Today we have prepared something quite different than the usual!
Ambidexterity is the ability to use both of your hands equally, whether it’s something more advanced such as hand lettering or calligraphy or as simple as brushing your teeth in the morning.
Diego Irigoyen will be teaching you how to start practicing writing with your non-dominant hand in order to boost not only your lettering skills but your creativity and learning in general!
Here are some of the things Diego will be teaching you in this article:
The importance of ambidexterity
The two brains – The left and right hemisphere
6 simple steps to get you started
Learning how to write with your non-dominant hand may seem a daunting task,
but don’t worry!
Diego made sure to include simple and comprehensive drills that even very beginners will be able to start discovering the world of ambidexterity.
Over the past 6 years
I have spent thousands of hours training my non-dominant hand, in this case my left hand, to write and draw.
For the last three years I have taught all ages, from elementary and middle school students to college students and adults in prison, how to also begin writing with both hands.
Most have the initial impression of
“Cool, I could never do that”
and yet I have not had one student who wasn’t able to do it and see improvement in their own technical abilities.
Now you might be thinking,
“Why should I write with both hands?”
Back in 2012, my mentor Michael J. Lavery, author and founder of Whole Brain Power, told me that the reason I was doing bad in school was because my brain was unfit for the task.
So, ambidexterity was an exercise that would help my brain become stronger so that I could do well in school and to my surprise,
Within 3 months
I had the greatest attention I’d ever had in my life,
my memory was sharper than ever,
and I had so much more energy through the day.
More importantly as a conceptual and fine artist, I began noticing some real radical changes. I was learning new technical tasks more quickly, I was experiencing greater fine more control, and I was thinking more creatively than ever.
But you’re interested in learning and improving your hand lettering and calligraphy skills,
am I right? So, how can ambidexterity help you? Well, over the last six years I have noticed some radical results from training myself and teaching others to become ambidextrous through the pen.
Figure 1: Practicing left handed in mirror image and right handed forward to expedite the skill proficiency of my right hand
THE CASE FOR AMBIDEXTERITY
Greater Fine Motor Control
The first, and one of the most interesting results, is that of accelerated learning and greater overall proficiency.
Today, whenever I want to learn a new task I always practice with both hands and my dominant hand always reaches proficiency rather quickly.
This secret has been well known by athletes for decades. The greatest baseball batters of all time, such as Micky Mantle, were switch hitters.
In my own experience, I found that the moment I decided to start writing with the left hand, the right hand seemed to improve without any conscious effort to do so, and I’ve noticed this in my students as well.
This has also been noticed in the clinical field.
When training surgeons, it has been found that ambidexterity results in something called intermanual transfer of skill learning, which means:
Training the nondominant hand not only results in improvement of skills on the nondominant side but appears to lead to improvement of skills on the dominant side as well.
Because of this phenomena, it is now highly advocated that surgeons be trained in ambidexterity. You can read the abstract for this study here.
As lettering artists, technical proficiency can be an important factor. Thus, you can apply ambidexterity for the sake of improving your fine motor coordination with a brush or pen, and this can greatly expedite your whole process.
Figure 2: Penmanship sample from 2014, exhibiting my ability to write straight across blank sheets of paper
IMPROVED SPECIAL AWARENESS
This next point may also quicken your work flow.
I primarily built ambidextrous coordination through mirror image journaling,
yes, just like Leonardo da Vinci,
and I would write exclusively on blank sheets of paper.
To my surprise, my left hand became incredibly good at writing perfectly straight across these blank sheets of paper.
To help explain why this is,
I’m going to introduce your two brains.
You have a left brain that controls the right side of the body, processes and thinks in language, and categorizes information.
Its friend, the right brain, controls the left side of the body, translates sensory input, and deals with spacial awareness.
So, for example,
if you’re standing on the beach watching the sunset, the right brain is taking in all the colors and building the image for you to perceive, and the left brain is telling you “this is the sun, and that is a wave, this is sand, and what a beautiful sunset.”
Figure 3: TOS-SIT 2017 Tears of Strength* – Artwork completed right handed and left handed using an oblique pen and iron gal ink
MORE CREATIVE THINKING
So, when I was writing with the left hand, I was tapping more directly into the spacially aware right brain, and this resulted in very straight writing across blank sheets of paper.
Once I noticed this, I tried to do the same with the right hand, but it didn’t come as naturally as it seemed to with the left hand.
Today, after six years of practice,
I can quite easily use my mind’s eye to prepare spacing when necessary.
Nothing could ever replace keen planning, but an improved sense of spacial awareness can most certainly hasten your whole process as a lettering artist.
The last positive repercussion of ambidexterity is greater creativity. As a fine artist, I noticed that after a few weeks of ambidextrous training, my thinking patterns were beginning to change.
It really is no surprise that some of the greatest thinkers our society has ever known were all ambidextrous: Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin. I have been of the opinion since, that creative genius in most cases is not a thing we are born with, it is something that is nurtured.
You see, our two brains are very different, and each perceives the world very differently as neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor explains in her Stroke of Insight.
So, when we begin to develop ambidexterity we initiate the building process of new pathways through new parts of the brain, potentially tapping into perceptions that are very different and creative.
