Want to Remember Something? Draw It!

Readers and fans of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Arthur Grant and Neve Spicer, wrote this fascinating article for our blog on a subject Betty has long advocated. If you want to remember something you see or experience…draw it! Thank you, Arthur and Neve, for this great contribution to our website.

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We've known for a while that drawing exercises the brain in different ways from reading and writing. But did you know that drawing may actually make it easier for a student's brain to retain information? New psychological research suggests that this may be the case, and offers a deeper insight into how we learn and remember.

In 2018, psychologists Myra Fernandes, Jeffrey Wammes, and Melissa Meade of the University of Waterloo ran an experiment with various groups of younger and older adults to discover the relationship between drawing and memory. Fernandes, Wammes, and Meade's work showed that people who draw words from a list are twice as likely to remember them later than if they had just written them down. It doesn't matter how much artistic talent you have, or whether it's just a quick doodle. Even a few seconds of sketching seems to make something easier to remember as compared to traditional note-taking.

For more in-depth detail on the researchers' work, you can find their original article here.

So why does it work? The researchers think it's because the act of drawing creates multiple mental connections to the word or concept. First, you have to make the mental effort to translate the concept into an image, followed by the physical effort of directing your hands and eyes to create the drawing. And once the drawing is created, the part of your brain that interprets pictures gets in on the act, translating the picture back into the original concept. By involving all these different parts of your brain in the process, you increase the likelihood of the information being retained.

Another possible reason is that drawing requires a person to take an active role in acquiring and depicting the information, instead of just passively stuffing concepts into the brain or jotting down a list. An actively engaged brain is more receptive and less likely to wander or tune out.

For teachers, drawing can provide a better way to help students remember what they learn. In particular, students who do poorly with traditional classroom reading, note-taking, and memorization may benefit from being allowed to draw instead.

There are many potential class projects that can allow students to exercise their drawing skills in service of learning. Making posters, diagrams, or comic strips to illustrate course concepts is a fun alternative to essay-writing. For more complex concepts, students might even enjoy creating their own sketchbooks or comics. Giving kids drawing and other creative prompts to create class journals in place of the traditional notebook can also get them interested in different ways to record and present information. You can even include drawing prompts and challenges on assessment materials.

And don’t forget that using drawing to boost memory isn’t just a classroom thing. You can use it yourself:

  • Need to call your mom? Draw a picture of her in the morning.

  • Want to be kinder to yourself? Draw a representation of this each day.

  • Trying to improve your body posture? Draw yourself walking straight and tall.

  • Can’t forget to pick up some milk? Draw a cow or make dairy-related sketch.

Just remember, whether it’s you, your children or students, keep drawing fun. There’s no need to evaluate or criticize this sort of free-form creativity. Drawing to remember is all about quick creativity and a jot of effort.

It need only take five minutes, but this habit may just improve your memory while adding a moment's joy to your day.

Arthur is a child play theorist, creative educator, and father of three. As chief editor for Muddy Smiles, he advocates for (loads) more play and creativity within education and at home." Why Muddy Smiles? To quote them:  “Childhood – like it’s meant to be – involves three key ingredients: play, toys, mud.  That’s why we exclusively write about play, review toys, and suggest a ton of muddy activities for children.”

Response to the Podcast: From Around the World!

Leana Delle’s recent podcast—her interview with Betty Edwards—has been heard by people around the world, Girlfriend, We Need To Talk! … and the response has been wonderful! Read a few of the listeners’ comments below. And tune in, if you haven’t heard it yet!

"I admire Betty Edwards…just thanks to a person who has told the world that you do not need talent to draw!  The fact of taking something simple to the sublime, many have been initiated into the world of art by it, for sure.”  Diego Faris–Suarez

"I came to Betty’s book via my acting teacher, Lesly Kahn, who recommends it highly to help open up your creative mind – and she couldn’t have been more right!  I got this book on her recommendation, but didn’t have much hope; my sister is the drawing artist of the family.  But, lo and behold, as I followed her instructions, I saw I could do it too!  And my teacher was right, not only did it free my creative mind, but it enhanced my confidence, and . . . I don’t know, just made me feel good.  So thanks to Betty for creating this book.  I can’t wait to continue on with it as well as hopefully pass it to my daughter one day.  All the best to you and her.”  ~ Beth Fraser, Actress – California

Betty Edwards, author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

"All my respect and consideration to Dr. Betty Edwards!  It has been an honour to listen to this interview.  I cherish so much her book, it is a precious gem!  I thank her from the bottom of my heart for her work and dedication, and I am wishing along with her that more kids today experience a moment like she did in fourth grade!  We all should fight for this and spread the knowledge.  I wish so much that I was encouraged more when I was a kid to pursue this love for drawing.  I used to draw as a kid and easily reached the drawing state, I wasn’t even aware but it was so peaceful, quiet and blissful but our drawing classes, sport, music were replaced many times with math or other disciplines and even when they weren’t, I was having this thought, this idea implemented in the back of my head, that drawing is a waste of time.  I still pursued it but didn’t have the knowledge and strength to thrive, and at some point, I said to myself that I’m not even good at it so why bother anyway.  We need to change this for future generations!  We need to let everyone know that drawing is for everyone!  Anyone can draw and it’s healthy, it’s the best therapy for mind and soul!  Thanks to Betty a million times.  I feel blessed for finding her work.”  ~ Andra – Romania

 "Betty Edwards has helped unlock the fear of sketching in design for both myself and our design students – and personally sparked curiosity about how we observe and record . . . hugely indebted; thank you.”  ~ Sally Daniels – United Kingdom

"This book was recommended to me by a bookseller, and it revolutionized my technique, my way of drawing and erased my fears.  I was blown away by her method.  Many thanks to Betty Edwards.”  ~ Sab Simon – France

A Recommended Full-Palette of Pigments

Many of our readers have asked me for a full-palette list of recommended pigments.  A visit to an art supply store can confront a beginning painter with a daunting array of hundreds of tubes of paint, whether acrylic, oil, or watercolor, some with alluring names like “Horizon Blue” or “Rose Pink.”  Resist the temptation! Below is a list of basic pigments that will provide you a full range of pigments to use in mixtures or as pure hues.

If you’re just beginning to paint, you might decide to start with a very limited palette, say, with Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red Medium, Ultramarine Blue, Mars Black, and Titanium White.  Then, as you see the need for an expanded palette, you can start adding in other pigments from the list.

In terms of purchasing pigments, here are some general suggestions:

  1. Never buy sets.  At least half will be junk pigments.

  2. Be prepared to pay.  High-priced pigments are among the few things remaining where if you pay more, you really do get better quality.

  3. Stick with known manufacturers.  Windsor Newton, Liquitex, and Golden are quite reliable.  As you can imagine, there is a lot of junk paint out there.  How would one know good from awful?  The paint tubes all look the same.

  4. Buy 6 oz. tubes, except for white and black, then buy 10 or 12 oz.  Smaller tubes are very wasteful and frustrating.

  5. Do not buy pigments with the word "Hue" on the tube.  These pigments are watered-down with fillers.

  6. Always buy “Artist Quality” and avoid anything labeled “Student Quality.”

  7. Acrylics have some mixture problems, and you will no doubt later move to oils, which have fewer mixture problems.  However, for beginners, acrylics are best because they are easier to handle, being water-based. 

    Best Paint Starter List:

  • Cadmium Yellow Medium

  • Cadmium Orange

  • Cadmium Red Medium

  • Quinacridone Magenta

  • Prism Violet

  • Dioxazine Purple

  • Ultramarine Blue

  • Thalo Blue

  • Permanent Green Medium

  • Viridian Green Hue (Only "Hue" worth buying)

  • Thalo Green

  • Cerulean Blue

 Earth Colors:

  • Burnt Sienna

  • Burnt Umber

  • Yellow Ochre

Best Basic Colors:

  • Titanium White

  • Flake White

  • Mars Black

Later, you may want to add specialty pigments, but this list will allow you a full range of color.  The same list will work for oil pigments. 

Keep in mind that no pigments are ideal.  They all have their quirks and drawbacks.  For example, Permanent Green Medium and Viridian Green are very dark, straight from the tube.  However, if you add white to lighten, the color goes dull.  Then you try adding a little cadmium yellow to brighten the color, and the result is not the green you want.  So you add a little Thalo Blue, and the color starts to go dead.  You try something else, and suddenly, MUD.

Click the link below to read an interesting article about how artists’ pigments are manufactured.  The company, in this case, is a small, highly specialized, and highly regarded producer of artists’ pigments.  The process is complicated, time consuming, and remarkably precise!  Inside the Painstaking Process of Making Oil Paint

Happy painting! And Happy Holidays!

~ Betty Edwards

Thank you, readers!

