Don’t pay any attention to the critics. Don’t even ignore them

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Construct a viewfinder as follows:

1. Take a sheet of paper or use thin cardboard of the same size as the paper you use for drawing. The viewfinder must be the same format, that is, the same proportional shape, as the paper you are using to draw on.

2. Draw diagonal lines from opposite corners, crossing in the center. In the center of the paper, draw a small rectangle by connecting horizontal and vertical lines at points on the diagonals. The rectangle should be about 1 x 1 1/4″. (See Figure 2-1.) Constructed this way, the inner rectangle has the same proportion of length to width as the outer edges of the paper.

3. Next, cut the small rectangle out of the center with scissors. Hold the paper up and compare the shape of the small opening with the shape of the whole format. You can see that the two shapes are the same, and only the size is different. This perceptual aid is called a viewfinder. It will help you to perceive negative spaces by establishing an edge to the space around forms.

Fig. 2-1.


The Drawing Exercises One Step at a Time

Source: The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

Over the years of teaching, I have experimented with various progressions, sequences, and combnations of exercises. The sequence set out in this book has proved to be the most effective in terms of student progress. We’ll take the first step, the all-important preinstruction drawings, in this chapter.

When you begin the drawing exercises in Chapter Four, you’ll have some background in the underlying theory, how the exercises have been set up, and why they work. The sequence is designed to enhance success at every step of the way and to provide access to a new mode of information processing with as little upset to the old mode as possible. Therefore, I ask you to read the chapters in the order presented and to do the exercises as they appear.

I have limited the recommended exercises to a minimum number, but if time permits, do more drawings than are suggested: Seek your own subjects and devise your own exercises. The more practice you provide for yourself, the faster you will progress. To this end, in addition to the exercises that appear in the text, supplementary exercises often appear in the margin. Doing these exercises will reinforce both your skills and your confidence.

For most of the exercises, I recommend that you read through all of the directions before you start drawing and, where directed, view the examples of students’ drawings before beginning. Keep all of your drawings together in a folder or large envelope, so that by the time you’ve come to the end of the book you can review your own progress.

Definitions of terms

A glossary of terms appears at the end of the book. Certain terms are defined fairly extensively in the text, and the glossary contains other terms not so extensively defined. Words that are commonly used in everyday language, such as “value” and “composition,” have very specific, and often different, meanings in art terminology. I suggest that you glance through the glossary before starting to read the chapters.

Drawing materials

The materials list for the first two editions was very simple: some inexpensive bond typing paper or a pad of inexpensive drawing paper, a pencil, and an eraser. I mentioned that a #4B drawing pencil is pleasant to use, as the lead is smooth and makes a clear, dark line, but an ordinary number 2 writing pencil is nearly as good. For this edition, you still need these basic materials, but I wish to suggest a few additional aids that will help you learn to draw quickly.

  • You will need a piece of clear plastic, about 8″ x 10″ and about 1/16″ thick. A piece of glass is fine, but the edges must be taped. Use a permanent marker to draw two crosshairs on the plastic, a horizontal line and a vertical line crossing at the center of the plane. (See the sketch in the margin.)
  • Also, you will need two “viewfinders,” made of black cardboard about 8″ x 10″. From one, cut a rectangular opening of 4 1/4″ x 5 1/4″ and from the other, cut out a larger opening of 6″ x 7 5/8″. See Figure 2-1.
  • A non-permanent black felt-tip marker
  • Two clips to fasten your viewfinders to the plastic picture plane
  • A “graphite stick”, #4B, available at most art supply stores
  •  Some masking tape
  • A pencil sharpener—a small, hand-held sharpener is fine
  • An eraser, such a “Pink Pearl” or a white plastic eraser

Gathering these materials requires a bit of effort, but they will truly help you to learn rapidly. You can buy them at any art materials or crafts store. My staff of teachers and I no longer attempt to teach our students without using viewfinders and the plastic picture plane, and they will help you just as much. Because these items are so essential to students’ understanding of the basic nature of drawing, for years now we have put together—by hand!—portfolios containing the special learning tools that we have developed for our five-day intensive workshops. The portfolios also contained all of the necessary drawing materials and a lightweight drawing board. Now I have made our Portfolio available for purchase. It includes as well a two-hour instructional video of the lessons in this book.

If you are interested in purchasing a Portfolio you can contact my website at But the few items listed above will be sufficient if you would rather put together your own set of materials.