In a severely left-brain society, tapping into the right brain may turn you into a very different type of thinker as it did with me.
SO HOW DO YOU START?
Over the last 6 years, I have found that when I do things backwards with the opposite side I can more quickly develop ambidextrous coordination.
For example, I write in mirror image with my left hand.
This leads me to one of the most important things you’ll learn from the ambidextrous process:
The intermanual transfer of skill learning can be amplified by paying very close attention to the whole process when the dominant hand leads, then mirroring your form when switching hands.
For this tutorial, we’re going to focus on fine motor coordination through the writing utensil.
STEP 1 – PEN/PENCIL GRIP
Put the pen/pencil in your dominant hand and pay close attention to your grip.
Where are the points of pressure?
What does your finger structure look like?
Now switch hands and mirror your form.
You may want to toss the tool back and forth between the hands a few times implementing one detail at a time.
You may also notice that what is comfortable for the right may be uncomfortable for the left hand.
For example, if you buckle your index finger when writing, you will most likely find that this is very unnatural for the non-dominant hand.
Figure 4 and 5 : Switching between hands, observing the grip on the pen and mirroring my form
A lot of us, myself included, have, or once had, bad habits in writing that create points of tension.
These bad habits will become very apparent when switching between hands.
it took me longer to correct this bad habit of buckling my index finger than it did to learn to write with the left hand.
You may find that in the end both hands will need adjustments to find the most ideal grip.
Figure 6: Get the non-dominant hand moving with this simple exercise
STEP 2 – GET THE HAND MOVING
Now the fun begins.
My students always begin with these two basic movement exercises.
One consists of a looping form and the other is a wave-like form. I start with these two because these are the most prominent rotations in cursive handwriting.
Remember to observe very closely how the dominant hand performs these two exercises.
Where is the movement coming from?
Or is it the whole arm?
You will most likely find the movement to vary between the hands.
Implement what you are finding more comfortable for the dominant hand over to the other, and also do what is more comfortable for the non-dominant hand with the strong hand.
This is where you will begin to see the accelerated learning take effect.
One hand is the teacher and the other the student.
If you have ever taught something before you know that we often learn more from teaching, and thus being the student and teacher in ambidexterity you will experience twice the gains
Figure 7: Mirror writing technique. Notice that the flow of the letters is opposite when writing in mirror image
STEP 3 – FULL ON MIRROR WRITING
Ambidextrous mirror writing provides the left hand with a great diversity of movement.
I highly recommend that you write in mirror image cursive to make the most of the coordination you develop.
Use this mirror image guide to explore each cursive letter and successfully execute it backward. Moving through letters in the correct manner in cursive is very important for your flow and is a great exercise for the brain.
I have also found mirror image journaling to be a great way of stimulating some creativity in my thinking.
STEP 4 – THE COLLABORATION BETWEEN HANDS
One of the greatest challenges in developing ambidexterity is not the lack of coordination on the non-dominant hand, but rather it is the lack of the dominant hands participation in the process.
The two hands are always working together. Much of the dominant hand’s success is dependent on the assistance of the non-dominant hand.
For example, when you write or draw, who holds the paper for you?
Noticing the role the non-dominant hand plays, and then forcing the dominant hand to fulfill said role when switching hands, is very important.
A great way to exaggerate this collaboration is to introduce another tool into the equation. Use a ruler to draw some straight lines across your page.
Be precise, measure out your spacing, and notice all of the little details in this collaboration. Make sure to switch which hand leads and again apply all the details you notice
Figure 8: Switching roles with each hand and noticing the constant collaboration between the hands
STEP 5 – BE PATIENT
The learning curve on developing ambidexterity can be quite steep.
I have some students who, in a year, make very incremental progress with the non-dominant hand, and others who make enormous strides.
This difference is insignificant because, ultimately, we are training the non-dominant hand to more quickly improve the fine motor coordination of the dominant, as has been coined intermanual transfer of skill learning.
STEP 6 – CONTINUE TO DIVERSIFY YOUR COORDINATION
The dominant hand did not become such by sticking to only one task.
It became dominant because it took care of all your essential needs from a young age.
In teaching others, I really began to think about all the different stages I went through in my youth to develop the coordination I have now.
So, make sure you try everything with both hands. Brushing your teeth, eating, coloring, or even pouring yourself a glass of juice.
I find the more I learn with the non-dominant hand, the closer I get to no longer having a dominant hand, but rather,
two equal hands.
You can really begin to fine tune your practice by honing in on the types of movements you need to develop to a greater degree.
The process of keen observation and implementation of fine details is crucial to your success.
Figure 8: Switching roles with each hand and noticing the constant collaboration between the hands
KEEP THE LONG TERM IN MIND
The greatest benefits of ambidexterity have come to me through consistent practice.
The article here aims to give you an idea as to how you can use ambidexterity to improve your lettering craft, however, the benefits of ambidexterity may go far beyond what is stated here.
It may seem to be a detour in life, but ultimately, you make back the time invested at a quick rate and, in the future, you will even save time once you’ve fully embraced the approach.
Make sure to keep your very first left-handed sample because in years to come after you have invested hours of practice, your first attempts will tell the whole story of your transformation.