Upsidedown Drawing – Get Better at Drawing now!

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Would you like to improve your art-making?

Upsidedown drawing is a particular exercise that a person can use to improve their observation skills. In other words, if you want to improve in your drawing ability, you need to practice observing your subject matter with fresh eyes. It is a great exercise taken from the famous book by Betty Edwards, Drawing on the right side of the brain. This is a great read and provides lots of tools and techniques to improve our drawing and observational skills.

We have phenomenal brains. When we see an object for the first time our brains store information about the object and eventually, we no longer fully see the object as it is in reality. We see our ‘stored’ understanding of the object. Think about how your friend got a haircut… and you didn’t notice. Or if I ask you what your boss was wearing today?

Your brain causes you to filter out information that it sees as irrelevant. As a result, when we draw, we often draw only what our brains remember. This is called ‘schema’. As an artist, we must break through this schema and spend time actually seeing the subject matter and analyzing it.

There are several ways to do this, and I have included some of the best drawing exercises for you to test out and improve your observational skills.

Upside down drawing not only helps us see our subject matter in a new way but also helps us warm up for drawing.

Why should you warm up for drawing?

It is important to put pencil to paper and make marks and play before you start drawing. This creates new neural pathways in the brain and reinforces old ones, thus giving you smoother drawing ability when you begin your art work. As they say, practice makes perfect.

Upsidedown drawing
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Igor Stravinsky. Paris, 1920

Best drawing exercises to try out!

Upsidedown Drawing

This exercise is essentially where you choose a subject matter and you turn it upside down. This causes your brain to interpret the subject matter in a new way. When I am painting a portrait, I often turn my portrait and my reference photo upside down in order to assess what I may have left out or done inaccurately. When my reference photo is upside down, I no longer see the person I am painting, but rather a collection of shapes and shadows. This gives me some psychological distance from the subject matter and really helps me to achieve greater accuracy in my painting.

So what are the basic steps to Upsidedown drawing?

  1. Start by analyzing your subject matter and looking at the shapes and the lines.
  2. Start drawing the outlines of the shapes, and start filling in your shadow areas and your darker tones.
  3. Then continue to fill in your mid-tones and leave your highlights white. 
  4. You can also turn your subject matter and your drawing right side up in order to reassess the accuracy of shape and line.

Here are some other drawing exercises you can use to improve your observational skills and your drawing:

  • Drawing with your eyes closed
  • Draw in a continuous line, without lifting your pen
  • Draw with your non-dominant hand
  • Drawing your subject matter from a reflection in a mirror
  • Draw with contour lines


Drawing is a great skill to have. In fact, there are so many benefits to drawing whether you are drawing in pencil, pen, pastel, or any medium. There is a lot of scientific evidence to suggest that drawing can be beneficial in managing anxiety and stress.

Overall, drawing is a lot of fun and in order to get better, you must practice seeing your subject matter as though you have never seen it before. Upsidedown drawing is one of the best exercises in breaking through the cognitive limits in observation.

If you found this helpful, perhaps you would like to read more info on improving your drawing…

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Upside down drawing! A person drawing upside down.


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