Pre-instruction drawings, a valuable record of your art skills

Now, let’s get started. First, you need to make a record of your present drawing skills. This is important! You don’t want to miss the pleasure of having a real memento of your starting point to compare with your later drawings. I’m fully aware how difficult this is, but just do it! As the great Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh wrote (in a letter to his brother, Theo):

Just dash something down if you see a blank canvas staring at you with a certain imbecility. You do not know how paralyzing it is, that staring of a blank canvas which says to a painter, ‘You don’t know anything‘”

Soon, you will “know something,” I promise. Just gear yourself up and do these drawings. Later, you’ll be very happy that you did. The drawings have proved to be invaluable in aiding students to see and recognize their own progress. A kind of amnesia seems to set in as drawing skills improve. Students forget what their drawing was like before instruction. Moreover the degree of criticism keeps pace with progress. Even after considerable improvement, students are sometimes critical of their latest drawing because it’s “not as good as da Vinci’s.” The before drawings provide a realistic gauge of progress. After you do the drawings, put them away and we will look at them again later on in the light of your newly acquired skills.

What you ‘ll need

  • Paper to draw on—plain white bond paper is fine
  • Your #2 writing pencil
  • Your pencil sharpener
  • Your masking tape
  • A small mirror, about 5″ x 7″, that could be attached to a wall, or any available wall or door mirror Something to use as a drawing board—a breadboard or a sturdy piece of cardboard, about 15″ x 18″
  • An hour to an hour and a quarter of uninterrupted time

What you ll do

You will do three drawings. This usually takes our students about an hour or so, but feel free to take as long as you wish for each of them. I will first list the drawing titles. Instruction for each drawing follows.

  • “Self-Portrait”
  • “A Person, Drawn from Memory”
  • “My Hand”

Pre-instruction drawing #1: Your “Self-Portrait”

  • Tape a stack of two or three sheets of paper to your drawing board or work in your pad of paper. (Stacking the sheets provides a “padded” surface to draw on—much better than the rather hard surface of the drawing board.)
  • Sit at arm’s length (about 2 to 2 1/2 feet) from a mirror. Lean your board up against the wall, resting the bottom of the board on your lap.
  • Look at the reflection of your head and face in the mirror and draw your “Self-Portrait.”
  • When you have finished, title, date, and sign the drawing in the lower right-hand or lower left-hand corner.

Pre-instruction drawing #2: A person, drawn from memory

  • Call up in your mind’s eye an image of a person—perhaps someone from the past or a person you know now. Or you may recall a drawing you did in the past or a photograph of a person well known to you.
  • To the best of your ability, make a drawing of that person. You may draw just the head, a half-figure, or the whole figure.
  • When you have finished, title, sign, and date your drawing.

Pre-instruction drawing #3: Your hand

  • Seat yourself at a table to draw.
  • If you are right-handed, draw your left hand in whatever position you choose. If you are left-handed, draw your right hand.
  • Title, date and sign your drawing.

When you have finished the pre-instruction drawings

Be sure that you have titled, signed, and dated each of the three drawings. Some of my students have enjoyed writing a few comments on the back of each drawing, noting what is pleasing and what is perhaps displeasing, what seemed easy and what seemed difficult in the process of drawing. You’ll find these comments interesting to read later on.

Spread the three drawings on a table and look at them closely. If I were there with you, I would be looking for small areas in the drawings that show you were observing carefully—perhaps the way a collar turns or a beautifully observed curve of an eyebrow. Once I encounter such signs of careful seeing, I know the person will learn to draw well. You, on the other hand, may find nothing admirable and perhaps dismiss the drawings as “childish” and “amateurish.” Please remember that these drawings are made before instruction. Would you expect yourself to solve problems in algebra with out any instruction? On the other hand, you may be surprised and pleased with parts of your drawings, perhaps especially the drawing of your own hand.

The reason for doing the memory drawing

I’m sure that drawing a person from memory was very difficult for you, and rightfully so. Even a trained artist would find it difficult to draw a person from memory. Visual information from the real world is rich, complicated, and unique to each thing we see. Visual memory is necessarily simplified, generalized, and abbreviated—frustratingly so for artists, who often have only a limited repertoire of memorized images. “Then why do it?” you may well ask.

