Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Lefty Smudge, and Thoughts on Left-Handedness and Art Education

I rarely use pencils, except to lightly lay out a design for something. Because, like most lefties, writing/drawing with pencils gives me a bad case of the 'lefty smudge': a dark smear of pencil running down the side of my left pinkie, continuing up the side of my hand, and onto the cuff of my sleeve. Ugh. The smudge is similar when working with marker, but instead of calling it the 'lefty smudge', my name for the colorful smudge on my hand and arm is 'markeritis'.

I have learned, over the years, to lightly draft out posters and signs with pencil, and then to do the actual lettering from right to left. I think Hebrew, which reads from right to left, was created for lefties.  Perhaps there's a connection between Jewish genealogy and left-handedness?  Interesting thought.

Today I made this 'Tree of Life' (above) for my Temple (it goes with a chart of names showing where they are posted on a large wall plaque). I used colored pencil, and washed my hands frequently to prevent the smudge. And I lettered the Hebrew, of course, from right to left.

This great meme (below) about writing left-handed came from here:  image source

And I got to thinking about left-handedness as it relates to teaching art, creating art, being a left-handed art teacher, and teaching left-handed kids.

First of all, from the teaching standpoint, there's that darn whiteboard or blackboard. For my entire 36 years teaching, I found writing on the board while teaching to be a challenge. I'm sure you righties don't think about this, but when a lefty writes on the white or blackboard while teaching, by necessity they will walk in FRONT of what they writing. A righty will be walking away from it, to the right, as they write. It's a real challenge for us lefties, I think. Do other lefties agree with me?

Then there's weaving instructions, or instructions for zillions of other things that are more easily done in reverse direction by lefties. Years ago, I used to make large (using 36"dowels) God's eye weavings with 7th grade students. I had to instruct in two directions in order to make everyone successful.  Here's some goofy younger kids, who made these awesome God's eyes in a summer art program I taught a few years back.

And don't get me started on calligraphy, or any other lettering done with a chisel-tip ink lettering pen ('C' nibs). Um, the thicks and the thins end up in the WRONG places. Plus you need special left-handed pen nibs, angled in the opposite direction, for us lefties. (And of course they cost more.). All of which makes it tough to demonstrate to a class of predominantly right-handed kids. Which I used to do, annually, for a 6th grade 'illuminated manuscript' project, when they were studying the Middle Ages.

And then there's the scissor problem. Some of you have read me ranting about lefty scissors a long time ago. But in case you haven't, the truth is, I'm NOT a fan. I cut right handed, and I encourage you to have your left-handed students learn to cut right-handed as well. Yes, there are perfectly good lefty and ambidextrous scissors. But here's the problem: the lefty kid HOLDS THE SCISSORS DIFFERENTLY in their left hand, making cutting more challenging. I mean, you've seen the way we lefties hold our pencils to write, often with our arm hooked up and over and hand pointing down, with our paper turned at a rakish angle, rather than up the way a righty writes. (Check out a photo of our President signing a document.  You'll see the typical handwriting posture of a lefty.)  Lefty kids often try to cut this way too.  It's not pretty.  And not effective either!

So what's my point?  I don't know.  Please, at least, if you are right-handed, be conscious of who your lefty students are and be sympathetic to their specific challenges.  For example, think about where you put the paints on the tables so it can be reached easily by the lefty, or at least consider where the lefties sit.  When I eat dinner out with family or friends, I always take a seat where I won't be bumping elbows.  But the kids are too young to think of this themselves.  I remember, in high school (a LONG time ago), taking an important standardized test in a teaching auditorium, the kind with little flip-up half size desks.  They all were on the right side, really challenging for the lefty test-taker!  It frustrated me enough that I still remember it, many decades later.

Luckily, we lefties are more ambidextrous than our right-handed peers.  We have to learn to cope.  After all, most computer mouses are set up on the right, the stick shift in my car is on the right, and then there's the utensils.  If I tell you my iron is right-handed, I am NOT KIDDING.  And the hand-mixer I use in the kitchen.  You have to use these utensils over the cords if you use them left-handed.  And you have to pour backwards out of a soup ladle.  And angled spatulas are angled the wrong way...  I knit right-handed.  And while we have famous lefties with their guitars strung upside down (Paul McCartney), most lefties do not need to do that.  We are tough, and flexible.  Need I say more?

I'm proud to be a lefty.  I consider myself in great company - Leonardo daVinci, Rembrandt, Vincent vanGogh, M.C. Escher; Bill Gates; President Obama, President Clinton, President Bush Sr, President Lincoln; Paul McCartney, Kurt Cobain, Lady Gaga, Jimi Hendrix; Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld; Julia Roberts, Judy Garland; Douglas Adams (author of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books); Aristotle, Nietzsche;  and, well, this is just scratching the bucket.  Oh, and my dad.  And probably my artist grandfather.  By the way, I haven't even included any sports greats in my list.  There are many.