One of the benefits of our website and this blog is that readers from around the world have an easy way to get in touch with me. I love hearing how they were affected by Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. When I wrote the book way back in 1978-79, I had no idea the ideas would take hold and have such reach. It is very heartwarming. Below the photo (with my son Brian and daughter Anne) is a letter from Nicole, who recently wrote to me. Thank you, Nicole! And many thanks to everyone who has read my book over these nearly 40 years and felt it enhanced their life in some small way.

~ Betty

Brian Bomeisler, Betty Edwards, and Anne Bomeisler Farrell

Brian Bomeisler, Betty Edwards, and Anne Bomeisler Farrell

 Dear Betty,

I am a 48-year-old artist with four children, and a substitute Art teacher. I see how difficult it is for children to relate at all to what they perceive, how to process their perception, how to connect, and how to relate to it from their own genuine point of view. They also do not know that their perspective is a genuine and a to-be-developed one.

I am happy to write these lines to you after I found you alive at your blessed age - according to the information my smartphone made available for me. I would like to take the opportunity to thank you. A copy of your book on how to learn to draw, based on the right hemisphere was given to me by my godmother when I was 15 or 16. The German title read: Garantiert zeichnen lernen. This book and the exercises in it helped me to survive many isolated, boring days of my childhood, and what I learned in it stayed with me and alive. I still relate to it in courses and classes, although I learned a lot of other stuff later.

In that way you influenced my life in a significant way;I still have some of the drawings I made back in 1986 and later. So, I hope you are well and receive my lines of gratitude. All the best for you and all the others who pay their tribute to the call of our time.

Resist, conserve, hope.
Nicole D.


Dear Nicole,

 Thank you so much for your lovely and very touching email message.  It’s hard to describe how much it means to me to know that my book has had a good effect on someone’s life.  You were fortunate to have a godmother who was so thoughtful and insightful to give you the book, and also fortunate that, as a teenager, you took the time and made the effort to learn the basics of drawing.  What fun that you still have some of the early drawings!

 Your mention of your brief teaching experience and children’s lack of perceptual skills reinforces my strong conviction that we must overhaul our educational system to include again teaching children how to draw.  As you infer in your message, this may be a part of “the call of our time.”  I do believe that there is hope that change will come.

With all best wishes,

Betty Edwards


Dear Betty,

Thank you for your timely response. One thing I forgot to include in my sentence about the children is their difficulty to articulate themselves - in writing, drawing, and eventually in addressing another person with grace and dignity. They are not aware of their lack of form and respect. 

I agree to what you say, Betty, about integrating drawing into children’s education to be a very good idea.  If I may share my thoughts and learning a bit here - on the paper, using pencil, and color you get a direct response of how you 'treat' it. You can see the difference between a line where the one who draws it is present, and a line that is like a symbol of a line. If you are there on the sheet with your attention, or if you are somewhere else: it is visible! Like you wrote, when one uses the symbol of an eye rather than looking at the actual eye, then the code can be decoded easily; but what was there to be seen stays invisible on the work as a  result. 

From familiarizing myself with these kind of stereotypes in drawing or playing during my courses in Intuitive Education, I got a model to observe my own social behaviour and the distinction between my idea about myself and what I actually did. One becomes able to create alternative solutions that are more agreeable. Intuitive Education (which I know and work from for more than a decade now) comes from a Waldorf School in Sweden and was taught mainly by Pär Ahlbom (singing, playing, exercising) and Merete Lövlie (painting). I am sharing my experience with you here - I hope not in too much detail.

Anyway, my best wishes to you. I'll visit with my parents tomorrow, they are 90 and 84, and they will be pleased to hear that we communicated. It is good to know that you are still on track to be interested in the future. What gives you such hope? I have hope, too.  We are not such a little number.

Yours sincerely,

Nicole D.

Our Complex and Remarkable Divided Brains

I have long admired the work of British psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist for his insights into the endless enigma of the human brain.  His book, The Master and His Emissary, a compendium of research and commentary on left-brain and right-brain, has long been a leader in the field.  

McGilchrist’s fast-moving, brilliant, animated lecture is simultaneously deeply informative and great fun to watch, as it unspools at a breakneck pace. 

I urge you to take 10 minutes to enjoy this wonderful animation: Iain McGilchrist: Our Divided Brains.  You won't regret it!

~  Betty Edwards


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Summary of the video:  The notion that the brain’s right hemisphere is responsible for emotion and its left hemisphere is responsible for reason has been debunked. But the two hemispheres are indeed distinct, albeit in much more complex ways than we once thought. Animated by the company Cognitive Media, with audio excerpted from a lecture given at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) by the British psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, "The Divided Brain" takes a deep dive into the real differences between our two brain hemispheres.