhart Tolle called ‘The Power of Now’. He talks about the chatter going on inside your head and suggests you treat it impartially. You can listen to it but you don’t have to agree with it. I think this helps a lot with the beautiful process of just simply enjoying painting.

    • Carole Jurack 4 years ago

      Hi, interesting that you should mention Tolle’s book. I read it several years ago and it has been more helpful that you can imagine. His book was also the basis for an Oprah telecast around that same time. Tolle was on the telecast as well. People from all over the world participated in a wonderful learning experience. He described in even greater detail how the thinking process works and how you can learn to manage it. See if you can find the series; it may still be somewhere on the web. The title is the same as the book or maybe you can find it by looking on Oprah’s old pages. Well worth the time to listen to all or part. They went through the book chapter by chapter and we had assignments regarding each chapter. Very thorough learning experience.

  27. Laura G Dicus 4 years ago

    One thing I find useful when I can’t “get into the zone” – or fall out of it – is to repeat a short phrase or long word over and over and over again until it loses it’s meaning. I guess that falls under the category of Betty Edward’s advice of giving the left brain an activity that it rejects in order to turn it off and let the right side shine.

    • Anna Mason 4 years ago

      How interesting! Love that Laura, thanks for sharing.

    • Meeta Dani 4 years ago

      Very interesting. I will try it out myself

  28. Laura G Dicus 4 years ago

    One thing I find useful when I can’t “get into the zone” – or fall out of it – is to repeat a short phrase or long word over and over and over again until it loses it’s meaning. I guess that falls under the category of Betty Edward’s advice of giving the left brain an activity that it rejects in order to turn it off and let the right side shine.

    • Anna Mason 4 years ago

      How interesting! Love that Laura, thanks for sharing.

    • Meeta Dani 4 years ago

      Very interesting. I will try it out myself

  29. Susan Grahame 4 years ago

    Hi Anna, good choice of reading matter (Betty Edwards’book). I read it through on a plane trip from Australia to the UK in 2010 and did a lot of the exercises she set out. I was amazed at what I could achieve when I had NO voices in my head saying I had to clean the house, hang out the washing before it rained, get dinner ready, make the beds etc etc. – basic brain chatter. I also found her tips about how to use negative space really useful, so much so that my confidence levels went up and my drawing improved out of sight. If anyone intending to sketch or paint can only afford to buy one book then I highly recommend Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

    • Laura G Dicus 4 years ago

      Susan, she published a newer version in 2012. The updated information is really interesting. I’d suggest you look for it and give it another read.

  30. Susan Grahame 4 years ago

    Hi Anna, good choice of reading matter (Betty Edwards’book). I read it through on a plane trip from Australia to the UK in 2010 and did a lot of the exercises she set out. I was amazed at what I could achieve when I had NO voices in my head saying I had to clean the house, hang out the washing before it rained, get dinner ready, make the beds etc etc. – basic brain chatter. I also found her tips about how to use negative space really useful, so much so that my confidence levels went up and my drawing improved out of sight. If anyone intending to sketch or paint can only afford to buy one book then I highly recommend Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

    • Laura G Dicus 4 years ago

      Susan, she published a newer version in 2012. The updated information is really interesting. I’d suggest you look for it and give it another read.

  31. Jane Bradley 4 years ago

    Wonderful. She describes the experience one hopes to experience when meditating. When I enjoy painting most is when I prepare my space, put on some beautiful music, and devote the time to my project. My best work comes from these devoted sessions. Love it!

  32. Jane Bradley 4 years ago

    Wonderful. She describes the experience one hopes to experience when meditating. When I enjoy painting most is when I prepare my space, put on some beautiful music, and devote the time to my project. My best work comes from these devoted sessions. Love it!

  33. Carol A McLean-Carr 4 years ago

    I have been involved in and taught drawing and painting of all sorts for over 45 years and for myself and/or my students, of all ages, who have left-hemisphere “thinking blocks”, the exercise of ‘blind drawing” (described in Betty Edwards book and taught in all good art school drawing classes for decades) is an exercise that teaches us to really “see” and perceive better and to connect eye, brain and hand together to allow for better drawing. It is an exercise, ( and meditative process) that even for “old hands” is a wonderful start to any drawing and painting session, like the stretching and focus exercises athletes do prior to training or competition. Left and right hemisphere strength and balance is important for all creative output, and our right side needs to be respected and built to hold it’s own.
    The fear of critical judgment of our work is always present to some extent in most of us but learning to paint and draw for ourselves and our own satisfaction, goals and growth has to be nurtured in ourselves or we cannot grow artistically nor be fed by the very process itself.
    My own ambition is to produce one perfect image before I die – all the rest is striving, learning, growing, exploring and experimenting towards that goal. The opinion of the rest of the world is irrelevant.
    And it’s taken a long, long time to reach that point.

  34. Carol A McLean-Carr 4 years ago

    I have been involved in and taught drawing and painting of all sorts for over 45 years and for myself and/or my students, of all ages, who have left-hemisphere “thinking blocks”, the exercise of ‘blind drawing” (described in Betty Edwards book and taught in all good art school drawing classes for decades) is an exercise that teaches us to really “see” and perceive better and to connect eye, brain and hand together to allow for better drawing. It is an exercise, ( and meditative process) that even for “old hands” is a wonderful start to any drawing and painting session, like the stretching and focus exercises athletes do prior to training or competition. Left and right hemisphere strength and balance is important for all creative output, and our right side needs to be respected and built to hold it’s own.
    The fear of critical judgment of our work is always present to some extent in most of us but learning to paint and draw for ourselves and our own satisfaction, goals and growth has to be nurtured in ourselves or we cannot grow artistically nor be fed by the very process itself.
    My own ambition is to produce one perfect image before I die – all the rest is striving, learning, growing, exploring and experimenting towards that goal. The opinion of the rest of the world is irrelevant.
    And it’s taken a long, long time to reach that point.

  35. Coral Guest 4 years ago

    Hi Anna

    Its really lovely to see you champion Betty Edward’s work!

    Her first edition of Drawing With the Right Side of the Brain was published in 1979 and its now in its 14th Edition.

    This book has been instrumental in Fine Art education in British and American Art Schools since the early 1980’s, and it has influenced two generations of artists and sculptors, along with the associated elements of Cognitive and Rogerian Therapy, and it is still echoing through.

    This work is of great benefit to anyone learning to access their creative process, because it bridges the gap between technique and experimentation.

    It has been instrumental in liberating the post modern artist from their collective associaion with neurotic behavioural patterns, enabling freedom and balance to win.

  36. Coral Guest 4 years ago

    Hi Anna

    Its really lovely to see you champion Betty Edward’s work!

    Her first edition of Drawing With the Right Side of the Brain was published in 1979 and its now in its 14th Edition.

    This book has been instrumental in Fine Art education in British and American Art Schools since the early 1980’s, and it has influenced two generations of artists and sculptors, along with the associated elements of Cognitive and Rogerian Therapy, and it is still echoing through.

    This work is of great benefit to anyone learning to access their creative process, because it bridges the gap between technique and experimentation.

    It has been instrumental in liberating the post modern artist from their collective associaion with neurotic behavioural patterns, enabling freedom and balance to win.

  37. Linda Pedder 4 years ago

    I found this video exceptional. The Brain, and how it works, all explained in detail, In English, not science-speak, making it easy for the man/woman in the street to understand the processes involved.
    I was almost in tears with her, at the end, she uses soooo much emotion to explain the situation realistically.
    Along with all the discussions so far, I have come to a realisation of what I do to gain Right Brain dominance, when painting or crafting. I sing to myself, silently, a nursery rhyme.
    Often I do not get to the end before the trip to Nirvana begins. Where I recognise a pure peacefulness exists.

  38. Linda Pedder 4 years ago

    I found this video exceptional. The Brain, and how it works, all explained in detail, In English, not science-speak, making it easy for the man/woman in the street to understand the processes involved.
    I was almost in tears with her, at the end, she uses soooo much emotion to explain the situation realistically.
    Along with all the discussions so far, I have come to a realisation of what I do to gain Right Brain dominance, when painting or crafting. I sing to myself, silently, a nursery rhyme.
    Often I do not get to the end before the trip to Nirvana begins. Where I recognise a pure peacefulness exists.

  39. Vivien 2 years ago

    Wow, what an amazing video. Thanks for posting. I found your blog when looking for creative block with regards to right brain/left brain struggle. When I paint (landscapes mostly) I experience mental pain/anguish ranging from mildly irritating to excruciating, then sometimes I can’t paint for weeks, because the thought of going to my studio is too frightening. I believe this is because my right and left hemispheres have virtually opposite ideas of what the outcome of a painting should be. My left brain wants to create something simplified and stylized with pleasing colour combinations, while my right brain wants to paint more detail with fuzzier outlines and less structure. The resulting battle is bloody. I experience a similar result with creative writing.

    Best of luck with your painitngs. They’re really good.

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