A Drawing Activity to Build Technical Skills and Creativity

I’ll never forget when I was introduced to the awesome Betty Edwards and her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the BrainThe book is filled with so many ideas I wanted to use in the classroom. However, I had extremely limited time with my students.

My solution was to figure out how to take the learning activities and turn them into complete lessons students could be proud of. My goal was to push my students to be as creative as possible.

One of my favorite activities in the book is a left brain/right brain activity. Although the left brain/right brain theory has somewhat fallen out of favor since the book was published, the exercise is still worthwhile, as it helps students understand the importance of drawing symmetrically!

face and vase art

The Original Activity

If you’re not familiar, this activity is based on the famous vase/face optical illusion. Students start with a piece of paper that has half of the illusion. The challenge is to draw the other half as accurately as possible. You can see a detailed explanation of the activity on Betty Edward’s website.

3 Steps to Take this Activity to the Next Level

While this activity is great for building skills, there is a lack of creativity involved. I wanted to find a way to use this as a starting point for something more complete. Here’s what I came up with.

1. Start with the Original

To start the lesson, use the worksheets found in the book. Have students practice drawing the vase. Keeping with Edward’s directions, students will need different templates depending on if they are left-handed or right-handed.

If you don’t have access to the original book, check your school or local libraries to see if you can nab a copy. Or, you can also draw and copy templates for your students to use.

As the students work, discuss what contour lines and shapes they see. In addition, you’ll want to talk about how drawing something symmetrically requires intense concentration.

Many of your students may find this step challenging. Remind them this exercise is good practice to help them see the value of slowing down and measuring.

face and vase art

2. Turn the Vase into Something Creative

Once the drawings of their vases are complete and they are satisfied with their results, give your students a few days to turn their drawings into something creative! I find two class periods is just about perfect.

Here is where you want your students’ creativity and style to shine. I encourage you to open up the lesson to any media and themes your students would like to explore. The results will amaze you!

This is the part of the lesson where students will begin to comprehend the importance of merging their technical skills with their creative skills to take their art to the next level.

face and vase art

3. Mat and Title the Piece

These pieces look beautiful when displayed all together in the hallway. I like to have my students mount their work onto a piece of mat board and give it a title. Besides the pride your students feel, the best part of the exhibit is the discussion it creates. Your students and viewers will be intrigued and delighted by the vast range of imagery created with this simple lesson.

This is a relatively short lesson, but it can be critical in setting your students up for success. They will learn technical skills and how to push their creativity. After this lesson, many students see the value in these types of activities. If students are interested, you might suggest they purchase the book or direct them to Betty Edward’s website!

Have you used Betty Edward’s book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, with your students?

How do you merge technical and creative learning with your students?

Debi West

Debi West, Ed.S. and NBCT, is a retired art teacher with 25 years of experience. She loves sharing with others, and her motto is, “Together We ART Better!”

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  • Shuruti Singh

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  • Denise Romano Tanaka

    great article! I love the incorporation of media and Right Side of the Brain thinking! Betty Edwards taught at Cal State Long Beach, where I attended…and she used to babysit a family friend….such a small world! I still use her techniques here and there, and we do the upside down drawings on occasion.

    • Debi West

      Thanks for sharing! I really love her book and have taken so many of her ideas and turned them into full on lessons!

  • Anna Lutz

    This is a cool lesson. What grade did you do this with?