Lefty's brains are wired differently; we think differently.  I think it's a cool thing.  I always said "LEFT ON!" to my lefty students.

Are you a lefty?  Do you make any special considerations for your left-handed students?  If you haven't thought about it before, maybe you should!  After all, only left-handed people are in their right mind...


  1. I love following your blog,

    ...and if you ever come to Israel, please consider me your friend and be in touch.

    all the best
    not a lefty but I do read in hebrew

    1. Thank you Gilat! I have never been to Israel; maybe someday! And by the way, I also have been following and enjoying your blog for a long time. Though I haven't often left comments, I do read it regularly! What you do is very special.

  2. Good food for thought. I had never considered all the household gadgets that are made for right-handers!! I do try to accommodate in the classroom, though. The first thing I have kids do when they get to their seats (we don't have assigned seats) is to move paints, water containers, or whatever so that they are nearest their dominant hand. Last week I spend quite a while with a 1st grade lefty showing him how to adjust his cutting direction to make his left=handed cutting easier. You are so right about the smudge -- I hadn't thought about how the chalkboard would be a challenge.

    1. Thank you, Chrisite, on behalf of all of us lefty kids, for paying attention to that when you set up for paint! I had one child with, a disorder that rendered the right side of his body basically ineffective and often useless. He wears a brace on his right leg, and luckily is a lefty. But my big challenge with him, as a big tall boy (currently in grade 5) was to figure out how to do things like papier-mâché and weaving one-handed. His PT teacher was enormously helpful in developing processes that work for him. He never liked to point out his disabilities and he participated fully in everything.

      B the way, about the chalkboard - honestly I'm so used to being a lefty that it took me years and years to figure out why I found writing on the board such a challenge. Aside from the smudge, even the angle of the hand is wrong!

      Also, by the way, I had challenges learning cursive and would mirror-write. To this day, I can still write pretty much anything backwards in cursive, and I swear, when you hold my mirror-writing up to the mirror, it looks more graceful and neat than my 'real' handwriting! Kids were always fascinated when I showed them this 'talent'.

  3. Hi Phyl
    What a thoughtful post!
    1) LOVE the Tree of Life. You do your temple proud.
    2) I have lefty jr. scissors. I used to keep one pair in each of my table organizers, but stopped after too many righties just didn't the difference and kept using them (with poor outcomes).

    1. Thank you Rina. There are lots of good ambidextrous scissors (Fiskars, for example, usually are) which is better than having to sort out the lefty scissors and get them to the correct kids. And that way, the lefty kids can sort out for themselves which hand they prefer to cut with. I know I'm a big proponent of cutting right handed, but I also didn't want to get into arguments with parents or classroom teachers, so I never forced the issue; I just provided the option. My dad was of the generation where his hand was slapped with a ruler every time he tried to write left handed, and as a result, his handwriting was pretty unintelligible with either hand. I don't want to do that to anyone!

  4. How fantastic! I have been a lefty art teacher for 17 years and I am laughing and nodding at your blog! Although I teach at high school level, and most of these issues have been resolved, so accomodating is not so much a priority, I never really stopped to think about how I myself have adapted to the "right-handedness" of education. Now the bells went off as to why I hate writing on the white board, or why I hated having to learn to use the matt cutter with my right hand! And the kids laugh because I tick backwards. What I love though is finding how many of my talented students are left handed; I once had an AP Studio Art class where 3/4 of the class were lefties!
    Anyway, thanks for a great blog. I love all the ideas -lots translate for the older kids too!

    1. Fiona, oh, how could I have forgotten to mention the woes of the mat cutter?!! Fr years, I used a Dexter hand-held mat cutter 'egg' pulling it in the opposite direction (dangerously). A few years back my classroom finally got a real mat cutter, which I used right-handed. Sigh....

      And then there's potato peelers too. I wonder how many people realize most peeler blades are right-handed?

      By the way, I once was a high school art teacher, for 9 years, and yes, the ideas are often easily adapted to any age. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  5. That makes me wonder if the ancient Hebrew scribes were more likely to be left-handed. I wonder if anyone can tell now?

    1. I'd think someone should be able to analyze the direction of the slight curvature of the 'straight' lines; don't you think?

  6. I am now going to ask my daughter about writing Hewbrew when she was in Hebrew school. She is a leftie and insists on special "expensive" pens....no smudge.

    I try to help my student lefties. Get tips from my daughter as well. Interesting post.

    1. Any partially particular brand she really likes? For doodling, I like Flair pens - the ink dries instantly; or, of course, Sharpies!