Sketchbook Thursday: good for your brain and happifying, besides

I’ve neglected my sketchbook over the past few weeks, and it is calling my name. I miss the physical action of drawing if I don’t do enough of it. My fingers on my right hand begin to itch. My eyes start to search for things that must be drawn. I feel a real longing to watch my pencil drag across a white page and put something there that wasn’t.

Did you know that drawing is good for your brain? And never mind if you feel like you’ve got the ability to draw well, or not. Making art is also something that can elevate your mood and actually make you happy! That is probably a good portion of why I miss it if I don’t draw regularly.

Forget the caffeine. Pick up a pencil and draw.

The cognitive scientist Lor Likova writes (2012):

“We may not be aware of the complexity of drawing, but when analyzed in detail it becomes clear that drawing is an amazing process that requires precise orchestration of multiple brain mechanisms; perceptual processing, memory, precise motor planning and motor control, spatial transformations, emotions, and other diverse higher cognitive functions, are all involved. In terms of the multiple-intelligence theory (Gardner, 1983), drawing heavily employs such categories as bodily-kinesthetic and visuo-spatial intelligence.”

When I read this, I felt less self-indulgent in my insistence since Day One of our homeschooling experience that each of my kiddos learned how to draw. We draw together every day, even if just for a few minutes. Probably someday they’ll find out that people who draw learn other things–like math and foreign languages–faster, too which is good news for us all, certainly.

As the days get shorter and grayer in our part of the world, I cling to things that make me happy. And making me smarter? Gosh, that’s okay too. 😉

My garden (a real purveyor of happiness during the growing season) is asleep and won’t be producing now for many months. But these things make me happy, instead: spending time with my family. Hot soups. Bread in the oven. Dark chocolate. 😉 Starting a new knitting project. Dreaming about my spring garden. Watching my chickens. Playing games with the kids. And drawing.

Strong coffee and chocolate for breakfast, anybody? 🙂

I’m dead serious.

Did you know this? Drawing is quite an amazing process: whether you are drawing from something you are looking at (observational), or inventing your own (conceptual), it depends on many different brain regions:

  • cerebellum (major brain region): movement
  • frontal lobe: reasoning, planning, movement, emotions, problem solving
  • parietal lobe: movement and orientation, spatial relationships, recognition, perception of stimuli, linked to a role in creativity
  • occipital lobe: vision, visual processing
  • temporal lobe: perception and memory

Never heard of conceptual vs observational drawing? It’s simple: “conceptual” is what you make up. “Observational” is when you draw from life.

Here’s a conceptual drawing (obviously) that little Mack was working on yesterday:

Used with little Mack's permission.

Used with little Mack’s permission.

And here’s an observational drawing that I have been working on. Mack’s piano teacher, Elizabeth, has a lovely African violet sitting under a lamp in her living room. When I sit listening to his lesson, I work on this drawing. Maybe I’ll finish it someday.


I drag my sketchbook with me every time I know that I’ll be sitting for a spell, like in the car.

Water towers and silos in Kansas!

Water towers and silos in Kansas!

So, it’s a fact that people who draw develop their brains but that doesn’t answer the question why it feels so good to draw. Why do we give in to this artistic impulse? Could there be a neural chemical reward resulting from this activity? Is it biologically motivated? Have you ever wondered about why it feels so good to draw? Does it feel good to draw, for you?

Here’s the answer: when you draw, dopamine is released. Dopamine, of course, is the feel-good chemical that is released in your brain. Dopamine is involved in the brain’s reward system, which also is the system associated with increasing creativity and pleasure. It’s all pretty fascinating and complex, but you can read more about it here.

“Dopamine is produced in the brainstem . . . but the dopamine is released in the cortex, the part (of the brain) that we use to create ideas, make decisions, and plan our actions. Thus, we feel rewarded when we create new objects or actions. And since creativity is based on the decisions made by the creator, the reward system kicks in when we are in control and inventing things that we have thought of ourselves. Freedom and ownership are part and parcel of the neurochemistry of the arts,” –James Zull, Professor of Biology, Biochemistry, and Cognitive Science, Case Western Reserve University

Want to draw but feeling a bit lost about the process? My original Sketchbook Thursday post contained links to my very favorite how-to-draw books, the ones that my kiddos use every day during school, and the sketchbook that I use and love. If you want more inspiration, check out these excellent books. I recommend them for deeper understanding about the drawing process, as well as thorough instructions on drawing.

There’s Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson:

This is a great book!

and then there’s the classic, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards.

I love this book.

I just discovered this, too! A Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain workbook!

Ooh, just for fun, I may have to add this to my library!

Thanks for joining me again, Gentle Reader. Now—go draw!


By the way . . guess what? I’m running two giveaways right now:

A vintage bottle with a spout! from my New Shop-which-is-coming-soon!

and a Miniature Plastic Deer Kit from the Miniature Plastic Deer Kit folks.

9 thoughts on “Sketchbook Thursday: good for your brain and happifying, besides

  1. Chef William

    Great information about where the brain goes when we are being creative doings something we really enjoy or love to do. God meant for us to be creative when he created us. I have many such ways to work my brain, from sketching on a pad, (Mine is more of a doodle) to beading. Some gardening, working in the diet is shared with my wife, whole also loves to crochet. I get my inspiration from Salvador Dali and Pablo Pasco. Being mostly left handed (98%) I do think I need to add those last two books to my reading and drawing books. Once again a great article with some nice take-away information.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Being left-handed probably indicates that you are right-brain dominant, Chef, which means you’re probably more creative than us right-handers. *pout*

  2. Chef William

    The word whole should be While in my comment, and working on the diet while working in the garden sounds better than the first print. Maybe I should spend less time doodling and more time proof reading.

  3. Cynthia Rose

    I don’t draw, but I do other creative things. This explains why I miss them so much if I let the business of life take away my creative time. Thanks for the reminder to go make art.

  4. Sue Nugent

    I agree that doing anything that makes you happy has beneficial effects on your body and life. I love to paint, sew, garden, craft. to name a few. My hobbies are endless. I came through a cancer removal this past summer with flying colors. I contribute that to finding pleasure, peace, joy, and happiness in every aspect of my life.

  5. larissa

    This is great. I am always looking for ways to improve my brain activity and make sure I keep everything functioning correctly and creatively. Thanks so much for sharing!

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