Left brain right brain! Brian teaching the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain© method in his studio in his New York loft.
On this page:
- bio of Brian Bomeisler, son of Betty Edwards and head teacher of the method
- the left/right brain method and the interview:
- what "talent" is about
- what students experience, the challenges and how to overcome them
- Brian recalls his mother's and his own DRSB teaching
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain© instructor Brian Bomeisler graduated from New York's Pratt Institute in 1975 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and has been an active artist ever since, working out of his Soho loft. The son of Betty Edwards, who authored the bestselling book based on left brain right brain technique, he taught together with Dr. Edwards from 1988, and illustrated later editions.
He also instructed at the New York Academy of Art for several years. On his mother's retirement in 1998, Brian assumed leadership of DRSB painting and drawing instruction worldwide.
An active artist, he was granted a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1985. Today his paintings are in private and corporate collections around the globe, as well as in museum collections: the Hyde Collection, in New York; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, in La Jolla, California.
Deborah Mends: So,
Brian, could you talk about the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
What, in your mind, is it really about? What is the left brain right brain function thing about?
Brian Bomeisler: Well, it's about turning off the verbal system. That's essentially what I'm teaching.The verbal system is what gets in the way of taking pencil to paper - it's not a motor skill problem that hinders people.You know, I once taught a quadriplegic, and he drew with a pencil in his mouth. And he did fine in the class. He needed some assistance with some of the materials, but he did just fine. He just wanted to do it, and he did it.
DM: How did that make you feel as a teacher?
BB: It was great, it was an amazing experience; at first I was hesitant about even having him come, but he did fine. He had, I think, some motor movement in his left hand. But he worked with a pencil in his mouth, essentially. So it's not a physiological problem, we have here, it's a thinking problem. And not many people who teach art talk about it that way. They think it's an innate, God-given thing, and teach it that way - you either know how to draw or you don't. But it would be like telling somebody all of a sudden they're supposed to know about trigonometry, without any lessons. Trigonometry gets learned after getting some math lessons, and art gets created after getting some drawing lessons.
DM: What about the case of a Picasso that everyone looks to as a genius artist. What do you think actually happened in his case?
BB: Well, it's hard to know. Stuff is written about him, and you know, you can read plenty of Picasso biographies. It’s true his father was a painter, and Picasso had his father’s support. And usually in the case of a prodigy artist, there's somebody in the household who does some kind of artwork. Also, in his mother's case, she was great at floral decorations. So for prodigies, they don’t even necessarily grow up with art, but there is almost always some visual task going on where they grew up. And then they watch that stuff, they become sensitive to it, and then they just start doing it. Also, Picasso sketched all the time, carrying a sketchbook from the time he was a little kid, from age 7 or 8, and he did that until the day he died. So he was just in it, from birth to death.
DM: But many people still believe that this ability is a God-given talent.
BB: Yes, that’s true. The God-given part is this: it’s the look, the touch of the pencil on the paper. That's what's innate in people. It's not so much about the skill of drawing.Everybody has a different sensibility or style that comes from them, not anything that I'm teaching.And you can't teach that stuff, you just have to embrace it when it comes out in your students.You can't tell somebody, “hold the pencil differently” or “you're not holding the pencil correctly, this is the way you do it” or “do it like me.” Nobody in my classes draws like me…and I don't draw like my mother. She and I have completely different styles.
DM: Is there anything you could say typifies students that come to you for the left brain right brain drawing method you teach?
BB: There’s no typical! I think the only “typical'” thing is that people come to class for different reasons. People come to it for problem solving for business, for example, people desiring to do whiteboard sketches, you know, business things. Left brain right brain thinking is talked a lot about there. I've been getting a lot of computer programmers lately, to see the software they're designing in a more holistic way, going left brain right brain. There's no “typical student.”
DM: But if you were to try and find some element that perhaps would be in common with all of your students, what do you think that would be?
BB: Just a desire to draw. Most people have always dreamt of doing this.
DM: It's challenging.
BB: Yes. And it's challenging because you're facing yourself. And the most remarkable thing about this class is that you get an insight into your own thinking process. And that manifests itself into all other areas of your life. The stuff you're coming up against in learning to draw are things that you come up against in other areas.
DM: Well, I think we can agree that learning to do this is actually about psychology.
BB: Yes, exactly, and I'm not trained in psychology! I pronounce the word “psychology” very quietly in my classes, because I don't have any expertise, but it is about psychology. It’s a psychological game, it's how you're talking to yourself. If you have a voice in your head saying, “I've never been good at this and I'm never going to be good at it,” well, then you're never going be good at it. If you have another voice saying “well my mother was great at it, but I've always not been good at it” then you're not going to be good at it. You have to control those internal voices. And that's where the psychology part comes in, after getting past the left brain right brain stuff. It's profound, and it's about much more than just making a picture. It's about these insights, and I think everybody has a different take on it, a different insight.That's the wonderful thing.
DM: What do you think is the single biggest challenge a student faces when they're trying to learn this, at least in your experience in the left brain right brain way of learning drawing?
