Bilateral drawing – warming up the whole brain

Bilateral drawing is drawing simultaneously with both hands and is sometimes referred to as bilateral doodling or scribbling. It is an exercise in both self soothing and warming up your whole brain.

It is used in creative spaces as an exercise that utilises both the left and right hemispheres of the brain which is needed for creativity and creative thinking.

In arts based coaching it is a good exercise to help clients settle into sessions and to self-soothe, connecting them to their bodies and their natural rhythms. It brings people into the present and helps to slow breathing, connecting them to the here and now.  Clients can also use this exercise for themselves at any time when feeling stressed, overwhelmed or finding it difficult to switch off and relax. Many people who do bilateral drawing often report feeling more relaxed in both body and mind.

Bilateral simply means ‘involving both sides’ and the experiential evidence of art therapy suggests that using bilateral drawing activities seem to be effective in engaging cross-hemisphere activity, and allowing explicit memory to be connected to implicit memory (Malchiodi 2002/2011/2015) – another reason why it can be a good warm up exercise at the start of art based coaching.

Bilateral drawing has been around since the 1950s. It is not an exercise in creating a specific image but rather an exercise in spontaneous drawing using both hands at the same time using pencils, felt tip pens, pastel (chalks) or other easily usable materials. It uses the whole body in natural rhythms and can be expanded to large sheets of paper where bigger gestural movements and marks can be made.

Bilateral art

I was blown away by the artist Tony Orrico’s extraordinary bilateral drawings.

The human spirograph: Artist's amazing geometric drawings he produces with his body | Daily Mail Online

Try it out for yourself

If you would like to try this out for yourself all you need is a piece of paper and something to draw with. You can use different colours in each hand, or you can use the same colour. Let your intuition choose.

Then, either sitting, standing, or being on the floor, allow your hands to just draw ensuring that you are doing this with both hands at the same time. Keep going until you feel you want to stop. The aim is to make marks and not to create any specific image. Your drawing doesn’t have to be continuous, and you can change the colours you are using as well as what you are drawing with. I have shared images of some of my own bilateral drawings below to give you an idea.

Once you have completed your bilateral drawing take a moment to check in with yourself:

    • How are you feeling in your body?
    • How is your mind right now?
    • Do you feel different to when you started this exercise?
    • Give yourself time to connect with these new sensations and feelings

If this works for you, you can do this exercise whenever you want to switch off your busy mind and relax your body. It can be a quick exercise to fit in between meetings, or a longer more meditative exercise when time allows.

Some additional suggestions to try:

    • Rather than keep the drawings of the two hands separate from each other, allow them to merge and mix on the paper
    • Go bigger and use larger sheets of paper giving you the opportunity to use more of your body and create bigger gestural marks
    • Play music whilst you draw


Bilateral drawings by Anna Sheather 



Bilateral Drawing: Self-Regulation for Trauma Reparation – Cathy Malchiodi, 2015 Psychology Today

The Power of The Other Hand by Lucia Capacchione, Conari Press Revised edition 2019

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *