What I learned from “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.”

Yesterday I finished my five-day intensive Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain course. Zoikes, what an astonishing process.

Here is my pre-instruction portrait.

This self-portrait is so astoundingly bad that when we put up our pre-instruction and post-instruction portraits, people in the class jokingly asked if I’d really been trying, or if I was just aiming to have the most dramatic improvement. The crazy thing is that I was trying as hard as I could to do a good job.

Here is my post-instruction self-portrait. (Unfortunately, I can’t get rid of the glare, so it’s a bit hard to see.)



It doesn’t really look like me, but it looks like a real drawing of a person. My instructor Brian Bomeisler gave me a huge amount of help, and without that my drawings would have been far different. But nevertheless – I still can’t quite believe I did these.



What a thrill!

Apart from the drawing, the class boosted my happiness in several ways: it put me in touch with new people and ideas; it gave me an adventure outside of my usual routine; by taking me out of my routine, it heightened my appreciation for my usual routine; it gave me the sense of “growth” so important to happiness; it gave me a sense of freedom to realize that I could decide to do something like this and carry it through.

Also – and I didn’t expect this – the class helped me to recognize what I’m actually interested in learning. Before this class, I thought of “art” as a vast subject in which I had an undeveloped but real interest. I wanted to learn something, but I didn’t know quite what.

Now I see more clearly what I’d like to learn.

I’d like to learn how to sketch. I like the idea of setting up to do a full drawing, but I know that I won’t. There are so many things I want to do with my available time; I know I won’t do this kind of drawing. My initial reaction was to deny this truth, try to convince myself that I’d keep up with my new skills, then I thought – nope. I’m not going to make myself feel guilty about this.

Instead, I’d like to learn how to make quick sketches. And as it happens, the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain program offers a one-day sketching course, so I’ll sign up for that this summer.

Also – and this makes perfect sense when I consider that I devoted an entire month of the Happiness Project to “Focus on books” – I realized that I really want to learn about graphic design. Page lay-out, fonts, cover design, the visual presentation of information…these things fascinate me.

That’s why I was ecstatic to discover the incomparable work of Edward Tufte. That’s why I bought Chip Kidd’s fantastic Book One. That’s why I’m telling everyone about one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (and why I’m reading his Making Comics, even though I don’t even like comics).

I’ve always been fascinated by how readers’ understanding of information can be shaped by presentation. In Power Money Fame Sex: A User’s Guide, I used tip lists, boxes, font changes, boxed quotations, photographs, all sorts of elements to make my information memorable.

In the forty chapters of Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill and Forty Ways to Look at JFK, I used straight narrative, and also the Q-and-A form, a timeline, a map, photographs, arguing both sides of questions, quizzes, and other methods to make my arguments in succinct and provocative ways. This sound tiresomely experimental, but actually, I think it did allow me to impart a huge amount about Churchill and Kennedy in relatively short works – and in an intriguing way.

So again I ask myself: why was it so hard to recognize my passions? Why am I only seeing this interest clearly now? Why couldn’t I see the clues in the books I loved, in the books I WROTE?

Oh, well. Now I know. I’m off to do some research on graphic design…any suggestions?

There’s an interesting new site, Insighta (oh, light dawns, I just got that pun…), that’s like a Digg with a focus on issues related to personal development. A great resource if you have a special interest in these subjects.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Beautiful, I admire people who are open try new experiences and acquire new skills. This matches up with my ‘hiearchy of happiness’ where the highest level is wisdom and part of wisdom is creativity…see it here…
    thanks for your insights..
    Truthteller site

  • For learning about graphic design, I highly recommend The Non-Designers Design Book, by Robin Williams. Subtitle: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice.

  • Wow, I am blown away by your post. And Gretchen there is soooo much out there to support your new passion. How do I know this? Well because I became a self taught graphic designer and now web designer for the same reason. I fell in love with graphic design. Now years later I do it all. It’s part of my total passion for design. But like you I did not know this was a passion until much later in my educational career. So first I have tons of links and resources to share.Just let me know what you need. Second when you delve into design programs like Freehand and or Illustrator, not to mention Photoshop I guarantee you will be amazed at the world now open to you. And what better way to express this new interest than through your blog. The icons that you use to introduce your posts can be designed by you. The look, banner and everything else can be designed by you. On Kstyle I do it all. From the banner designs which I change frequently ( yes I know I am a bit obsessed by this) to the website that I am working on now to present my glass and jewelry designs. There is a wonderful series of books out there called the Non-designer series which really helped me in the begining.http://www.amazon.com/Non-Designers-Design-Book-Robin-Williams/dp/0321193857/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b/002-6681680-2542442 The internet is also an amzing source with tons of tutorial sites where I basically learned photoshop. Then of course there are your local adult ed classes which often have quite a repetoire of design related classes.I am ao excited for you. This is such a fun passion. k

  • Mike

    Hi Gretchen,
    You might be interested in Nigel Holmes’ work. He does illustration and graphic design and some of his work is on his website: http://www.nigelholmes.com/home.htm. Highly recommended.