The reason is simply this: Drawing a person from memory brings forth a memorized set of symbols, practiced over and over during childhood. While doing the drawing from memory, can you recall that your hand seemed to have a mind of its own? You knew that you weren’t making the image you wanted to, but you couldn’t keep your hand from making those simplified shapes— perhaps the nose shape, for example. This is the so-called “symbol system” of children’s drawing, memorized by countless repetitions during early childhood. You’ll learn more about this in Chapter Five.

Now, compare your Self-Portrait with your memory drawing. Do you see the symbols repeated in both drawings—that is, are the eyes (or the nose or mouth) similar in shape, or even identical? If so, this indicates that your symbol system was controlling your hand even when you were observing the actual shapes in the mirror.

The symbol system of childhood

This “tyranny” of the symbol system explains in large part why people untrained in drawing continue to produce “childish” drawings right into adulthood and even old age. What you will learn from me is how to set your symbol system aside and accurately draw what you see. This training in perceptual skills is the rockbottom “ABC” of drawing, necessarily—or at least ideally— learned before progressing to imaginative drawing, painting, and sculpture.

With this information about the symbol system in mind, you may want to add a few more notes on the back of your drawings. Then, put all three drawings away for safekeeping. Do not look at them again until after you have completed my course and have learned to see and draw.




The drawings on this page and the following page show Before-and-After drawings of an entire five-day class, held in Seattle, August 4,1997, to August 8,1997.


“The art of archery is not an athletic ability mastered more or less through primarily physical practice, but rather a skill with its origin in mental exercise and with its object consisting in mentally hitting the mark.

“Therefore, the archer is basically aiming for himself. Through this, perhaps, he will succeed in hitting the target—his essential self.”

— Herrigel

Student showing: A preview of before-and-after drawings

Now I would like to show you some drawings done by my students. The drawings show typical changes in students’ drawing ability from the first lesson (before instruction) to the last lesson. Most of these students attended five-day workshops, eight hours a day for the five days. Both the Pre-instruction and Post-instruction drawings are self-portraits, drawn by students observing their own images in mirrors. As you can see, the Before-and-After drawings in the student examples demonstrate that the students have transformed their ways of seeing and drawing. The changes are significant enough that it almost seems as though two different persons have done the drawings.

Learning to perceive is the basic skill that the students acquired. The change you see in their ability to draw possibly reflects an equally significant change in their ability to see. Regard the drawings from that standpoint: as a visible record of the students’ improvement in perceptual skills.

Looking at the “Before” drawings, you will see that students came to the five-day class with different levels of existing drawing skills and backgrounds in art. The “After” drawings, done five days later, however, show a remarkably consistent high level of skills. This overall success rate, I believe, demonstrates our goal with every group: that every student will gain high-level drawing skills regardless of their existing (or non-existing) skill level.



Tony Schwartz


Cynthia M. Skewes


Yvonne Olive


Susan W. Dryfoos


Frank Fernandez


Angie Hinckel


John Davis


Alan O’Connell




Sam Ferguson


Lori Bishop



Chris Ferguson


Virginia Davis


Gay Stroble


Carla Di Pietro


Darci Park

“The art of archery is not an athletic ability mastered more or less through primarily physical practice, but rather a skill with its origin in mental exercise and with its object consisting in mentally hitting the mark.

“Therefore, the archer is basically aiming for himself. Through this, perhaps, he will succeed in hitting the target—his essential self.”

— Herrigel

Torii Kiyotada (active 1723-1750), Actor Dancing, and Torii Kiyonobu I (1664—1729), Woman Dancer (c. 1708). Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1949.
Line expresses two different kinds of dances in the two Japanese prints. Try to visualize each dance. Can you hear the music in your imagination? Try to see how the character of the line controls your response to the drawing.

Rembrandt drew this tiny landscape with a rapid calligraphic line. Through it, we sense Rembrandt’s visual and emotional response to the deeply silent winter scene. We see, therefore, not only the landscape; we see through the landscape to Rembrandt himself.







Artists are known by their unique line qualities, and experts in drawing often base their authentication of drawings on these known line qualities. Styles of line have actually been put into named categories. There are quite a few: the “bold line;” the “broken line” (sometimes called “the line that repeats itself”); the “pure line”— thin and precise, sometimes called “the Ingres line” after the 19th century French artist Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres; the “lost-and-found line,” which starts out dark, fades away, then becomes dark again. See samples in figure.

Beginning students most often admire drawings done in a rapid, self-confident style—the “bold” line that is rather like Picasso’s, in fact. But an important point to remember is that every style of line is valued, one not more than another.