BB: Overcoming themselves. Overcoming those internal, generally negative, voices. That's the biggest challenge. It’s not, as I say, a class about drawing. It's a class about seeing. I'm teaching people how to see differently. And with these fundamental exercises to understand left brain right brain function and move beyond, such as when students learn about negative space, well, they change how people see the world, in a fairly fundamental way. It opens up many more possibilities in terms of the visual world. You see people walking around in New York looking down at the street, lost in an internal dialogue about what is happening in their life, in their business. But around them is this amazing stuff, this intense, vibrant visual world. And when you get into dialogue with that, it's amazing, rich, profoundly interesting and ultimately, very satisfying. But you have to have some kind of training to “see” it. So what I'm showing people in my class is how to see, through this skill based on the left brain right brain function.
DM: I'd like to go a little further with what you were just talking about, how it changes how we see the world. Does that mean that learning this skill also changes how we experience it, how we live it?
BB: Well, students say, after a few days of learning, things like “now I really see” or “I see the light reflected on objects” or “I see negative spaces all around me”…and before, all that was outside of their ordinary lives, whereas you and I, as people who know how to draw, we see it like that all the time, because we seek to have and maintain that vision. But at the same time, there's no kind of halfway there, it's either you get it and it changes you - or you don't. And you know, I think unfortunately some people see this as a one-off experience. They take my class in left brain right brain-based technique and check it off their bucket list, saying “well I've learned to draw now, and I can go back to my regular life”, and they stop looking at the world in this wonderful new way. But other people…like some of my students that I was telling you about – they have even gone on to make careers out of this stuff.
DM: That was actually one of my next questions - what happens after somebody acquires this skill? Can it lead to imaginative art for example?
BB: Well, imaginative work is a skill beyond what I teach, and I for one am not very good at it. If you ask me to draw an image of my mother sitting on top of Mount Olympus I could do a relatively decent job, but I need visual information. Imaginative drawing, on the other hand, is actually about working from simple systems. If you're working from imagination, you're imaging this stuff, but it has to come from somewhere, and generally what comes out will be symbols. If I said, do a sketch of your mother, could you do that?
DM: Off the cuff? With difficulty. In fact if I were doing a realistic and recognizable image, I would probably draw one I've already drawn of her, from memory.
BB: Exactly. Exactly. And that's how it is for me too, I can see my mother in my mind, but I can't draw her without an image. If I had a picture of her I could draw her. But imaginative drawing, many people consider that this is what real art is, that it’s the real deal. But it isn't, it's just one facet of art - there's no hierarchy.
DM: What place do you think classical methods have in relation to the kind of teaching you do, based on the left brain right brain function; for example the extensive courses that I had in France, of studying perspective and studying anatomy and all of that kind of thing - how does that face off with left brain right brain?
I think that that stuff is useful. Anatomy is useful, finding where the
muscles attach, and all that stuff. But, you know, it doesn't
ultimately make the drawing. It's perceptual stuff, and can turn into
just putting symbols on the paper. You have to be careful. Let’s take perspective.
What I teach is informal perspective. It's not normal, rigorous
perspective. What I'm talking about is just so simple. And it's so much
more elegant, and so much more fun. Just to sight an angle, and if it's
off a little bit, then it's just off a little bit in the final product, and
then the drawing becomes what it was supposed to become. It's
almost as if drawings have their own life. That's calling on the differences between left brain and right brain function.
DM: And what happens when you try to teach informal perspective to kids?
BB: Well, you just can't spend four hours on a picture with a ten-year-old kid. Although I have had kids as young as nine-year-olds, in my left brain right brain-based class. I had a family that came from Hong Kong to Santa Barbara, and they were from 9 to 14. Four kids. And the 9-year-old did fine. She would finish the sketch, and then put her pad of paper down, take her picture out, hand it to me, and then go jump in the pool.
DM: She's got it right!
BB: Yeah, yeah, kids want to have fun. And they get it, there's not as much baggage, as much stuff as with adults.
DM: Have you had any failures in trying to teach someone?
BB: Well, for me a failure is somebody who leaves the class. And I've had three or four people, out of all the thousands that I've taught, who just felt it was just beyond their capability. The first guy, he was an art historian. We did an exercise with an upside-down drawing by Picasso and he didn't come back the next day. So I called him up and said “Frank, are you coming back?” and he said “No, I realized I couldn't draw as well as Picasso.” And I said “Yeah, you and every other person on the planet.” But he didn’t come back.
DM: What else do you think can make it hard for someone to learn to draw?
BB: The most important thing is for the teacher not to be critical. I've learned that from my mother. She was a great teacher. I have friends in California who took classes with her when they were 7 years old, and they still remember that class. I have a friend who's an art director, works with Steven Spielberg, his main art director. He took a class with my mother and it changed the direction of his life, at a young age, at 7 or 8 years old. She was a great teacher. So, I've learned from her and one of the key things that I've learned from her is if you have even the slightest criticism of a student, that will tap into the student's right hemisphere, and the student will flee. Just run away. Because it’s confirming everything that they believe about themselves.
DM: It aligns with their limiting beliefs.
BB: Exactly. “You're not good at this.” “That drawing sucks.” “That's really bad.” “Why don't you just try it again, Billy? You're really not getting it.” A lot of art instruction is like that. It just doesn't do any good to be critical. It throws people into a right-hemisphere frenzy. The right hemisphere just gets completely baffled because it is trying, it's really trying its hardest.
As you and I both know, unfortunately many students have had bad experiences with art instruction, that forces limiting beliefs on people or kids, or reinforces them. It's much better to have positive reinforcement. And it's much easier. And you get much better results. After all, there are no mistakes. There are only misperceptions as someone learns to draw realistically.