In my experiences modeling for figure drawing classes I’ve seen teachers instruct a class to try drawing with their non-dominant hands. Obviously the resulting drawings are not – nor are they intended to be – artistic masterpieces. It’s just an exercise. But the looks of puzzlement on the artists’ faces afterward is amusing to see. I can relate though, as I have not an ounce of ambidexterity in me. I’m right-handed and anything I write with my left hand is barely legible. I’m right-dominant even beyond writing. I balance better on my right leg than on my left. When performing workout exercises, such as lunges and reverse lunges, side planks, etc, I feel more stable doing them on my right side than on my left. I can’t hammer a nail in the wall with my left hand, can’t throw a frisbee with my left hand. The list goes on.
They say that a mere 1% of people are fully and naturally ambidextrous. That’s quite an exclusive club! It’s all about our brain hemispheres and the degree of symmetry between the right and left sides of the brain. Michelangelo was ambidextrous, as was Benjamin Franklin, Nikola Tesla, and Albert Einstein. NBA superstar LeBron James is ambidextrous, along with some other famous athletes who display ambidexterity in their respective sports, such as tennis player Maria Sharapova and soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo.
Perhaps the most famous ambidextrous figure in history is the original “Renaissance Man”; the one and only Leonardo da Vinci. And as if his genius and ambidexterity weren’t impressive enough, da Vinci took it a step further. He was adept at the skill of “mirror writing”. Mirror writing is writing that is backwards – from right to left – and can’t easily be read on the page, but appears normal when reflected in a mirror. I remember, as a young child, not understanding why the word “AMBULANCE” was written backwards on the front of the emergency vehicle. My dad explained to me that it was so the word could be read in the rear view mirrors of drivers on the road. That’s an example of mirror writing in the world around us.
In this page from his notebooks exploring the anatomy of the arm, Da Vinci’s notes are done in mirror writing:
So the question is, why did da Vinci do mirror writing? The answer is we don’t know for sure. It remains a mystery although speculations have been offered. One theory is that he wanted to retain some degree of secrecy with regard to his studies and discoveries. Let’s say some idiot troublemaker broke into Leonardo’s studio and stole his notebooks. He’d later look through them, thinking he got his hands on the genius’s precious work, and ask, “What the hell is this? Dammit!”. Another theory is that the mirror writing provided better neatness. da Vinci painted with both his left and right hands, but he wrote with his left hand, and as you southpaws out there can attest, smudges and smears can be a nuisance when writing right-to-left. Yet another theory – my favorite – is that da Vinci simply enjoyed mirror writing and found that it fueled his creativity and intellect. He’s Leonardo da Vinci, after all, so why the hell not? 🙂
You’ve all seen this iconic study of human proportions. It’s da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”, c. 1490, again with notes written in mirror writing:
So because I felt inspired by a brilliant polymath like Leonardo da Vinci, I decided to do my own mirror writing. I did it with my right hand … and it still sucks! Thought I was running out of space and got jammed. I took a picture of it in reflection. For what it’s worth, I actually have pretty nice handwriting when it’s done normally. Now if only I can come up with some engineering inventions, timeless portraiture, and detailed anatomical studies, then I’ll be on my way to greatness. Watch out, Leo! 😆