Heather by instructor Brian Bomeisler.

Heather by the author.

Expressing yourself in drawing: The nonverbal language of art

The purpose of this book is to teach you basic skills in seeing and drawing. The purpose of this book is not to teach you to express yourself, but instead to provide you with the skills that will release you from stereotypic expression. This release in turn will open the way for you to express your individuality—your essential uniqueness—in your own way, using your own particular drawing style.

If, for a moment, we could regard your handwriting as a form of expressive drawing, we could say that you are already expressing yourself with a fundamental element of art: line.

On a sheet of paper, right in the middle of the sheet, write your own name the way you usually sign your name. Next, regard your signature from the following point of view: you are looking at a drawing which is your original creation—shaped, it is true, by the cultural influences of your life, but aren’t the creations of every artist shaped by such influences?

Every time you write your name, you have expressed yourself through the use of line. Your signature, “drawn” many times over, is expressive of you, just as Picasso’s line is expressive of him. The line can be “read” because, in writing your name, you have used the nonverbal language of art. Let’s try reading a line. There are signatures in the margin. All are the same name: Luther Gibson. Tell me, what is the first Luther Gibson like?

You would probably agree that Luther Gibson is more likely to be extroverted than introverted, more likely to wear bright colors than subtle ones, and, at least superficially, likely to be outgoing, talkative, even dramatic. Of course, these assumptions may or may not be correct, but the point is that this is how most people would read the nonverbal expression of the signature, because that’s what Luther Gibson is (nonverbally) saying.

Let’s look at the second Luther Gibson in the margin.

Now, look at the third signature. How would you describe him?

And another, the fourth signature.

You were seeing and responding to the felt, individual qualities of each “drawn” line or set of lines. You responded to the felt speed of the line, the size and spacing of the marks, the muscle tension or lack of tension. All of that is precisely communicated by the line, the directional pattern or lack of pattern—in other words, by the whole signatures and all of their parts at once. A person’s signature is an individual expression so unique to the writer that it is identified legally as being “owned” by that single person and none other.

Your signature, however, does more than identify you. It also expresses you and your individuality, your creativity. Your signature is true to yourself. In this sense, you already speak the nonverbal language of art: You are using the basic element of drawing, line, in an expressive way, unique to yourself.

In the chapters to follow, therefore, we won’t dwell on what you can do already. Instead, the aim is to teach you how to see so that you can use your expressive, individual line to draw your perceptions.

Drawing as a mirror and metaphor for the artist

The object of drawing is not only to show what you are trying to portray, but also to show you. To illustrate how much personal style is embedded in drawings, I wish to show you two drawings in the margin, done at the same time by two different people — myself and artist/teacher Brian Bomeisler. We sat on either side of our model, Heather Allan. We were demonstrating how to draw a profile portrait for a group of students, the same profile portrait you will learn to do in Chapter Nine. The materials we used were identical, and we both drew for the same length of time—30 to 40 minutes. A viewer immediately sees that the model is the same—that is, both drawings achieve a likeness of Heather. But Brian’s portrayal expresses his response to Heather in his more “painterly” style (meaning emphasis on shapes), and my portrayal expresses my response in my more “linear” style (emphasis on line). By looking at my portrait of Heather, the viewer catches sight of me, and Brian’s drawing provides an insight into him. Thus, paradoxically, the more clearly you can perceive and draw what you see in the external world, the more clearly the viewer can see you, and the more you can know about yourself. Drawing becomes a metaphor for the artist.

Because the exercises in this book focus on expanding your perceptual powers, not on techniques of drawing, your individual style—your unique and valuable manner of drawing—will emerge intact. This is true even though the exercises concentrate on realistic drawings, which tend to “look alike” in a large sense. (This probably is true only for this century, because we are used to seeing radically different forms of art, both stylistically and culturally.) But a closer look at realistic art reveals subtle differences in line style, emphasis, and intent. In this age of massive self-expression in the arts, this more subtle communication often goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

As your skills in seeing increase, your ability to draw what you see will increase, and you will observe your style forming. Guard it, nurture it, and cherish it, for your style expresses you. As with the Zen master-archer, the target is yourself.





Fig. 2-2. Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669), Winter Landscape (c. 1649). Courtesy of The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University.


A “bold” line


A “broken” line


A “pure” line


A “lost-and-found” line





praxis | 2. Right Side The Drawing Exercises, One Step at a Time