  • Cary

    HAHAHAHA. That’s what I have to say about your pre-instruction picture. (I probably can’t do any better.) I only laugh because it’s so “bad” compared to how amazing your post-instruction picture looks. Awesome improvement Gretchen.
    If you’re interested in sketches, check out this guy: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=EclecticAsylumArt
    Apparently he’ll have some how-to sketching videos soon.

  • Cara

    Just wanted to say that you made incredible progress! I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed the experience. Isn’t it neat how learning one new thing can open up ten more doors? Good luck on your continued self-education!

  • I LOVE Robin Williams, and should have recommended her book, can’t believe I forgot it. An outstanding resource. But now I want to go back and re-read her book, and get her other books, now that I recognize more clearly what I’m looking for. I’m a bit overwhelmed by the thought of how much information is out there, just waiting to be absorbed — exciting, but also intimidating. Redesigning my blog banner! It took me a long time to figure out how to post a photo! But I can take it slow…Now I’m off to check out some of these links.

  • james

    If you’re researching the profession, http://www.aiga.org is as good a place to start as any. Congrats on your courageous drawing experience!

  • m

    check out http://www.dannygregory.com who used drawing to get back to happiness after his wife was paralysed in an accident

  • Amy

    Hi Gretchen — you should be very proud of your drawings! I also took a drawing class a few years back and was amazed and how “learnable” the skills are. It’s not as mysterious as you might think.
    A great resource for learning about graphic design is Before and After Magazine. It’s actually an online magazine available in PDF format. http://www.bamagazine.com
    I’d been putting off subscribing to Before & After because I thought the price was a little steep, but then I had a happy accident: If you sign up for a free user account at Pantone.com (which I did when I ordered some things from them) and then click on “Tips and Tecniques” on the Pantone website, there is a whole collection of useful articles, including a ton of back issues of Before and After Magazine, available for free download.
    That discovery made me very happy! I’m not a graphic designer but I’m very interested in learning about it.

  • Flavia

    Great job! I took this class as a foundation course in my graphic design extension program. It was great to see your work.

  • just me.

    i think it looks like you.
    If you want to learn how to sketch, get a moleskine or similar small sketchbook – carry it with you everywhere, and sketch, sketch sketch.
    Also check out the art students league or go to artrenewal.org and look for approved atliers.
    also, start copying master drawings and sketches (no tracing!) its live long learning process remember what the great hokasia said about drawing 😉

  • Wow Gretchen. I’ve been a professional artists for years and taught art, which is why I’m incredibly amazed with your sketching. It takes people years to make that kind of progress. Did a light just go off?

  • Anna

    Dear Gretchen,
    I love your drawings and your enthusiasm and hope you are still sketching (highly recommend Danny Gregory’s Creative License book by the way)
    I’ve just started teaching Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain in the UK – I am doing it under license from Brian Bomeisler in NY. I am currently putting together my website and I wondered if you would mind me either putting a link to this page here or putting a screengrab of your comments as I think you say so beautifully what the benefits of the course are and I think it’s really helpful for someone thinking about doing the course to hear first hand from someone who has done. Let me know what you think – thank you for considering it and good luck with the drawing! ANNA

  • Dear Gretchen,
    I just came across your blog and love it. I’m in the process of taking a course based on Betty Edward’s “Drawing on the right side of the brain” work and am finding it amazing. I’m just starting and have done two upside down copies. Wow! Glancing at your other posts I know I’m going to be an avid reader of your work. Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Alice

    Hi Gretchen, I know this post is old but I am dying to see the photos of your DRSB drawings but the links are broken. I use this method to teach drawing and I would love to share your photos and experience to encourage the students in my next class.

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks for your interest! I can’t fix the link, but it’s in my book “The Happiness Project” if you’re curious to see it.

  • This is great! Thanks. Look forward to more. How is art/drawing played out over the years since this course? Any fun/inspiring things that boosted your happiness even more?